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Ecuador Protests Challenge Foreign Oil
In Ecuador protests erupted on August 15 in two oil-rich northern provinces, as people demanded an end to pollution in their homeland by oil exploration and the promised but not delivered investment in their communities from multi-million dollar oil profits.
A call for resistance spread through the Orellana and Sucumbios provinces as residents clamored that they were hardly benefiting from the feats of foreign oil investors, such as Occidental Petroleum Corp. (U.S.), Burlington (U.S.), EnCana Corp. (Canada), and Petrobras (Brazil). More than 1,500 people blocked highways and impeded all activities of several oil refineries in the area.
President Alfredo Palacios declared a state of emergency in the region and called for the military to quell protesters. Clashes between the troops and protesters resulted in at least 67 people injured6 by bullet woundsand more than 30 arrests. For days oil production and exports were frozen, resulting in the loss of between $300 and $500 million for the country, forecasted into a 60-day period by the Ministry of Economy.
The strike was prompted by a failed concession on August 2 between local officials in Orellana and Sucumbios and multinational oil producers in the area. Local officials believe their demands for structural and social development have not been met. On August 5 a call for a bi-provincial strike was issued and the next day people mobilized to take over the airport.
Receiving increasing pressure from oil companies, President Alfredo Palacios called for a state of emergency on August 15limiting free speech, freedom of movement, and access for media networksand sent troops to forcefully end the strike; 25 arrest warrants were issued by Interior Minister Mauricio Gandara against local officials.
That same week Gandara received a vote of no confidence in Congress for issuing arrest warrants and for claiming that protesters had been infiltrated and incited by Colombian guerrillas. They requested that President Palacios remove Gandara from office, but he remains in power to this day.
Two days later, when military repression of the population reached national news, General Solon Espinosa, commander in chief of the troops in the region, was forced to resign for his weakness to tackle the violence and his inability to take preemptive measures against the strike. General Oswaldo Jarrin Roman took command in his place.
General Jarrin had been appointed defense minister under the previous government of ousted President Lucio Gutierrez, but resigned from office five months later. He was said to have opposed Gutierrezs attempts to politicize the armed forces. Human rights organizations in Ecuador say Jarrin has been a big supporter of the militarization of Ecuadors northern border, as specified under the U.S.-initiated Plan Colombia.
Nevertheless, Jarrins first move was to release local officials from prison and transport them to the nations capital, Quito, to begin immediate negotiations with President Palacioss administration. The first two days of talks failed, as representatives from foreign oil companies refused to sit at the negotiation table, repudiated demands brought by local officials, and called for the prosecution of all strike leaders.
In the meantime, the protests continued. According to the national newspaper El Comercio, four out of twelve women, all members of womens organizations, were arrested as they called for a hunger strike in Nueva Lojas main church. There was also an attempt by the military to close down Radio Sucumbios. The station was spared only under the condition that it would replace its daily reports from the region with music broadcasts.
Residents from Orellana, Sucumbios, and other Ecuadorian provinces have a long history of disputes with foreign oil companies. Most of the revenue from oil falls into foreign hands and locals have seen little improvement in their standard of living.
In their request to renegotiate oil contracts with foreign companies, officials from Orellana and Sucum- bios petitioned that 50 percent of the net oil profits go back to the state (as opposed to the current 25 percent), 15 percent of which would be invested in the water systems, road improvement, the construction of their first hospital, and economic support for their schools. They also requested payment for any natural resources used in the process of oil exploration and that future negotiations between the local government and oil companies take place in offices instead of military compounds, as has been done so far.
On Friday, August 26 an agreement between officials from Orel- lana and Sucumbios and the national government was reached. It ended the two-week state of emergency and granted 16 percent of the 25 percent oil revenue for regional investment. It also included a provision for further talks about the invalidation of Occidentals contract, said to violate legal stipulations for conceding some of their rights for oil exploration to EnCana without state approval, and the re-negotiation of contracts with the remaining oil companies. Delegates from the foreign oil companies did not attend the negotiations, but subscribed to them in absence.
Honestly, we are not satisfied because it has been as if we managed to get a few cents from the great economic power that oil companies have, said Guillermo Muñoz, prefect of Sucumbios.
Sofia Jarrin-Thomass articles have appeared in Z Magazine, Dollars & Sense, CommonDreams.org, and Boston Independent Media.
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CUBAN 5 - From May 30 to June 5, supporters of the Cuban 5 will gather in Washington DC to raise awareness about the case and to demand a humanitarian solution that will allow the return of these men to their homeland.
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