Ecuador's Continuing Strikes and Protests:
A Sign of Growing Confidence for Change
By Tamara Hansen
By: Antenor Peralta (Andean poet)
Translated by: Ada Gibbons
Wake up! Children of the Incas, Shout!
Turn your eyes this way with your head held high;
so we can be heard around the world.
The new day is beginning, The sun greets you, as a father looking upon his children gathered below him.
His sparkling light shines upon you as it had in the good times of our glorious Kingdom of Tawantinsuyu.
Upon you workers who have suffered too long!
Here it is! Our victorious day has arrived.
Obtained by the blood of our brave fighters,
who sacrificed their lives and were hung by their necks,
because they fought their exploiters in the past.
Around the world millions of oppressed workers will remember this happy day;
It is necessary to bring back the consciousness of our ancestors,
Wakeup from our nightmare of shame.
WAKE UP HARD WORKING MAN! BREAK THE CHAINS OF OPPRESSION!
Ecuador: Another government rejected by poor and working people
On April 18th 2005, amid social unrest and demands for his resignation, Ecuadorian president Lucio Gutierrez said, "I was elected with 59 percent of the vote, three million votes, not by the 3,000 or 5,000 who shout: 'Out with Lucio'."
Through their popular protests, Ecuador's workers and farmers were ready to respond to Gutierrez' over-confident statement. Only two days later, on April 20th 2005, their protests led to Ecuador's military removing their support for Gutierrez and Ecuador's congress voted to fire him from office. Basically, due to mass pressure from poor and working people in Ecuador, Gutierrez was forced out of his post as president and later to flee the country. Gutierrez was the third president to be toppled by popular protests in Ecuador in the last 8 years.
The overthrow of Gutierrez was a major victory for poor and working people in Ecuador against the government, which since coming to power in 2002 has been expanding US military presence in Ecuador, opening a deeper relationship with the IMF (International Monetary Fund) and Washington, as well as refusing to increase social spending. Gutierrez was also involved in opening Ecuador for further oil exploitation despite protests by different indigenous communities. His administration also led attacks on the media, and forced several media outlets that were critical of his administration to shut down.
Vice President Alfredo Palacio, who had become 'increasingly critical' of Gutierrez, was sworn in as the new president on April 20th 2005. Since coming to power Palacio has been tip-toeing a thin line between pleasing the United States, the Organization of American States (OAS) and oil investors in Ecuador while trying to quell ongoing protests by granting certain concessions to poor and working people in Ecuador.
Can Palacio bring "stability" for corporations and the ruling class?
"A terrible social discontent has exploded, which is difficult to manage. So now there would have to be a dictator to hold power securely in this environment."
- Magdalena Barreiro, Ecuador's new Minister of Economy, September 9th 2005.
Since coming to power in April 2005, Palacio has opened up workers pensions to be spent before retirement; he has settled new wages for doctors; he supported the Brazil and Venezuela backed candidate for secretary-general of the OAS over the US and Mexico backed candidate; and he did not sign the World Court treaty that would have granted to US military and civilian officials working in Ecuador who commit crimes against humanity. Overall these moves have been viewed by many as a show of independence from imperialists by Palacio in an effort to win the confidence of oppressed people in Ecuador.
However, despite all of his 'progressive' moves Palacio has not proved to be a popular president to the dynamic poor and working masses in Ecuador. In the six months since coming to power his approval ratings have fallen drastically from 78% approval in April 2005 to 38% at the beginning of August. This simmering discontent was ignited on August 15th 2005 when workers and indigenous peasants in the provinces of Orellana and Sucumbíos led an 11 day long strike against the government and international oil corporations in Ecuador.
The Oil Strike: a sign of discontent and willingness to continue struggle
On August 14th and 15th protests and then a strike began. The demands of the strikers were vast, but all focused around fighting for the interests of poor and underemployed people in the two oil-rich provinces. According to Prensa Latina a Latin American news agency, "Residents of the Sucumbios and Orellana provinces took over two airports on Sunday and on Monday started blocking roads, overrunning oil camps and sabotaging oil facilities. Backed by regional officials, the demonstrators are demanding, among other things, that oil companies hire more local workers, provide greater investment in roads and public works in the zone and make income tax and royalty payments directly into local government coffers.
The strike crippled the petroleum industry in Ecuador and brought exports from the national oil corporation Petroecuador down from 201,000 barrels a day to only 33,167 barrels a day by Saturday August 20th. Because of this immense drop the company was forced to halt its exports half way through the week on Thursday.
The Oil Strike: The government responds
On August 17th the government responded to the strikers by declaring a state of emergency and sending over 3,000 soldiers and police to 'secure' the oilfields in both provinces. "If strategic facilities are threatened or there are plans to destroy or sabotage, maximum force will be used," said the new Ecuadorian Defense Minister Oswaldo Jarrin in a press conference on Friday August 19th.
The state of emergency led to attacks on people's rights - including police and military violence, suspension of people's freedom of movement and assembly and heavy censorship of the media in Orellana and Sucumbíos. New demands were then shaped by protesters including that the state release all imprisoned protesters and for the government to completely revoke its contracts with EnCana Corp. (a Canada-based company) and Occidental Petroleum Corp. (a US-based company).
On Sunday August 21st some of the protest leaders who had been arrested were freed from prison after agreeing to negotiate with the government. After days of discussion and ongoing strikes the protest leaders and government reached an agreement on August 25th.
