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, January 12, 2010

* Bicentennial and Breaking Continuity: Ecuador, Latin America, and Obama

Written by Ronn Pineo
Wednesday, 23 December 2009 11:22
ImageEcuador is celebrating the bicentennial of its "grito" or first cry of independence this year. On August 10, 1809 a handful of notables in Quito issued a proclamation calling for home rule, if not full independence from Spain. The budding movement was swiftly and brutally crushed. Nevertheless, this episode opened a process that ultimately led to the creation of the new nation. It was a time of hope and new beginnings.

For Ecuador, and for much of Latin America, so too is this a historical moment.

President Rafael Correa, elected in 2006, and reelected in 2009 under the new constitution, is leading Ecuador through what he calls a new "revolution," one bringing the creation of "socialism for the twenty-first century." I recently returned from Ecuador, on hand for a bicentennial meeting of historical scholars, and had the opportunity to meet with leading political advisors and talk with ordinary women and men about the changes coming to their country. I came away with one inescapable conclusion: United States policy is completely out of step with the needs and concerns of Ecuador and Latin America.

Despite what many had hoped for under an Obama administration, there is in fact great continuity between his and George W. Bush's policies for Latin America. Obama may be a quick study, but he has visited Latin America just once, and seems to have given no attention to modifying or even reviewing the Bush policies for the region. The force of inertia continues to propel old failed polices forward.

The U.S. has spent over $6 billion to date in the Latin American front of the war on illegal drugs. Yet the U.S. street price for cocaine has dropped to just 20% of what it cost in the 1980s, and purity has doubled. Unmoved by or unaware of this evidence, Obama has kept the war on illegal drugs slogging onward. Kicked out of the Manta base in Ecuador, under Obama the U.S. is now adding seven new bases in Colombia.

Other problematical U.S. policies for Latin America are likewise continuing: pressuring Latin American states for open and unlimited access to their markets, while maintaining generous producer subsidies ($16 billion a year to U.S. agro-business) and tariff protection at home; or dealing with unauthorized immigration with the mathematically incoherent plan of spending $49 billion to construct a 700 mile fence to seal off a 1,951 mile border.

But if Obama is continuing past policies, new voices in Ecuador and Latin America have developed a different and sounder agenda. Ecuador, together with Bolivia under Movement Toward Socialism President Evo Morales, are just saying no to the war on illegal drugs. To them drug abuse is a U.S. problem (the U.S. consumes 80% of the world’s cocaine), and U.S. interdiction and eradication efforts within their borders bring great violence and spawn corruption. If Obama wants to continue to push the war on illegal drugs in Latin America, he is going to find less and less support for it in the hemisphere. Indeed, three conservative former presidents, César Gaviria of Colombia, Ernesto Zedillo of Mexico, and Fernando Henrique Cardoso of Brazil, recently founded the Latin American Commission on Drugs and Democracy, calling for a radical change in direction in drug policy, beginning with selective legalization.

Ecuador and Latin America are also rejecting the U.S.-backed free trade policies. Previously, from the mid-1980s forward, Latin America responded to the U.S. call for economic reform by embracing free market polices - called "neoliberalism" in Latin America. However, under the neoliberal model Latin American growth rates compared very unfavorably to other regions in the world. For instance, Latin American per capita GDP growth rates from 1990 to 2004 averaged only 1.3% a year, while in South Asia they rose 3.5% a year, and in East Asia, 6.7% a year. Meanwhile, under the neoliberalism regimen Latin American income became alarmingly concentrated. In just the five years from 1990 to 1995 the income share going to the poorest tenth of the population in Latin America fell 15%. In the wake of U.S. backed economic "reforms" Latin America has today the most uneven income distribution of any region in the world.

In Ecuador President Correa has pledged to end the "long and sad night of neoliberalism." He and other Latin American leaders are calling for a new policy direction, starting with an end to first world agricultural subsidies, and a reform in patent and royalty laws (mandatory licensing) that would allow less developed nations to obtain access to new technologies and life saving medicines at affordable prices. Above all, Ecuador and Latin American want to enact their own domestic economic policies free from U.S. pressure for adherence to the neoliberal agenda. They want to end the disaster of deregulation and bring the state back in, extending social programs, carrying out real land reform, and developing the sort of targeted niche industrialization programs that have worked so effectively in East Asia.

As in 1809, Ecuador and Latin America are today at a new beginning. President Obama can play a positive role in this process, but only if he can break free of old policies, and listen to those Latin American voices articulating a vision for a better future.

Ronn Pineo is the author of several works on Ecuador, including most recently, "Ecuador and the United States: Useful Strangers," published by University of Georgia Press.

No comments:

Post a Comment