Socialist Worker

Uprising in Ecuador

Issue No. 1735

Revolt against the 'neo-liberal' policies of the International Monetary Fund (IMF) swept the South American country of Ecuador last week-and won. Thousands of indigenous people from the countryside marched on the capital, Quito, and occupied the city's university and the headquarters of a visiting IMF delegation.

Across the country, as the pictures show, protesters blocked roads with trees and boulders, clashed with the army, and burnt down the control tower of a regional airport. What Ecuadorian newspapers dubbed an 'uprising' by the country's indigenous peoples' organisations won the support of the Spanish-speaking urban population. The El Comercio paper spoke of how the uprising was backed in the 'barrios' of Quito-the working class areas.

The rising was sparked by the decision of president Gustavo Noboa to double the price of fuel used for cooking and heating by most ordinary families, and to increase public transport prices by 75 percent. The move was part of a deal planned between the government and the IMF to force ordinary people in Ecuador to pay the price of 'structural adjustment' and pay off foreign debt.

Half that debt is owed to just one family, the Darts, and the world's bankers are determined to ensure leeches like these continue to get their debt payments. The new uprising in Ecuador came a year after a mass revolt swept away the former president.

Ecuador is a country the size of Italy with a population of some 12.5 million. The mainly Quechua-speaking indigenous people live in often grinding poverty in the rural areas in the Andes, with the Spanish-speaking working class in cities like Guayaquil and Quito.

Only around 25 percent of people have full time employment, the rest scraping by on casual and temporary work. A year ago all united in a rebellion which toppled the government, but the new regime has sought to continue the same IMF-backed austerity measures. The government tied the country's currency to the US dollar, a move which has seen prices of basic commodities double. The fuel and transport price rises, coupled with the visit of an IMF delegation, sparked the new uprising last week.

The government's first response was to declare a state of emergency. At least four people were killed and many more injured when troops opened fire on people blocking roads. But protesters successfully fought back, armed with spears, when the army tried to evict them from Quito University.

A turning point then came, says the BBC's correspondent in Ecuador, James Reynolds: 'The president backed down when oil industry, public health and education workers threatened to join labourers and students in a general strike on Wednesday.' The government withdrew most of the fuel and transport price rises, and agreed to freeze most such prices for between one and two years. The IMF said it was 'uncomfortable' with the deal, and will be pressing for the government to resume the offensive.

But the rising shows how people have the power to stand up against the high priests of globalisation and 'neo-liberalism', and beat them.

To the International Monetary Fund

To John Thornton and Harold Hirschofer, delegation from the International Monetary Fund.

'The Ecuadorian government and its military command have warned that 'all subversive agents who are responsible for fomenting destabilisation will be arrested'. You have arrived at the right moment, therefore, so that these threats can be carried out without delay, to the real and most important agents of national destabilisation, the destruction of the country, and social chaos and violence-YOU.

You and the institution that you represent are the ones who are primarily responsible for the social upheaval in Ecuador today.

You are the ones who are destroying a beautiful and diverse country. You are the extremists. Your policies, which have been applied by successive governments, have resulted in the destruction of Ecuador's natural resources, have dedicated more than 50 percent of the national budget to paying an illegitimate foreign debt, have burdened the country with the highest rates of inflation on the continent, the highest levels of corruption, the most advanced state of deforestation and the worst example of the maldistribution of wealth.

And this disaster, the result of your policies, is repeating itself throughout the Third World in which you have intervened to 'help us rise out of poverty'. The Ecuadorian government, anxious to comply with the conditions you have imposed, is resorting to violence and attacks on the human rights of the Ecuadorian people. Your presence is clearly putting our country at risk, which clearly justifies putting you under arrest.'
IVONNE YANEZ, on behalf of the organisations that are peacefully occupying the university in the Ecuadorian capital, Quito

Click here to subscribe to our daily morning email newsletter 'Breakfast in red'

Article information

Sat 17 Feb 2001, 00:00 GMT
Issue No. 1735
Share this article


Mobile users! Don't forget to add Socialist Worker to your home screen.