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Scenes from the class struggle in Ecuador

Published: October 5, 2007
Section: Opinions


Most of what we hear about the left in Latin America takes one of two forms: either American leaders denouncing Hugo Chavez, Venezuelas socialist president whose Bolivarian Revolution has been the centerpiece of Latin Americas recent leftist renaissance, or a general denunciation of Fidel Castros seemingly incomprehensible will to live. This can distract from the fact that all over Latin America, from Chiapas to Bolivia, people are struggling to build new, more equitable societies in which they can recover their independence, the control of their resources, and, most of all, their dignity. One of these revolutions is happening in Ecuador and has recently achieved two important victories, neither of which are well known to readers in the US.

The first, perhaps more superficial, of these is the election of a new constituent assembly to rewrite the Ecuadorian constitution. Historically and with a few notable exceptions, Ecuadors government has been a corrupt and ineffective organ which showed little respect for human rights, especially those of Ecuadors poor indigenous population. Since the discovery of oil in the 1970s, the government allowed Ecuadors resources to enrich a few local elites and Western corporations. Rafael Correa, Ecuadors leftist president, is trying to change this and to reinvigorate the countrys political culture in ways which will allow the indigenous, the peasants, and the working class to share in the nations wealth and power. Whether or not he will succeed is unclear, but Correas actions so far have shown him to be a sincere and effective leader. He has challenged Ecuadors neo-colonial status and nationalized Occidental Petroleums holdings in the country.

In one of its most important acts, Correas government suspended Ascendant Coopers controversial Junin project last week. The Canadian mining company was developing an open pit copper mine in Ecuadors tropical Andes, one of the most ecologically diverse areas of the world. The mines would not only force residents of Ecuador Intag region to leave their homes, but also cause colossal deforestation, exacerbate climate change, poison water supplies, and threaten rare and endangered species. The project is detested by the residents of the region. In keeping with their commitment to social responsibility, Ascendant responded to this popular aversion by hiring right wing paramilitaries to attack grassroots activists who are working to prevent the creation of these dangerous mines. With the closing of the Junin project, Ascendants days exploiting the people, the environment, and the resources of Ecuador may well be numbered.

But throwing Ascendant out of Ecuador is no small matter. Carlos Zorrilla, an anti-mining activist whose home was stormed by 20 Ascendant paramilitaries, highlights the risks involved, it's a fine political balancing act it [is] an attempt to close down Ascendant's operations in Intag while at the same time trying hard not provoke the powers that be in the international financing institutional world.

And theres the rub, getting rid of a violent and exploitative corporation may seem like common sense, but there are a variety financial structures ready to retaliate, not to mention powerful Western governments who dont like seeing the people of Latin America rise up against their economic interests. But in Ecuador the vast majority refuses to be cowed by Western imperialism any longer. In our county where the gap between rich and poor widens every year and cities are decimated by ecological catastrophe we have much to learn from a small, poor country which is trying to rebuild its society along the lines of social equality and environmental sustainability. That is why these scenes from the class struggle in Ecuador cannot be ignored.