from Weekly News Update on the Americas
OIL STRIKE IN AMAZON
The Ecuadoran government decreed a state of emergency in the Amazon provinces of Napo, Orellana and Sucumbios on March 8, two days into a strike that shut down oil production in the region. The 4,000 striking workers were employed by subcontractors to provide maintenance, security, transport, clean-up and construction for the state oil company Petroecuador. The workers are owed three months worth of salaries by the subcontractors, who have themselves not been paid by Petroecuador since last September. On March 7, the workers shut down six major oil facilities in the region; the same day, army soldiers used tear gas bombs to eject the strikers from several oil company sites. The workers released three of the sites on March 11 and ended the strike on March 12 after the government promised to arrange payment of the debts and to release three arrested strike leaders. The state of emergency was to be lifted gradually beginning on March 13. (Agencia Pulsar, March 8; AP, March 8, 12; El Comercio, Quito, March 11)
Workers and other social sectors blocked roads on March 8 in several areas of Ecuador to protest the government’s negotiations with the US over the Andean Free Trade Treaty, press for a wage increase and demand that the government cancel its contract with the US oil company Occidental Petroleum (Oxy). Mesias Tatamuez, leader of the Unitary Workers Front (FUT), called the strike “a warning message,” and said that if the government doesn’t attend to the protesters’ demands, more extreme actions will be taken. (Agencia Pulsar, March 8)
Weekly News Update on the Americas, March 12
INDIGENOUS PROTEST TRADE PACT
Early on March 13, indigenous Ecuadorans began a national mobilization against the Andean Free Trade Treaty (known in Spanish as the TLC), which the Ecuadoran government has said it intends to sign with the US, Colombia and Peru. The mobilization is also demanding that the government cancel its contract with Oxy, that Ecuador not participate in the US-led “Plan Colombia,” and that a National Constituent Assembly be called to write a new constitution. The mobilization was organized by the indigenous organizations Confederation of Indigenous Nationalities of Ecuador (CONAIE) and the Confederation of the Peoples of Kichua Nationality of Ecuador (Ecuarunari). In a joint March 13 communique announcing the start of the mobilization, the two groups called the TLC “a mortal weapon for the economy of millions of indigenous people, campesinos and small businesspeople.”
“Now 50 of every 100 indigenous children suffer from chronic malnutrition–that is, hunger–and with the TLC, which will affect the production of foods from our fields, there will be millions of children and adolescents who together with their parents will suffer hunger and will have to migrate to the big cities or to other countries,” said the communique.
March 13 began with actions in at least 14 of Ecuador’s 22 provinces and in the capital, Quito. In Carchi, some 1,500 people shut down traffic on the road leading from Tulcan to Quito. Protesters also blocked roads in Imbabura, Pichincha, Cotopaxi, Tungurahua, Canar, Loja and Zamora. In Canar, access roads to nearly every town were blocked, and 3,000 indigenous Kanari people blocked traffic in the village of Suscal along a road to the coast. Ten busloads of protesters left from Imbabura to join protests in Quito. In Latacunga, Cotopaxi, some 2,000 people took part in a protest march. In Bolivar, protesters marched and seized the governor’s offices. In Azuay, thousands marched in the city of Cuenca, and a roadway was blocked in Giron. Police repression against protesters was reported in Ayora, Pichincha. In Esmeraldas, some 200 people marched in the provincial capital. From the eastern provinces of Pastaza and Morona Santiago, some 500 people reached Banos de Ambato on a march toward Quito. In Quito, some 100 members of Campesino Social Security seized the cathedral. (CONAIE/Ecuarunari Communique, March 13)
On March 14, the second day of the mobilization, protesters who arrived that day from Imbabura joined local Quito residents in marching past the US embassy to the cathedral. Police attacked the marchers in the area around the provincial council, and at the theater plaza. Protesters continued to block roads in Carchi, Imbabura, Pichincha, Tungurahua, Bolivar and Chimborazo. Some 10,000 people marched in Latacunga, capital of Cotopaxi province; hundreds of people also marched in Salcedo, another city in Cotopaxi, before blocking a nearby highway. In Suscal, Canar, police unleashed repression on protesters–mainly women and children–and arrested several protest leaders. Despite the attacks, protesters in Suscal continued to block the road leading to Guayaquil. The march from the Amazon region continued, with 600 people reaching the city of Ambato from Zalazaza. (CONAIE/Ecuarunari Communique, March 14)
In a March 15 communique signed by CONAIE president Luis Macas, CONAIE condemned the repression faced by protesters. “At a time when the Ecuadoran government and army are incapable of defending the country from incursions by the Colombian armed forces, and they have rather turned into security guards for the oil corporations, they have sharpened their weapons against their own people, causing numerous wounded, disappeared and persecutions against peaceful, democratic and united mobilizations,” said CONAIE.
