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.

Tuesday, October 09, 2007

Ecuador’s Popular Revolt: Forging a New Nation

by Roger Burbach
From ZNet, October 08, 2007

Upon his inauguration, Correa issued a decree calling for a plebiscite on the constituent assembly. The oligarchy and the partidocracia moved almost immediately to gut the call for the assembly. Congress refused to accept the president’s initiative, passing its own law saying that such an assembly would not be empowered to refound the country’s institutions, and that it would not have the right to limit the tenure of congressional deputies or any other elected officials until their terms expired.

Then, with the intent of turning the election of assembly members into a virtual circus, the Congress declared that anyone could put their name on the ballot. No signatures or petitions were required, meaning hundreds or more could simply sign up to run for any given seat, making the balloting practically impossible to administer.

Correa responded by eliminating the onerous clauses from the congressional legislation, tailoring it to his original decree for a constituent assembly, and sending it to the country’s Supreme Electoral Tribunal. Hopes were not high, since the Tribunal is historically viewed as part of the partidocracia. The popular movements began to demonstrate in front of the Tribunal and Congress, calling for Correa to simply issue a decree for the Constituent Assembly.

“To the surprise of virtually everyone,” says Rene Baez, a political analyst at the Catholic University of Ecuador, “the popular repudiation shook the consciousness of the Supreme Electoral Tribunal.” Led by its president, Jorge Acosta, a member of a traditional right-wing party, the Tribunal declared that Correa’s original statute proposing to refound the country’s institutions would be the one voted up or down in April.

Outraged, 57 of the 100 congressional deputies voted to depose Acosta. The next day Acosta and the Tribunal responded by expelling them from Congress for their unconstitutional actions.

The people took to the streets in a jubilant mood. Backed by demonstrators, Correa ordered 1,500 policemen to surround the Congress to enforce the Tribunal’s decree, preventing any of the 57 deposed representatives from entering. The deputies dispersed to various hotels around the city. At the Hotel Quito, they attempted to convene a rump session, but it went nowhere, with demonstrators ridiculing them outside, showering them with chicharones (pieces of dried pork fat) as they entered and left.2 Since a quorum of 51 members is required in Congress to conduct business, the deposed members hoped to provoke an institutional crisis. But through a quirk of Ecuadoran law, each congressional deputy is elected along with a substitute legislator from the same party. The Correa government made it clear it would seat any of the substitutes if they accepted the Electoral Tribunal’s ruling. Twenty substitutes almost immediately broke ranks with their parties, and Congress had the quorum ! necessary to function.

Some of the deposed deputies went to Bogotá, Colombia, asking for political asylum; others went to Washington to lodge a protest with the Organization of the American States, claiming that the country’s constitution had been violated. But these appeals and protests achieved nothing. More than 70% of the country’s voting-age population went to the polls April 15, with four out of five voters casting their ballots in favor of the Constituent Assembly.

But how far will the Constituent Assembly go in “refounding the nation”? Will it be simply reformist or will it establish a framework for a new socialism of the 21st century? In Bolivia, the oligarchy and the right-wing political forces have mounted a virulent offensive both inside and outside of the halls of the assembly. They managed to tie up the assembly for months, mainly because a two-thirds majority is required for enacting a new constitution, and the MAS and its allies control only 60% of the vote. In Ecuador just a majority vote is required, but even more importantly, the right wing is now a less potent force.

“One thing is clear,” says Alejandro Moreano, a sociologist who is active in the social movements. “The back of the partidiocracia is broken. A new constellation of political and social forces will come to the fore with the Assembly, and they will predominate in the new governing institutions that are founded.” Correa has already announced that if the forces aligned with him take control of the Assembly, one of its first acts will be to abolish Congress and establish a constitutional framework for a new legislative chamber that will be more responsive to popular interests.


Refounding the Ecuadoran nation involves an international realignment that runs deeper than a mere rejection of neoliberal economics. The Correa government has moved assertively in its relations with the United States and international financial institutions during its early months in office. Minister of Foreign Relations María Fernanda Espinosa, in a meeting with the Foreign Press Association in Quito, declared that Ecuador intends to close the U.S. military base located at Manta, the largest of its kind on South America’s Pacific coast. “Ecuador is a sovereign nation,” she said. “We do not need any foreign troops in our country.” The treaty for the base expires in 2009 and will not be renewed.

Manta was ostensibly established in 1999 to help monitor narco-trafficking over the ocean and in the nearby Amazon basin. But it has become a major operations center for U.S. intelligence gathering and for helping coordinate counter-insurgency efforts against the leftist guerrillas in neighboring Colombia. The base’s runway, built at a cost of $80 million, can accommodate the largest, most sophisticated U.S. spy aircraft. Manta is also used as a port for U.S. naval operations in the Pacific Ocean.3 Upward of 475 U.S. military personnel are continually rotated between Manta and the U.S. Southern Command, based in Florida.

