Wednesday, December 6, 2006

Leftist candidate wins Ecuador election

The Latin American left had its fifth electoral victory of the year on November 26, when Rafael Correa, a supporter of Venezuelan socialist President Hugo Chavez, won Ecuador's presidential run-off election with the largest margin in almost 30 years.

Correa, a former finance minister and economics lecturer, received 57% of the vote, defeating Alvaro Noboa, Ecuador's richest man, a fierce anti-communist, banana-plantation owner and advocate of neoliberal economics, and despite a slander campaign and outright bribes (including hand-outs of cash, computers and wheelchairs).

The mass mobilisation against Noboa by numerous social movements, and accusations by the New York-based Human Rights Watch and other organisations that the billionaire used child labour and strike-busting gangs on his plantations also helped to turn what looked like a close race into a rout.

Against the right-wing Christian populism of Noboa (who claimed God had sent him to defeat the "communist", "terrorist" Correa), his 43-year-old leftist rival advocated a platform for radical change — a "citizens' revolution" that promises to fundamentally change the Ecuadorian political landscape.

Friday, October 20, 2006

Ecuador: Correa claims voting fraud

On October 15 Ecuador went to the polls. Having seen eight presidents in 10 years, three of whom were overthrown by a population frustrated by the corruption, ineptitude and nepotism that characterise Ecuador's elite, the chances of any government lasting out its mandate seem pretty slim. However, the challenge could be in getting one of the pool of 13 presidential candidates even legitimately elected.

First counts showed the radical left-wing economist, Rafael Correa, and two-time runner-up, billionaire banana magnate Alvaro Noboa, neck-and-neck with around 25% each — until the voting machines, supplied by Brazilian company E-Vote, broke down.

When E-Vote declared that it was unable to count the last thirty percent of votes, the Supreme Electoral Tribunal (TSE) rescinded its contract, and Correa, who had been polling well over 30% immediately before the election, claimed that a fraud had been perpetrated. Many of the other parties have echoed his claims.

A subsequent recount by the TSE confirmed a margin of 26% to 23% in favour of Noboa. However, Correa's party, Alianza Pais ("Country Alliance") has produced what it claims is evidence of systematic fraud, including photographs of members of Noboa's PRIAN (Renovador Institucional) party at polling booths marking and removing hundreds of ballots.

Wednesday, September 27, 2006

Ecuador: Washington frets over 'Bolivarian' candidate

The small oil-rich Andean country of Ecuador goes to the polls on October 15 to elect a new president. Normally, the US isn't too worried about who wins the presidential sash, as they usually end up dancing to Washington's tune. But this time things might be different.
Like most of its neighbours, Ecuador has experienced chronic levels of corruption and nepotism. But over the last decade, rather than tolerating this, the country has "lost" three presidents to popular uprisings. The Ecuadorian people have lost patience with politicians who spout rhetoric and "non-core" promises — so they chase them out of the country. 

The most recent in this line of ignominious hucksters was Lucio Gutierrez, who played a small role in the overthrow of President Jamil Mahuad in 2000. Sensing popular support for the progressive policies of Venezuela's President Hugo Chavez, a fiery critic of Washington, he styled himself as the Ecuadorian equivalent, got elected in 2002 — and then implemented US-friendly policies. 

In April 2005 this self-styled "dicto-crat" fled via helicopter from the roof of the presidential palace and protesters chased him down the airstrip. Simultaneously, the Congress "fired" him, only to find itself besieged by the same protesters chanting "they all must go". 

In such an unstable country, then, it may come as a surprise that a leading presidential candidate is not only campaigning to "re-found" the country via a referendum and constituent assembly — like Venezuela has done and now Bolivia is doing — but is arguing that it should be made easier to remove the president. 

Wednesday, March 29, 2006

Ecuador: Free trade protests grow stronger

Protests by unionists, students and indigenous activists against a free trade agreement (FTA) between Ecuador and the US have strengthened, forcing the government to declare a state of emergency in several states around the capital Quito on March 21.
Thousands of indigenous activists blockading roads and marching on the capital were prevented from reaching their target by the army. Food and fuel shortages are intensifying in Quito, and the main student federation, the FEUE, brought thousands of students out onto the streets on March 23.

The protests are against the proposed signing of the FTA, the final rounds of negotiations for which began on March 23. Indigenous groups and unions opposed to the FTA believe it will further harm Ecuador's poor majority and indigenous population, and are demanding a referendum on the agreement.

Protesters are also demanding the expulsion of US-based oil company Occidental Petroleum, accusing it of environmental damage, breaking the law and hiring the military to spy on activists in oil-producing regions. They also want a popular rewriting of the constitution, to allow more representative democracy.

Wednesday, March 22, 2006

Ecuador: Protests threaten - 'FTA signed, Palacio out'

Several weeks of turmoil have escalated as thousands of workers, students and indigenous groups have taken to Ecuador's streets and highways, bringing the country to a standstill, forcing the resignation of the interior minister and demanding an end to negotiations for a free trade agreement (FTA) with the US.

The latest round of protests were sparked on March 6 when 4000 contract oil workers in Orellana province took industrial action demanding back-pay and secure employment, and opposing environmental damage from the US-based oil company Occidental Petroleum.

Since then, the protests have broadened rapidly to reject the proposed FTA with the US and demand a new constitution and the removal of US troops from the Eloy Alfaro air base at Manta. Protesters have also demanded the expulsion of Occidental from Ecuador and the nationalisation of the country's oil.

In the capital Quito, protesters occupied the metropolitan cathedral and broke through a police cordon to blockade the presidential palace. In rural areas, highways were blockaded across the central highlands and throughout the Amazonian regions.