The Guardian April 12, 2000


New confrontations building in Ecuador

In January, a popular uprising in Ecuador by indigenous farmers united 
with trade unionists paralysed the Government, brought tens of thousands of 
protesters to the capital Quito and forced the President to resign. The 
insurgents' call for power to be transferred to the grass-roots "Peoples' 
Parliament", however, was thwarted by the head of the army, who betrayed 
the popular aims of the uprising and helped to have the deputy of the 
ousted President installed in his place. The new President promptly 
announced he would continue the same neoliberal (economic rationalist) 
policies as his predecessor.

In February, the American Association of Jurists (AAJ), an NGO with 
consultative status at the United Nations, decided to send an observers' 
mission to Quito. William Sloan, who was part of the mission, reports:

The mission was led by the AAJ's continental President, Alvaro Ramirez, a 
former Nicaraguan Supreme Court Justice, and included Waldo Albarracin, the 
foremost human rights lawyer in Bolivia, Romeo Saganash, Director of Quebec 
relations for the Grand Council of the Crees, and myself from the Canadian 
branch of the AAJ.

We met with the President of the Ecuador Congress, Ministers of Government 
Affairs and Defence, the Constitutional and Military Courts, the Judicial 
Council, and a Minister in the former government. We also met native 
leaders, trade union leaders, human rights organisations, detained officers 
and the Ecuadorian branch of the AAJ, which hosted the visit.

What we found was a powder keg waiting to explode. On the one hand, 20 
years of IMF "restructuring" has been exacerbated by the looting of the 
country's riches (including personal savings accounts) by bankers and 
speculators, with the help of successive governments.

On the other hand, the United States has expanded its active interest in 
Ecuador, deciding to use its Air Base at Manta (acquired last November) to 
co-ordinate operations for Colombia, Peru, Bolivia, and Venezuela.

Its influence on internal events was obvious in January, as the Ecuadorian 
Army High Command followed direct orders from the US State Department when 
they installed Gustavo Noboa as the new President.

It quickly became evident that Noboa was nothing but old wine in a new 
bottle. He announced that he was proceeding with the former government's 
plan to "dollarise" the economy, abolishing the national currency, the 
sucre. Perhaps this is a pilot project for the American version of the 
Euro.

CONAIE and the other indigenous organisations have returned to the 
countryside to strengthen and broaden their support, and are apparently 
linking up with the broad coalition of progressive forces known as the 
Patriotic Front.

They are planning to ask for a referendum on the replacement of the present 
corrupt political structures with a People's Parliament, elected on the 
basis of local, regional and provincial assemblies.

In the coming months there will be further confrontations, as the 
Government tries to impose "world" prices on a country where the base wage 
is US$54 per month, and where corruption, drug trafficking and money 
laundering will only be made easier by dollarisation.

CONAIE leaders have suggested that if there is not a redirection of the 
political will of the governing elite, Ecuador is headed for a civil war

These are strong words in a country which has just signed a 10-year lease 
with the US for an Air Base. It may be that Che Guevara's call to arms is 
about to be answered in another Latin American country.

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People's Voice

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