The Manta base has little relevance for narco-trafficking in Ecuador. Even though the coca plant grows well there, the country has never produced cocaine or other illicit drugs in significant quantities for the international market. However, after it adopted the U.S. dollar as its official currency in 2000, international drug traffickers, particularly from Colombia, began to use Ecuadoran-based banks, some of which are controlled by the likes of Citibank, to launder their ill-gotten gains.

Popular sentiment in Ecuador overwhelmingly supports closing the base. In the years since it was established, the civil war in Colombia has spilled over into Ecuador, bringing refugees, violence, and social conflict, particularly in the Amazon basin. The spraying of herbicides by planes originating in Colombia wipes out food crops and poisons Ecuadoran children and adults.

The Colombian and U.S. governments claim that the defoliants are used only on the Colombian side of the border and that there are no flights over Ecuador. Correa vehemently disagrees.

“We will not permit the continual violation of Ecuadoran air space by planes, that are not even Colombian, but from the United States,” he has said. “They enter our country and then fly back to Colombia.” Correa has ordered the Ecuadoran air force to intercept any planes that violate the country’s air space.4

At the same time, Ecuador is negotiating special bilateral trade and economic agreements with presidents Chávez and Morales. Venezuela has agreed to refine Ecuadoran oil and help fund social programs in Ecuador, while the Bolivian government has concluded an agreement to import foodstuffs from small- and medium-size producers in Ecuador. Correa has also signed several petroleum accords with Venezuela, of which the most important is a $4 billion project for a refinery backed by PetroEcuador, a state-owned company, and the Venezuelan state firm, PDVSA.

While there has been no direct confrontation with the United States over Ecuador’s assertion of its sovereignty, the Pentagon has manifested its displeasure. Every year since 1959, the U.S. Southern Command, together with the Pacific coast nations of South America, have undertaken joint naval exercises called Unitas. This year they were to be hosted in Ecuador, but the United States opted to conduct them in Colombia, its closest regional ally. Ecuador responded by announcing it would not participate in this year’s exercises, with Correa proclaiming, “It appears the Southern Command believes we are a colony of the United States, that our navy is just one more unit controlled by their country.”5

Correa is also standing up to Occidental Petroleum, a U.S.-based corporation whose Ecuadoran holdings were taken over by PetroEcuador last year for selling some of its holdings to a Canadian company, violating its contract with the Ecuadoran state. Significant deposits of petroleum were first discovered in eastern Ecuador in the 1960s, leading to a bonanza as transnational petroleum corporations rushed in to tap the fields during the 1970s. The corporations crudely exploited the tropical rain forest where indigenous peoples have lived for millennia, strewing it with contamination from thousands of seismic grids, oil wells, and open waste pits.6 Like the 16th-century conquistadors, the corporations tore the indigenous communities apart through displacement, disease, and efforts to buy off and divide villagers. The workers, many of whom were brought in from the highlands because most rainforest Indians refused to work, were harshly exploited.

With the takeover of Occidental’s holdings, PetroEcuador now controls more than half of the country’s petroleum exports, which themselves account for about 40% of Ecuador’s total exports and one third of government revenues. Meanwhile, Correa has denounced Occidental’s “lobbying” the Bush administration to regain its holdings. “We are not going to allow an arrogant, portentous transnational that doesn’t respect Ecuadoran laws to harm our country,” he said.


After the euphoria of Correa’s May Day speech, Ecuador’s popular forces encountered difficulties as they drew up lists of candidates for the Constituent Assembly. Correa and his close political allies sought to unify all the progressive forces under the banner of “Movimiento Pais,” the Country Movement, but it quickly met with opposition, mainly from left political parties and their allies in the social organizations, some of which questioned the government’s commitment to fundamental change.

“All the sectors of the left claim they want unity with us,” says César Rodríguez, an organizer of the Country Movement. “But they pull back when their leaders are not put at the head of the list of candidates for the Constituent Assembly.”

On the other hand, Luis Macas, the head of the Confederation of Indigenous Nationalities of Ecuador, declared that he “feels distant from the government” and demanded that it immediately nationalize all petroleum companies while fearing that it will renege on its promises of agrarian reform.7

Because of this discord, distinctive lists of progressive candidates were put forth in the balloting for the 30 national candidates for the assembly.8 At the provincial level, however, where 100 assembly members will be elected, local coalitions did come together in some cases to present more unified tickets. In spite of this factionalism, the Country Movement and the other left forces are expected to win a clear majority in the Assembly, given that the right-wing parties are also divided. Due to Correa’s popularity and the broad support he enjoys among the forajidos and most of the social movements that are generally disgusted with all the established political parties, the Movement candidates will likely predominate in the Assembly.

