Ecuadorian Leader Demands Referendum on FTAA
Things are reaching a tipping point in Ecuador. In advance of today's scheduled opening of US-Ecuador "free-trade" talks the (weak, provisional) Ecuadorean Government has declared a State of Emergency - suspending freedom of association and arresting non violent protesters - in response to a series of protests/blockades lead by the Andean country's indigenous groups. Thousands of police and soldiers are dispersing around the country clearing anti-Government protests before the Americans arrival.
Luis Macas, leader of the left-leaning Confederation of Indigenous Nationalities of Ecuador, told reporters Wednesday that his movement would end its protests if President Alfredo Palacio gave in to at least one of several demands. Macas wants Ecuador to pull its trade negotiators out of Washington ahead of a final round of talks scheduled to start Thursday; put the possible free-trade pact to a national referendum; cancel an oil concession granted to U.S.-based Occidental Petroleum Corp.; or convene a constitutional assembly to rewrite Ecuador's constitution.
The Indians contend that Ecuadorean farmers and small-scale Indian producers would not be able to compete with cheap imports from the U.S., where agriculture is heavily subsidized.... such as in Mexico where 1.5 million farmers have been forced off the land since NAFTA.
The issue with Occidental: US Oil Co. Occidental has also drawn the ire of Ecuadorians and helped spark current protests. The company has been embroiled in legal problems with the government over alleged contract violations and disputed taxes. Occidental has offered $600 million in extra revenues and an additional $100 million for social projects to settle and keep its contract, which is at risk of being revoked. Yet despite this unusual "generosity" the company denies any wrongdoing.
Even more damaging was a recent article by journalist Kelly Hearn that revealed Occidental previously had secret contracts with the Ecuadorian military with terms that included requirements by soldiers to "carry out armed patrol" and "execute and supervise counterintelligence operations."
And check out what Barack Obama and Patrick Leahy have written in a letter to the US Trade Reps. office: "Chevron is reportedly lobbying Members of Congress and your office to use the leverage of the Andean Free Trade Agreement to pressure Ecuador to dismiss the case."
Analysis from Upside Down World: Ecuadorian President(Palacio's) administration has been struggling to contain protests and strikes in the oil producing Amazon region over the last few months. Protesters shut down two oil-pumping stations in February, demanding that the government spend more on social programs and infrastructure projects. Ecuador uses less than 8 percent of its GDP on social programs.
It’s very possible this government could fall. The worst-case scenario is this would result in such instability that it could lead to calls for foreign "peacekeepers." Ideally Palacio will wait to continue negotiations until a referendum is organized or until the country’s next election. But if not, he will most likely be removed and Ecuadorians will have to endure some political turbulence. It wouldn’t be the first time.
In the meantime, social movements in Ecuador need to determine what kind of electoral strategy they want to take. CONAIE and the indigenous political party Pachakutik were left reeling after their candidate Gutierrez turned on his populist promises and instead adopted the neoliberal policies championed by Washington and the IMF. The conditions are ripe for a leftist leader to emerge as president in the next election in October, just as in other countries in the region.