The Guardian February 2, 2000


Ecuador:
Revolution: almost but not quite

A mass uprising by the indigenous people of Ecuador, supported by oil 
workers, students, other workers, small business people and other sectors 
of society toppled the President of the country but was thwarted in its 
attempt to instal a "People's Parliament" as the new government.

Several months ago, the then President of Ecuador, Jamil Mahuad  a 
Harvard-trained lawyer and ineffectual tool of the US and the IMF  
initiated a freezing of all bank deposits in the country to combat rising 
inflation and a falling exchange rate.

This measure was devastating for poor folk who could not withdraw their 
money from the nations' banks.

Ecuador's foreign debt load is almost the same as its economic output.

In January, Mahuad announced the "dollarisation" of the economy (all large 
transactions would be in US dollars). But whereas when bank accounts were 
frozen the Ecuadorean Sucre was 7,000 to the dollar, Mahuad's 
"dollarisation" scheme was positioned upon an exchange rate of 25,000 
Sucres to the dollar.

In real terms this had the effect of stealing more than two thirds of 
depositors' money. Prices soared. Popular anger boiled over.

The Conference of Indigenous Nations of Ecuador and the more worker-based 
organisation the Coordinator of Social Movements declared a popular and 
indigenous uprising for the removal of President Mahuad.

Workers and poor peasants, mainly indigenous Indians, responded and on 
January 11, 2000, the National People's Parliament of Ecuador, a democratic 
forum composed of indigenous natives, farmers and city people, and which 
rejected the economic policies of Mahuad, announced that it was assuming 
"the preparation of transition to the new government"  democratic, 
legitimate and sovereign with "plurinational representation".

A Permanent Commission was established to handle affairs on a day to day 
basis.

"This Parliament does not recognise the set of measures announced by Jamil 
Mahuad and calls for civil disobedience and the rising up of the people 
until they succeed in the revocation of the President and his Government, 
the National Congress, the Supreme Court of Justice and the Organs of 
Control  and the establishment in their place of a government of the 
people."

The National People's Parliament stated that it "ratified the necessity of 
a total change of the neoliberal model for a fair, responsible, 
environmentally sustainable economy, that recognises plurinationality and 
cultural diversity, that is productive and democratic, and directed towards 
human development."

The People's Parliament movement was well established at the district and 
provincial level in all 22 provinces and its proposals for radical change 
had been "discussed at all levels".

The Government resorted to repression. Military clashes broke out as 
soldiers began trying to suppress the peasants. On the 15th, the People's 
Parliament issued a press release that began: "The popular-indigenous 
uprising called by the National Parliament of the Peoples of Ecuador 
against the `dollarisation', corruption, privatisation, and the 
impoverishing of the country, started today."

The Government put into effect a National State of Emergency, which had 
been in fact declared several days earlier. Three union and popular leaders 
in Quito were arrested in their homes in the early hours of the morning by 
masked members of the public security force.

The Eclesiastical Community of the Religious (Comunidad Eclesiastica de 
Religiosos), gave their full support to the uprising.

Oil workers closed down La Libertad Refinery and announced that by January 
17 the strike would spread to the rest of the oil industry, progressively, 
until they had achieved a total halt.

The progressive, revolutionary nature of the events was reinforced by each 
development.

The Confederacy for the Indigenous Nations of the Ecuadorian Amazon, the 
Amazon Defence Front and the oil workers jointly declared that there could 
be no privatisation of the nation's oil and that they stood for the life of 
the Amazon.

On the 17th, markets closed their doors, neighbourhoods, communities, 
health workers, public and industry works electricians, students, Christian 
communities and universities initiated marches all over the country.

In Quito, striking oil workers and students marching on the government 
palace were attacked by police with tear gas. The police were part of a 
30,000-strong government force guarding Ecuador's highways, city streets 
and key government buildings since the 15th for fear of protests by oil 
workers and indigenous groups demanding Mahuad's ouster.

On the 18th, tens of thousands of indigenous peasants converged on the 
capital, Quito. They were joined by students and workers. The government 
was paralysed.

A three-man council, including the head of the military, General Carlos 
Mendoza, and the leader of the indigenous people Antonio Vargas, was 
established. For three days it looked like the people might already be 
victorious.

President Mahuad resigned and fled to Chile. But the change was cosmetic. 
Washington was in touch with the three-man council and was insisting that 
"democratic government"  that is the pro-US government  be reinstated.

Economic aid would be withheld otherwise and financial collapse was held 
out as a threat.

Real democratic government was in the streets and the People's Parliament 
but the US didn't want that.

General Mendoza, nominal head of the council, knuckled under to Washington, 
and supported the installing of the former Vice President Gustavo Noboa as 
President.

Antonio Vargas denounced General Mendoza for betraying the people's drive 
to form a new system of government that would end widespread corruption and 
represent the interests of the country's poor.

But the tactic worked. With Mahuad out but no real change resulting, the 
demoralised peasants began leaving the city. Noboa announced that he would 
continue Mahuad's economic policies.

"Mr Noboa wants to take advantage of our people's fight to keep helping the 
same people as always, the corrupt bankers", said Vargas. "We will defend 
our historic fight."

The peasants and workers vowed to continue the struggle, using non-violent 
resistance.

The price of food products increased about 60 to 80 per cent as a 
consequence of the "dollarisation" which is being persisted with. When all 
remaining restraints are lifted from the price of gas and food the effects 
will be intolerable.

The people of Ecuador will not be fooled again.

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