Correa has indicated that the Assembly may enshrine a ”socialism of the 21st century” in the new constitution, but it remains unclear exactly how this will be defined. The move to socialism in Ecuador will be an unfolding process, impossible to predict this early. But the transformation will definitely go beyond the reformist policies of the past, largely because a consensus exists among the candidates of the Country Movement and others on the left that neoliberal capitalism, particularly the ascendant role played by the banks and finance capital, must be taken on. Correa has already expelled Ecuador’s World Bank representative and has virtually terminated the country’s relations with the International Monetary Fund. Ecuador has also joined the Bank of the South, an alternative international lending institution proposed by Chávez, with Argentina, Bolivia, and other South American nations participating.

Correa has also repeatedly denounced the private banks in Ecuador for their exorbitant profit-taking and high interest rates. And in six months his government has taken stronger measures to rein in local and international finance capital than the Brazilian government of Luis Inacio Lula da Silva has in more than four years. The Assembly will no doubt empower the new government to exert tight state control over the country’s financial system and the role of foreign banks.

Many think the Constituent Assembly will assert greater control over Ecuador’s petroleum and natural resources for the benefit of the country’s 13 million people, almost half of whom live below the poverty line.

With some of the richest agricultural lands and maritime resources in all of South America, the country’s resource base has mainly benefited the corporate agribusiness interests that control the country’s diversified exports of bananas, shrimp, coffee, cocoa, cut flowers, and fish. As Pedro de la Cruz, the head of the National Federation of Peasants, Indians and Blacks, notes, “We need to reclaim the country’s lands for the people who work them and achieve food sovereignty, breaking the hold of the large landed and foreign interests who have kept us in misery for centuries.”

In early June, the local populace in the gold-mining southern highland province of Azuay, backed by environmental and human rights organizations, blockaded major highways, demanding the expropriation of the mining companies, many of which are controlled by transnational corporations that have polluted local rivers and aquifers. Former minister of energy and mining Alberto Acosta, one of Correa’s closest and most progressive advisers, who resigned his post to lead the Country Movement ticket for the Assembly, met with the protesters and told them the mining concessions couldn’t be annulled outright.

“This is a task of the Constituent Assembly,” he said. “It can establish a legal framework that will enable us to revise all the concessions.”9 Mobilizations continued in Azuay and in other provinces over natural resources as the popular organizations make it clear they are not content to rely simply on promises by the Correa government.

In Ecuador, as well as in much of Latin America, we are witnessing a revolution from below, a popular awakening that is challenging the traditional political parties and demanding a new system of governance that responds to the interests and needs of the popular classes. It is this rich mixture of forces at the grass roots that is opening up new vistas as the 21st century advances.

An “Open Letter to Ecuadoran Society,” signed by many of the individuals and organizations that are partisans of the Constituent Assembly, declares: “Never before has the theory that it is the people who make history been so certain. Today we are at the beginning of an era of popular power, of the Constituent Assembly’s power. The impulse flows out of the depths of the Ecuadoran people. It is potent and tumultuous.”10


*Roger Burbach is director of the Center for the Study of the Americas (CENSA), based in Berkeley, California. He has written widely on Latin America and U.S. policy and is currently working on a book titled The New Fire in the Americas. For more information on CENSA’s publications, projects, and activities, see

1. For a more in depth account of the rise of the popular movements, see CENSA’s strategic study, “Ecuador: The Popular Rebellion Against the ‘Partidocracia’ and the Neo-Liberal State,”

2. Roger Burbach, “Hard Correa,” The Guardian (London), March 23, 2007,

3. Manuel Salgado Tamayo, Drogas, terrorismo e insurgenica (Quito: Ediciones La Tierra, 2002), pp. 319–25.

4. Burbach, “The Pink Tide Flows,” The Guardian (London), March 16, 2007,

5. “La Cancillería alista una nota de protesta contra EE.UU,” El Comercio (Quito,) May 7, 2007.

6. Suzana Sawyer, Indigenous Politics, Multinational Oil, and Neoliberalism in Ecuador (Duke University Press, 2004), p. 13.

7. “La izquierda ecuatoriana, otra vez, irá dividida a las urnas,” El Comercio, June 3, 2007. See also “Luis Macas propone nacionalizar los hidrocarburos sin esperar a la asamblea,” El Comercio, June 4, 2007.

8. Of these 30 candidates, six will be elected internationally, given Ecuador’s large emigrant population, estimated at more than 1 million: two from Europe, and two each from North and South America.

9. “Gobierno dejará que la asamblea regule las concesiones mineras,” El Comercio, June 8, 2007. Acosta has written an excellent economic history of Ecuador, Breve historia economica del Ecuador (Quito: Corporacion Editora Nacional, 2001).

10. “Carta abierta a la sociedad ecuatoriana,” Quito, February 21, 2007,

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