The past three weeks have left their mark on Ecuadorian society. The magnificent revolutionary movement has risen once again forcing the government to declare a state of emergency in four main provinces. The armed forces have been given permission to use “extraordinary” measures to bring the situation under control. What we are witnessing is the early beginnings of a movement that could develop towards a new insurrection.
The immediate cause of this recent wave of mass protests were the declarations of the president of Ecuador, Alfredo Palacio, who has stated that he wants to sign the TLC (FTA), a free-trade agreement that US imperialism is trying to impose on the Latin American countries. The TLC is a free-trade agreement that will give even more freedom to US-multinationals to operate in Ecuador. It will give them wide access to the rich resources of the country and make it possible for them to make millions of dollars, for example from the big oil-reserves.
As we explained in a previously published article (see Ecuador: New explosions are being prepared), the continued presence in the country of the US oil company OXY, is a source of anger and frustration for the oppressed masses of Ecuadorian workers, urban poor, indigenous people and youth. While social spending is being cut this multinational is allowed to continue its business in Ecuador, in spite of clear evidence that it is violating its contract with the state. If the TLC is applied in Ecuador it will open the gates for more such companies and it will mean complete bankruptcy for many small peasants and small-scale producers, as US-based producers of agricultural goods will be free to export whatever they want to Ecuador.
The recent protests began on March 8, international working women’s day, where a national mobilization and a 24-hour general strike was called by various trade-union confederations with the backing of social movements and the secondary school students of the capital. In Quito several important roads were blocked by protesters and the main squares became the scene of mass demonstrations that were violently broken up by the police firing tear-gas.
In a number of provinces cases of rioting were also registered, most significant being in the Eastern part of the country where the workers of the oil plants followed suit and brought the installations to a halt in Shushufindi, Libertador, Lago Agrio, Sacha, Auca, and the Amazonian district. These workers are demanding payment of their wages that sub-contracting companies have been holding back for some time, in some cases even up to four months.
But the actions of March 8 were just a warm-up to the recent wave of protests that started on March 13 with a number of local risings across the whole country. Associated Press affirmed that, “Several thousand Indians started blockading roads with burning tires, rocks and tree trunks on March 13, tying up traffic and halting commerce across Ecuador's highlands and much of the eastern jungle.”
The movement spread rapidly and was effectively lead by CONAIE (The Confederation of Indigenous Nationalities of Ecuador) that organized a march on the capital. The indigenous minority, numbering around 30% of the population, is an extremely exploited layer and has therefore been in the vanguard of the revolutionary movement over and over and again. This time it had the firm support of the majority of the masses, especially the students that clashed with the police on a daily basis in Quito.
The declared aim of the movement was to stop the TLC negotiations and call for a national referendum to decide on the issue. Palacio rejected any kind of concessions and declared a state of emergency in four Ecuadorian provinces on Tuesday, March 21, giving permission to the military to use special measures to get the situation under control. In a joint statement issued last Thursday, the indigenous organizations CONAIE and ECUARONARI, explained how the military have been ordered to track down the leaders of the movement, enter their homes if necessary, beat them up and take them to the Riobamba prison.
It is not totally clear what will happen next. Obviously the ferocious repression has had an effect on the movement. The vice-president of CONAIE, Santiago de la Cruz, stated that it is necessary to make a “strategic retreat” in order to discuss thoroughly in the local indigenous communities a plan of action “with much greater radicalism”. The idea is to organise mass assemblies in every region leading up to a national assembly next week. The situation is still very open and can produce all kinds of results.
In a desperate attempt to distract the attention of the masses, officials of the Ecuadorian government have accused Hugo Chavez of being behind the popular protests. That the riots could in any way be financed by Chavez is clearly false and it is merely one of the many dirty tricks being employed to side-track the real issues at stake. Chavez himself responded that: “It is not the Venezuelan government that is stirring up protests... it is the conscience of peoples that have decided to live and be free.”
Reactionaries always push the line that strikes are started because a small minority of energetic agitators are “provoking” action. In the same way, these people think that Chavez is an agitator that can “manipulate” the masses into action. Clearly the masses of Ecuador, as in every other country in Latin America, look to the Venezuelan revolution as a great example. But it is not simply the events in Venezuela that are the causes of these risings. On the contrary, it is the result of a number of contradictions that have accumulated within Ecuador over a long period.
In fact, the TLC is simply the last straw that broke the camel's back. What many people do not understand is, that it is not this or that reform, but the very existence of capitalism that hinders a harmonious development of the countries in Latin America. The ruling classes of the continent came onto the scene of history at a relatively late stage and were thus organically linked to the interests of imperialism. At the decisive moments they have always sided with imperialism against the movement for national independence. The history of Ecuador is in itself a very good testimony to that.
So long as capitalism survives, so long as the present ruling class remains in power and holds the key economic levers there will be no lasting solution to the problems faced by the Ecuadorian masses. The acceptance of the TLC merely reflects the position of the local oligarchy. It is a pliant tool in the hands of US imperialism in particular. It is correct to oppose the TLC, but it is necessary to go beyond this.
What is necessary is not only to reject the TLC, but also to build an alternative that can effectively sweep away and replace the discredited bourgeois parliament. This can only come about if the organizations of the working class, the indigenous minority and the peasantry take decisive steps to organize a new insurrection, a revolution that will eliminate the capitalist mode of production and create the conditions for a socialist society.