November 12, 2013

Ecuador's Citizen's Revolution

J. Boyden,
Rebel Youth Magazine

Delegates headed to the 18th World Festival of Youth and Students in Quito, Ecuador this December are being invited to learn about a “Citizen’s Revolution” in motion throughout the country.

At the centre of these major transformations are a comprehensive series of anti-poverty, pro-democratic, and pro-environmental measures which have not only begun to re-assert the Republic Ecuador’s sovereignty but also put the country on the map internationally as a key player in the struggle between the United States and the new Latin America.

If the motor of these changes has been the active support of a broad sweep of progressive Ecuadorian society especially the rural poor, urban workers, labour movement, and indigenous communities, the driver has come from perhaps an unlikely source, the “PAIS alliance” lead by an economist educated at an US Ivy-League school who speaks four languages including indigenous Quichua.

President Rafael Correa’s government was swept to power in the mid-2000s, after successive crises had rocked the country. Neo-liberal structural attacks on social welfare programmes by the World Bank and International Monetary Fund enacted crippling deregulation and privatization on Ecuador in the 1990s. Combined with corrupt management and the fundamental contradictions of capitalism, Ecuador suffered a sudden and massive economic catastrophe.

Dark days

These were the dark years of 1999 and 2000, which saw a spike in Ecuador’s poverty as GDP plunged over 5% and the country defaulted on its heavy debt. In response, Ecuador’s ruling class followed more IMF advice. The country completely “dollarized” their economy – eliminating their local currency for the US dollar.

Protest flooded the streets in response, not least from indigenous communities, and in this atmosphere of social turmoil a military coup brought into power a new anti-IMF leadership. But the country's new President quickly abandoned his anti-IMF platform, negotiating even more loans and pushing Ecuador deeper into debt. Mass demonstrations and strikes continued. The new President fled the country – only to be replaced by two other leaders who made anti-Neo Liberal promises in election campaigns and then quickly reneged on them.

In this context, Correa emerged as a young candidate outside of the traditional political elite. Briefly appointed the position of finance minister in the last of these three short-lived governments, Correa resigned when he refused to capitulate to the World Bank. In 2006, he was swept to power in elections. He defeated his right-wing opponent, a banana tycoon who is the richest man in Ecuador, with almost 57 per cent of the vote.

Since then Correa has been re-elected twice – first in 2009 and recently, for his last term in office, in February 2013. The February elections were another landslide victory, and the first time in Ecuador's recent history a president and his party has survived three consecutive terms of office, indicating growing and consolidating public support for his leadership and party, PAIS, which stands for Patria Altiva y Soberana or "Proud and Sovereign Fatherland Alliance".

PAIS Alliance

PAIS grew out of a cluster of social movements that Correa brought together, including signed agreements with the Socialist Party and Communist Party of Ecuador. The PAIS alliance’s political project is called the RevoluciĆ³n Ciudadana, summarized in five core principals:  Political revolution, Economic Revolution, Ethical Revolution, Social, Educational Revolution and of Health, Revolution for Latin American Integration, to transform to the Ecuador toward what they call “the socialism of the 21st century.”

In its first term of office, PAIS began a series of audacious social projects including pro-people measures which have lead to a steep drop in poverty from close to half the population in 2005 to less than 25% today. They've also kicked out US military bases from Ecuadorian soil, and adopted a new constitution enshrining many new democratic, social and also, uniquely, ecosystem rights known as the Rights of Nature.

The Rights of Nature are a complex and new idea, in many ways groundbreaking and a reflection of the pro-environmental character of the Correa government as well as the mass organized public pressure of indigenous communities on Ecuadorian politics.  They guarantee nature the right to thrive and also be restored, and allow local communities and individuals to bring all levels of government and corporations to account if these rights are not respected.

Criticism of government

But not all elements of Ecuadorian society still fully support Correa. Many indigenous communities and some political leaders say the new constitution did not go far enough. International NGO’s, including Canadian-based Mining Watch, have been sharply critical of police violence at demonstrations against economic development (such as mining and oil extraction).

To counter the accusations, Correa has accused these social forces of trying to destabilize the country, including pointing to some links which apparently exist between sections of this protest movement and the CIA.  And in February's elections, these forces polled at less that 10% of the vote.

Late this summer Correa also tore-up plans for a unique ecological reserve. The Yasunii ITT in the Ecuadorian Amazon is one of the most biologically diverse areas in the world sitting atop oil reserves equivalent to 920 million barrels.

In a world-first, the government declared that it will leave the oil (an industry that accounts for half of Ecuador's foreign exchange) and the fragile ecosystem untouched in return for contributions from the international community. The decision to conserve the area won praise from Canadian scientist David Suzuki. But with contributions not forthcoming and after several attempts to keep the reserve untouched, Ecuador has announced energy extraction in a section of the park while promising not to build roads into the area.

Still, the Correa government continues to win accolades from environmentalists for continuing to pursue the oil giant Chevron in international courts, including Canadian ones, seeking justice for high cancer and death rates in hundreds of Amazonian villagers because of oil development and pollution in their homeland several years ago.

Class and social struggle

Correa also has powerful right-wing detractors, who helped organize a failed coup attempt against him three years ago. The main leader of the opposition leads a think-tank with connections to US neo-liberal policy groups; and he was exposed by Wikileaks as making regular visits to US Embassy in Quito to discuss building a united opposition with the business community to overthrow “the Correa threat.” So far, however, the right has been unsuccessful in that project of uniting opposition.

Certainly Correa has earned the ire of the USA. He has aligned his country with the other radical governments in Latin America who aim to build a new region out of US domination, not least Venezuela, Bolivia and also Cuba, and has signed fair trade integration agreements like ALBA.

Indeed, Ecuador is a key player in that process. With the death of Chavez, Correa is perhaps the most dynamic left-wing leader on the continent. And while he finally could not come through for NSA whistleblower Richard Snowden, Correa has allowed Australian activist Julian Assange shelter in Ecuador's London Embassy since June 2011.

Festival chance to see revolution

Over 50 delegates from across Canada will have an opportunity to see this dynamic and inspiring social struggle at the 18th World Festival of Youth and Students which is expected to bring together over 12,000 from 120 different countries.

To help support this delegation from Canada, which includes the Canadian Federation of Students – Ontario, the Vancouver District Labour Council, and the Young Communist League, check out or send a donation directly, eligable for a charitable tax receipt, to the Marty Skup Memorial Fund c/o S. Skup, Treasurer, 56 Riverwood Terrace    Bolton, Ontario, L7E 1S4.

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