Ecuador's unknown president
Ecuador's unknown president
The re-election last month of Hugo ChÃ¡vez as president of
On 21 January 2000, a combination of mass discontent, mobilisation by the indigenous ethnic population and support from a group of army officers (including Colonel Lucio GutiÃ©rrez) led to the fall of President Jamil Mahuad: he had sought to avoid a $7bn bankruptcy and save Ecuador's financial institutions and so decided to freeze savers' deposits (1). It seemed briefly that a popular government was in the making. On 22 January, the military intervened, placing power in the hands of the vice-president, Gustavo Noboa, who soon replaced the national currency, the sucre, with the US dollar (2).
The revolt of the year 2000, despite the way it ended, furthered the cause of the indigenous peoples (and of the party they had created, Pachakutic), and of some of the mestizo (3) community. GutiÃ©rrez, an ex-army officer, with his eyes on the October 2002 presidential elections, came forward as "nationalist, progressive, humanist and revolutionary". His campaign was based on the need "for a second independence". Pachakutic decided not to field its own candidate and fell in behind GutiÃ©rrez, who took the second round in November 2002. He offered indigenous representatives a place in his government (4). Then he dropped all those around him and signed an agreement with the International Monetary Fund to bring in structural adjustment, alignment with the United States and Colombia, and a pact with Ecuador's hard-line right, the Social Christian party (PSC).
Pachakutic was less concerned with its political agenda than with negotiations for seats in prominent positions; it made little effort to prevent the appointment of neoliberal ministers. Its leaders cut themselves off from their base and were called "golden ponchos". The economist Rafael Correa worried: "In terms of economic policy, [their participation] legitimised the shameful signing of the IMF letter of intent" (5). GutiÃ©rrez had neutralised the indigenous movement through co-option, division and repression. It was not until July 2003 that Pachakutic finally withdrew its representatives from the government. GutiÃ©rrez's agreements with the IMF and World Bank cut all domestic gas subsidies and led to the privatisation of the national electricity and telecommunication companies. The oil industry waited in the wings (6).
Latin American unknowns
"We were in a real crisis," she said. "The dollarisation of the economy wasn't working out. Local production costs had risen even higher than those of our neighbours. Businesses had closed. It was even worse in agriculture. We were eating US potatoes and Peruvian or Colombian melons." The Ecuadorean economy had focused on boosting imports to satisfy the high demand it had created; less effort had been directed at the export market, and no resources committed to improving productive capacity and the labour force. As a small farmer said: "You could get a loan to buy a car in 48 hours. But just try to get one to grow three hectares of potatoes."
At that point, exit GutiÃ©rrez. According to the sociologist Werner VÃ¡squez, "the revolt of the forajidos (7) was not so much a social movement as a reaction, by groups of the middle class, to the president's immorality. The whole thing faded in six weeks, with no proposals for change." The vice-president, Alfredo Palacios, then took his ritual turn at the top and put the economy in Correa's hands.
Correa is middle-class with a Catholic education and calls himself "a humanist and a Christian". After a year as a volunteer with an indigenous community in Cotopaxi province, he studied at universities in
There was concern in
There was another eruption in March 2006, with roadblocks, felled trees and burning tyres. A state of emergency was declared in 11 of the 22 provinces which were paralysed by the indigenous organisations' furious demonstrations against the FTA and the cry of "We are not a
Correa needed the support of the indigenous movement to win the election, but it refused politely, having been scalded by its disastrous and mistaken alliance with GutiÃ©rrez. This left the movement weak and divided; it was mistrustful of mestizos, introspective and no longer prepared to accept another borrowed politician, saying: "Our own candidate or none."
Pachakutic rejected Correa's proposal for polls in the provinces to settle the pecking order (president, vice-president) of an alliance with a Conaie founder, Luis Macas. He was prominent in the 1990s and re-emerged when GutiÃ©rrez made him minister of agriculture; he then set his sights on the presidency. Ricardo Patino, Correa's political adviser, said: "Rafael said he would be honoured to run as the vice-president to a compaÃ±ero representing the indigenous movement, as long as it maximises its potential."
There are no agreed figures on the size of
There was total disarray. Even mestizo activists had doubts about Correa: "Where's he from? The upper classes. He has no roots among the people." Correa had been dean of the faculty of economics at the private
The ideas of Macas and Correa are barely distinguishable: both demand agrarian reform and a constitutive assembly; they reject imperialism, free trade agreements and the Colombia Plan (9); they call for solidarity with
A dirty campaign
A dirty campaign by Alvaro Noboa and his Institutional Renewal Party of National Action followed. Noboa is a banana baron, the richest man in
Matters became serious. It was clear that there was a widespread consensus: the political system had to change. During the second round a broad-based citizens' movement rallied around Correa: Pachakutic, the Democratic Popular Movement, the Socialist party, the Democratic Left and 200 grassroot organisations, including Conaie. On 26 November Correa won 56.67% of the votes.
Under the Palacios regime new oil industry legislation had already ensured the state higher tax revenues from the multinational companies. This was not enough for Correa: "It is completely unacceptable for the multinationals to take four of every five barrels produced, leaving us with only one. We are going to have to look again at the state's stake in these contracts." Similar things had already happened in
Correa is against FTAs and refuses to embroil
(1) The state was later to reimburse savers, in part.
(2) The sucre was named after MarÃ©chal Antonio JosÃ© de Sucre, who helped
(3) Mestizos have mixed European and Amerindian ancestry.
(4) For the first time, a Latin American state could claim an indigenous minister for foreign affairs, Nina Pacari.
(5) Kintto Lucas, El movimiento indigena y las acrobacias
(7) Forajidos are "outlaws". They adopted the term, first used by the president to insult his opponents.
(8) Relations with
(9) This plan refers to a proposal by Colombian president Pastrana in 1998-99, meant to curb drug smuggling.
(10) The left and centre-left presidents ChÃ¡vez (
Translated by Robert Corner
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