Massive protests against dollarization led to the resignation of the Ecuadorian president a year ago. Under pressure from the US, the Ecuadorian government has nonetheless continued with dollarization and IMF structural adjustment policies, casting vast segments of the population into dire poverty. In the face of drastic transportation and fuel price hikes and increasing Ecuadorian involvement in Plan Columbia, another massive uprising by the indigenous people this February caused the government to scale back the most recent round of structural adjustments. The following are some observations from a Slingshot associate in Ecuador.
Dollars, oil spills and an indigenous uprising. There\’s always something of interest here in Ecuador. In the month since I arrived, I have learned a lot about the power of protest and the power of the media to distort what is happening.
The media portrayed the indigenous uprising, that resulted in road blockades and the imposition of a state of emergency, as response to rising prices. While this is certainly a concern, people were really fighting against the IMF policies that are threatening their way of life. In addition, the US military is setting up in Ecuador what is to be its largest base in South America, for the purpose of waging war on Colombia. The creation of the base is almost certain to bring the war to Ecuador as well.
The \”drug\” war on Colombia at its root is a war for oil, some of which is on Ecuadorian soil. The extraction of oil in Ecuador for corporations such as Texaco has done tremendous environmental harm to traditional lands and has displaced many indigenous peoples. These multinational corporations extract what they want for outrageous profits and give nothing back, leaving a toxic wasteland behind.
Around 6,000 indigenous communities blocked highways for two weeks, not allowing any food to enter or leave Quito. The y burned tires as blockades and tore up roads. The indigenas occupied a university where they were repeatedly bombarded with tear gas when they tried to leave. In some instances police opened fire on protesters, injuring scores of people and killing four.
Finally points were agreed on between the protesters and the government, including the lowering of fuel prices and bus prices, compensation for the families of those who were killed and injured, the goal of not sacrificing the environment to pay off the debt, and a weak commitment to keep the war from coming to Ecuador. There is little assurance that these agreements will be kept. A similar situation took place here with the protests a year ago, but in the end, under US pressure, last year\’s agreements were not kept, as is typical of the treatment of indigenous people by the U.S. For now, at least, the indigenas have returned home.
Overall, the people of Ecuador have been supportive of the plight of the indigenas. However, there is rampant institutionalized racism and classism against them, which assist the IMF/WB and US military interests in dividing and conquering. It seems so clear that the same process of repression and exploitation is underway everywhere. This is what they mean by \”globalization.\”
It\’s also clear that automobiles and oil are very much at the heart of this. I was so sad when just recently the Galapagos Islands, a part of Ecuador so rich with unspoiled life and famous for Darwin\’s developing his theory of evolution, were hit by an oil spill. Walking around Quito, like in most \”third world countries\”, automobile traffic is essentially unregulated, and there is no respect for pedestrians and bicyclists. The pollution is terrible, I am trying to get a gas mask. While my fellow travelers worry about thieves and parasites, crossing the street is my biggest fear as I go to my English teaching job on foot. This is what we make war for? To secure oil and make war on our own neighborhoods? All at the expense of the balance and fabric of life that has existed for millennia and may be irreplaceable, from the indigenous cultures to the ecosystem itself. I was heartened to hear that there is one group in Ecuador, Accion Ecologia, a \”radical\” environmental group, which has reportedly organized critical mass rides in the past, though I haven\’t seen them. When I see a bicycle here it fills my heart with joy. And there is still much natural beauty here to protect.
CONAIE (one of the main indigenous groups)
Reclaim the Streets