CONAIE reported that in a meeting that morning with Governance under-secretary Felipe Vega, its leaders had protested the violation of human rights and questioned the government’s lack of transparency and democracy in the TLC negotiations, and delays in the cancellation of the Oxy contract. CONAIE leaders told Vega that the mobilization would continue until the TLC negotiations are suspended, the government publishes everything it has negotiated up to now, the Oxy contract is cancelled as requested by the state prosecutor’s office, and a Constituent Assembly is convened. (CONAIE communique, March 15)
By March 15, the protests were starting to affect the economy, disrupting deliveries of corn, potatoes and milk in the central provinces where traffic was blocked, and preventing flower exporters from transporting their shipments. (Al Jazeera, March 16) In a televised speech on March 15, Ecuadoran president Alfredo Palacio criticized the protests and called on Ecuadorans to “close ranks to protect democracy.” Earlier in the day, Interior Minister Alfredo Castillo resigned after publicly stating that the protesters “are right” to demand that the TLC negotiations be “much clearer.” (El Barlovento, Mexico, March 15)
On March 17, Oxy proposed an accord with the Ecuadoran government in which the company would provide oil assistance and funds for social projects, would give up legal claims and would renegotiate its contracts in exchange for the cancellation of legal proceedings threatening its current contract. It was not clear whether the government had responded to the offer. (Reuters, March 17) Ecuarunari president Humberto Cholango responded by warning Ecuadorans that Oxy was attempting to evade the legal proceedings with the offer of $293 million in funding for public works. (Ecuarunari/CONAIE communique, March 18)
On March 18, the indigenous mobilization continued into a sixth day, with roads blocked in at least seven provinces, mainly in the central Andean region, the north and the Amazon. In Riobamba, capital of Chimborazo, wire services reported that some 4,000 people demonstrated before holding an assembly to plan subsequent actions. (CONAIE and Ecuarunari reported that 10,000 people from the surrounding areas attempted to enter Riobamba, and 5,000 eventually made it past police to the city’s central square.) In other provinces, indigenous organizations also called assemblies to plan actions for the coming week, as the Ecuadoran government prepares to hold its final round of TLC negotiations in Washington on March 23. (ANSA, March 18; Cadena Global/DPA, March 18; Ecuarunari/CONAIE communique, March 18) The provinces of Tungurahua, Cotopaxi and Pastaza reportedly ended their strikes between March 16 and 17 after the government assigned more funds for public works they were demanding. (Cadena Global/DPA, March 18)
In a March 18 communique, Ecuarunari and CONAIE reported that their respective presidents, Cholango and Macas, along with provincial protest leaders, had been threatened with arrest if they did not end the mobilization. They also reported more repression: the march from the Amazon provinces to Quito was detained for more than three hours in the area of Chasqui, though marchers finally broke through police lines to continue their trek; protester Alberto Cabascango lost his left eye in the area of Cajas, between Imbabura and Pichincha provinces; and protesters Rosa Cristina Ulcuango from Cayambe and Olga Alimana from Chimborazo were hospitalized after being injured by police and army troops.
The worst repression continued to be in the community of Suscal, in Canar province, where on March 18 army and police forces attacked a march of some 500 people along the road leading to the coast, beating, dragging and kicking the participants, including many women, children and elderly people. Many people were injured, including two pregnant women who had to be taken to the health center in Suscal for emergency treatment. The military and police patrols then continued their assault on the community by violently invading homes, destroying doors and windows, firing tear gas bombs, threatening people at gunpoint and carrying out mass arrests. (Ecuarunari/CONAIE communique, March 18)
Weekly News Update on the Americas, March 19
PROTESTS SUSPENDED—FOR NOW
On March 21, thousands of indigenous people from around the country arrived in Quito and blocked main highways with their protests. Police used tear gas to disperse the demonstrators; some protesters threw rocks at police. About 30 people were seriously injured and 100 were arrested. Another 300 people, including a number of minors, suffered asphyxia from police tear gas. (El Barlovento, March 21) CONAIE leader Luis Macas and the alternative news source Altercom reported that police were boarding buses headed for Quito and detaining anyone who looked indigenous or looked like a protester. (Adital, March 21; EB, March 21)
Late on March 21, Ppresident Palacio responded to the protests by decreeing a state of emergency in the provinces of Chimborazo, Cotopaxi, Canar and Imbabura and in the districts of Tabacundo and Cayambe in Pichincha province. Under the state of emergency, constitutional rights are suspended. (EB, March 22) Thousands of police and soldiers were deployed on March 22 to clear blocked highways. (AP, March 22)
On Mar. 23, the uprising began to lose some strength in the Andean region, but more than 3,000 indigenous people from around the country marched in Quito, with the support of students and other sectors. Police used tear gas to disperse university and high school students marching through the center of Quito, and clashes between demonstrators and police left dozens of people injured. In the northern city of Otavalo, indigenous people defied the state of emergency and blocked several roads. (La Jornada, Mexico, March 24; Adital, March 23)
CONAIE suggested a dialogue with the government, mediated by the Catholic Church, but the government refused. “The ball is in CONAIE’s court,” said Minister of Government (Interior) Felipe Vega. “They should stop this action now, and five minutes later they will converse with President Alfredo Palacio.” Palacio had said hours earlier that he would dialogue with the indigenous groups if they ended the mobilization.
Later on March 23, CONAIE announced that the mobilization would be temporarily suspended. CONAIE was to meet March 31 in the Andean city of Riobamba to “redefine actions” in the continuing struggle against the TLC, and for the cancellation of the government’s contract with Oxy.
“We’re going to withdraw, but the uprising will resume after the assembly in Riobamba, if by then the government doesn’t commit to at least convene a people’s referendum to decide about the TLC,” said CONAIE vice president Santiago de la Cruz. The government will maintain the state of emergency until the country is “totally pacified,” said Communication Secretary Enrique Proano. (LJ, March 24) Proano said some protests were continuing in Otavalo on the night of March 23. By March 24, indigenous protesters had dismantled most of the road blockades.
The Ecuadoran and US governments began their 14th round of TLC negotiations in Washington on March 23. (AFP , March 24)
Weekly News Update on the Americas, March 26
Weekly News Update on the Americas
See also WW4 REPORT #119
Reprinted by WORLD WAR 4 REPORT, April 1, 2006
Reprinting permissible with attribution