The people of Ecuador are rising up to refound their country as a pluri-national homeland for all. This inspiring movement, with Ecuador's indigenous peoples at its heart, is part of the revolution spreading across the Americas, laying the groundwork for a new, fairer, world. Ecuador Rising aims to bring news and analysis of events unfolding in Ecuador to english speakers.

Saturday, September 22, 2007

Ecuador: Sharks and other politicians

A stumbling approach to conservation

The Economist, 20 September, 2007

SHARKS do not evoke the same kind of cuddly feelings as dolphins or baby seals. But when last month Ecuador's president, Rafael Correa, relaxed a ban on the trade in sharks' fins (a highly-prized delicacy in east Asia), he unleashed a storm of protest. That was partly because his government ordered the arrest of a member of Sea Shepherd, an American green group, for taking part in a police raid on fin traffickers. But it was also because the episode highlighted an inconsistent approach to environmental policy by a government that has several green activists in its ranks.

On taking office in January, Mr Correa inherited a pressing environmental problem. For its size, Ecuador is the world's most biodiverse country. With just 0.2% of the earth's land surface, it hosts 18% of its bird species. Tourism, much of it ecological, is now the third-biggest foreign-exchange earner. But with a struggling economy and unstable politics, Ecuador has fallen behind rivals such as Peru and Costa Rica in environmental conservation. In June UNESCO placed the Galapagos Islands on its list of endangered World Heritage Sites.

In a demonstration of his green credentials, Mr Correa named Eliécer Cruz, a former director of the Galapagos National Park, as the islands' governor. He also unveiled an ambitious, if implausible, plan to persuade the world to pay Ecuador not to extract a billion barrels of oil from the Amazon jungle. But he then replaced the scheme's author, Alberto Acosta, as energy minister.

Others in the government argue that conservation should not trump development. “It's very easy to be an environmentalist,” said Carlos Vallejo, the agriculture minister, recently. “Many of them come from well-off families.” Their campaigns amounted to criticising the poor, who were merely trying to put food on the table, he said.

Greens saw Mr Correa's decree allowing the sale of the fins of sharks “accidentally” caught in fishing nets as a bid to win the votes of some 200,000 fishermen in an election for a Constituent Assembly later this month. Fins fetch $60-80 per kilo in local markets—far more than any other catch. Four-fifths of the sharks are caught in the waters of the Galapagos, where fishermen and the eco-tourist industry have long collided. Greens also worry that the government's plans for a new constitution will weaken conservation by devolving powers to regulate sensitive industries, such as shrimp farming and flower-growing, to local governments.

Faced with a public outcry, fuelled by gory images of dead sharks with the fins hacked off, ministers opened talks with Fundación Natura, the main green NGO, over changes to the decree. “Just because we're not 100% environmentalists, doesn't mean we aren't [environmentalists]”, says Fernando Bustamante, the security minister.


  1. Very good blog.

    There are so many contradictions, in the Bolivarian Revolution.

    I'm more familiar with Venezuela. I've met various government people, who work for the Venezuelan embassy. Everyone gives you a different story.

    Eventually it's either socialism or barbarism.

  2. The problem is that these "socialist revolutions" in América Latina are largely being taken over by middle-class or social-democrat types who "talk the talk" but won't ever "walk the walk" if they have anything to do with it. Their intent is always and ever to make a deal with capitalism in the end.

    If these revolutions are to ever live up to their names -- and to their intent and to their duty to the masses of the world -- they must break fundamentally with reformists and reformism and turn fully to socialism by becoming real revolutions, in every sense. A lot of people delude themslevs about this because they don't ever intend to personally sacrifice anything.

    However, in any real revolution -- this consideration will be taken out of their hands.

  3. renegade eye, I agree that there certainly are contradictions, and not only in the Bolivarian revolution(s).

    It's a necessary feature of any revolutionary process when the working class globally has been on the back-foot for a good {actually a "bad"} generation or so (more if you look at the effect of the Stalinist cominternism on national liberation struggles and the development of a healthy left in many if not most countries).

    However, even without these effects there would be contradictions - either from the mixed consciousness of workers in capitalist societies, or from the point of view of the labouring classes in the under-developed countries.

    This is the point which I think el che misunderstands (unlike the real 'el che', who understood this very clearly). These "socialist revolutions" are not "being taken over by middle-class or social-democrat types" - they are as much the product of these layers as of the working class. In this sense, as well as others, they are NOT socialist revolutions, but national democratic revolutions.

    This is not dyed-in-the-wool Stalinism, nor a mechanical 1-step/ 2-step "Capitalism first, then Socialism" Menshevism, but a necessary part of the revolutionary process, especially in the third world.

    In Venezuela, the socialist revolution is only just really beginning, growing out as a natural effect of the contradictions of a national democratic revolution and the inability of a revolution organised on that basis to carry itself through to completion.

    This is the sense in which Che spoke of "either a socialist revolution, or a make-believe revolution" - not in absolutes of "ALL OR NOTHING - THIS VERY INSTANT", but in the sense that if a revolution (take the Cuban example, or Russia) which is for basic democratic or populist demands is to continue, it MUST BECOME a socialist revolution, or whither and die.

    It should be clear, therefore, that Ecuador is NOT YET undergoing a socialist revolution, but the seeds are being sown. In the interim, it remains VITAL that other progressive layers (even the ephemeral middle classes) be drawn into the process, which they will lead in parts.

    The challenges will come when the boundaries of what this partial revolution can achieve are reached, and how much of these transitional and contradictory layers can be won to a socialist revolution.

    In short, intention and revolutionary leadership are never things which are set in stone, but develop and grow out of objective struggles. It serves no purpose to simply declare a socialist revolution when the people will not follow (and take the lead) - indeed, it can spell the death of the revolution (like Hungary in 1919).

    The contradictions and dynamic of Venezuela are a good illustration of both the problems, and the inexorable logic, of this situation.