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While the corporate media portray the events of the last few days in Ecuador as a comic melodrama, a cross between "Evita" and Woody Allen's "Bananas," the reality is much more significant, portentous and hopeful; the nation's people, from the workers and poor of Quito and Guayaquil to the indigenous peasants of the Andean sierra have risen against neo-liberal policies and authoritarian and corrupt politics in a massive wave of joyous yet serious militance that will have tremendous repercussions in the country and throughout Latin America however the current crisis is resolved.
The immediate spark of the political crisis was a general strike last Wednesday, February 5, called by 300 social movement organizations and most political parties, which brought over two million people into the streets. Peasants closed the country's highways with tree and rocks, while students in the major cities set fire to barricades. Under the slogan, "No one stays home," the atmosphere was similar to the mobilizations against Pinochet at the end of his regime in Chile, both festive and resolute. Leaflets circulating before the event declared: "We invite all Ecuadorians to the giant going-away party for the Bucaram family on their one- way trip to Panama or wherever [the Panamanian government had granted exile to President Abdala Bucaram's sister, the former mayor of Guayaquil, who faced charges of corruption at home]. This event will take place in the country's plaza and streets on February 5 and 6. Dress informally. The entrance fee is a street barricade, a burning tire and the will to save the country's dignity."
On the day of the strike, three large feeder marches converged on the National Congress, banging empty pots and carrying effigies of president Bucaram and other political figures. They were met with a military response and waves of tear gas; one canister struck and killed a young demonstrator.
Under the pressure of this mass mobilization, the Congress later voted to impeach Bucaram, which created the immediate political crisis. Bucaram has since fled to his hometown of Guayaquil, the country's major economic center and port for the giant banana plantations on the Pacific coast. The resolution of the situation will undoubtedly be decided by the military in conjunction with the US embassy, but the popular movement will have to either be mollified or crushed if stability is to be restored.
For a number of years, Ecuador has been in the midst of a political, economic and social crisis that has intensified since the application of "shock therapy" measures by the Bucaram government immediately on his arrival in power. These include a 25% increase in transport fares, a cooking gas price rise from 2,900 to 10,000 sucres, gasoline up 20% and water and electric bills soaring 115%, while formerly free hospital services are no longer so. These measures have been accompanied by a wave of blatant nepotism and government corruption. Polls showed Bucaram's popularity rating falling from 75% to 12% within months.
Large-scale social mobilizations against these measures for a week before the general strike culminated in a peaceful takeover of the Quito Cathedral by 100 members of the Social Movement Coordinadora, demanding the derogation of the economic package, cancellation of a currency conversion scheme tying the value of the Sucre directly to the dollar and the end to privatization of strategic industries, as well as the adoption of a number of progressive economic reforms.
While a number of right and "center" parties have attempted to take over the movement for their own ends, the initiative on the ground remains in the hands of the social organizations, particularly CONAIE (Confederation of Indigenous Nationalities of Ecuador) and the Pachakutik Movement, a new independent party supported by CONAIE and a number of urban popular organizations that elected a significant number of deputies in the last congressional elections. These groups are calling for a continuation of the strike and the convening of a constituent assembly to create a new constitution.
As in Venezuela in 1989, an IMF-inspired economic package has one again created a rapid popular response that has turned around the politics of a relatively "stable" Latin American country within days. The fact that workers and indigenous peasants in Ecuador have been building their own independent organizations in the recent period makes a positive resolution of the crisis much more viable. If radicalism is dead in the Americas, it seems that neo-liberal capitalism is capable of raising Lazarus.
Information for this article was gathered from two excellent Spanish-language web sites:
Agencia Informativa Pulsar
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