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.