Sunday, August 10, 2008

Ecuador: Chevron battles government, indigenous people

International oil giant Chevron is lobbying the US government to cancel trade deals with Ecuador over a court case where it faces a US$16 billion fine for polluting the Amazonian rainforest.

Chevron is accused of dumping over 18 billion gallons of toxic oil waste into the Ecuadorian jungle, in what many are calling a "rainforest Chernobyl" and maybe the biggest environmental court case in history.

The pollution has caused thousands of birth defects and deaths, and incalculable environmental damage — poisoning animals, plants and the water table.

The court case, on behalf of over 30,000 affected residents — many of them indigenous — was initiated in 1993 in the US. Chevron spent 10 years arguing it should be heard in Ecuador, renowned for it institutionalised corruption.

Having succeeded, however, they are now stuck in an Ecuador where left-wing President Rafael Correa has pledged to root out all corruption. Correa argued earlier this year that "Ecuador is no longer on sale".

Saturday, August 2, 2008

Ecuador votes on new constitution as conflict rises

On September 28, the people of Ecuador will be asked to vote on a new constitution, drafted over the past eight months by an elected constituent assembly.
The new constitution is the centrepiece of the political project of Ecuador's left-wing President Rafael Correa.

Correa, a former finance minister and economist, was elected in late 2006 promising to lead a "citizens' revolution" that would refound the country and overcome poverty through a "socialism of the 21st century".

The draft constitution — Ecuador's 20th since winning independence in 1830 — was passed by the assembly on July 24 by 94 votes to 32.

A number of the 444 articles echo demands raised by the country's powerful social movements over the past decade.

It expressly forbids foreign military bases on Ecuadorian soil, backing up Correa's pledge to close the unpopular US airforce base at Manta, on Ecuador's coast, when its contract expires next year.

Another article recognises unpaid domestic work as productive labour, making those who perform it eligible for social security.

Undocumented immigrants — particularly refugees — will no longer be considered "illegal", granting them more rights to stay and work in the country. Compulsory military service will be abolished, and, with some exceptions, genetically modified seeds will be banned.

Some of the new articles may be contentious in the heavily religious country, such as granting equal legal rights for same-sex relationships and guaranteeing "reproductive rights" to women. Both of these articles have drawn strong criticism from the Catholic Church.