The agreement included:
a) That foreign oil companies build 260 km of new highways in the two provinces,
b) That two-thirds of the income tax paid by the foreign companies to the government of Ecuador would be allocated to health, environment and development projects.
c) That 16% of that newly allocated money would go directly into local government coffers instead of to the capital.
d) Companies also agreed to give preference to hiring local workers.
The main issue that the agreement did not address was the release of many protesters that were imprisoned by the government during the strikes. Also, according to The Economist's EIU Viewswire, officials said, "The protestors' demands to revoke the contracts of EnCana and of US oil company Occidental Petroleum are not …on the negotiating table."
Roots of struggle - Poverty and imperialist exploitation
Ecuador is the United States' second largest oil supplier in Latin America. Today Venezuela, which is the US' number one oil supplier in Latin America, is consistently threatening to cut off or reduce US oil supply should the US continue its interference in that country. Washington cannot afford to lose Ecuador. So it is using Palacio to do the job of stabilizing and negotiating between its imperialist interests and poor and working people in Ecuador.
As mentioned above Palacio has done some small maneuvers to combat the idea that he may be a lackey of US imperialism, but overall his administration has only given working and poor people in Ecuador the concessions it has been forced to give in order to maintain power.
To better understand this recent history in Ecuador we must not only look at the latest news but also into the daily conditions of people living there. Today there are more than a million Ecuadorians leaving on a dollar a day, which means that over 1 in 14 people in Ecuador live on a dollar a day. Even according to the CIA world handbook only about 11.1% if the population is unemployed, however 45% of the population lives below the poverty line.
Negative US Vs. Positive Cuba
According to UNICEF statistics averaged between 1992 and 2004, the government of Ecuador spends 11% of its yearly expenditures on health, 18% on education and 13% on defence. These numbers must be compared with those of Cuba, which has been spending 23% of its yearly expenditures on health, or Venezuela, which has been spending 21% of its yearly allocation of funds on education and only 6% on defence.
It is important to remember as well when reading these statistics that there is a large difference between urbanized areas and rural areas in Ecuador. Many statistics on health, poverty, etc. are an average for the whole country and do not show the true story behind what is happening in poorer provinces like Orellana and Sucumbíos. Guadalupe Llori a governor in Orellana commented on rural poverty and the lack of resources in rural communities. "Ecuador's crude oil, which is mainly pumped in the Amazon, has brought the country $60 billion over the past 35 years. But between 1993 and 2005, local governments in the Amazon jungle region received $569 million - a tiny amount compared to $60 billion."
The Struggle continues
After the agreement with protesters was reached on August 25th the people's discontent and dissatisfaction with the government. On August 28th protesters threatened to resume strikes should the government and corporations not quickly begin to implement their agreement and increase local investment.
On Sept 7th Palacio and Ecuador's ruling class responded to this threat and announced further concessions to the protesters with promises to end the 80% profit sharing with corporations while Ecuador is receiving only 20% profit. Palacio said, "We have set ideas that at least are 50-50 percent." This change would almost double the government of Ecuador's oil revenue, which is very significant considering that today oil revenue already accounts for between 40-50% of Ecuador's national budget. With his new announcement Palacio made a bold move in order to maintain ruling class stability in Ecuador, however, it is still unclear how or when these measures will be implemented and how or when the United States will respond.
Despite the goals of Palacio's concessions, on Sept 14th there was a 48-hour work stoppage in emergency wards in hospitals across Ecuador. Over 14 thousand people walked off the job in protest and to warn the government that it must keep its promises to the public health sector. This protest was the fifth public health sector strike this year.
This is another sign that the concessions put forward by Palacio to calm the masses are not working. Working and oppressed people in Ecuador are poised to struggle until they see a leadership that truly represents them, not one that will send in 3000 troops to repress them or that tries to maintain power by granting small concessions to them.
Throughout the oil strike in August and since the strikes ended there has been a lot of government shuffling. Ministers and officials have been resigning under pressure from Palacio who is again trying to maintain a balance between Washington, his administration and poor and oppressed people in Ecuador. The country continues to be unstable and protestors vowed to continue strike action if these agreements are not quickly implemented.
What is the context of this struggle? The example Cuba & Venezuela for Latin America
Growing resistance and pressure by the working class on the ruling class in Latin America is forcing the ruling class and imperialists to abandon the use of dictators and move instead to granting concessions, like so-called 'democracies', to oppressed people in Latin America. These concessions have worked to calm resistance in some Latin American countries however it seems that working and poor people in Ecuador have not been fooled by the concessions of Palacio and Ecuador's ruling class.
Poor and working people in Ecuador are showing in their struggle that they will not accept corporate or government led exploitation of their lands or labour power. It has been reported that many Bolivarian Circles have formed in Ecuador and that Ecuador is looking for change similar to that in Venezuela. With 3 presidents having been rejected by oppressed people in Ecuador and run out of office in the last 8 years, the people are showing their willingness to fight for real change. Cuba and Venezuela are continuing to set a positive and revolutionary example for oppressed people in Latin America and unstable countries, like Ecuador, are beginning to see new hopes and alternatives in finding their own revolutionary working class leadership.
Until Victory, Always!
Hasta la Victoria Siempre!
US Hands Off Cuba!
Back to Article Listings