The ‘Solidarity Economy’ – Off the Beaten Track

In the beginning of this year, Ecuador became one more of the South American countries to turn Left. The new Left-wing President, Rafael Correa called, soon thereafter, for a “new socialism of the twenty-first century”. The last few months have witnessed sharp conflcits between the President, backed by a popular struggle the corrupt right-wing oligarchy that pervaded the system. We reproduce below two recent articles, one by Roger Burbach and another, in the nature of a report by Kintto Lucas, which indicate some of the fascinating new directions that Ecuador is set to now move along.

Sometime ago we had posted in Kafila, an interview of Bolivian President Evo Morales, which was remarkable for two things: (1) Morales’ reference that when he met Cuba’s Fidel Castro, the latter told him to follow Hugo Chavez and not him; that is to say, adopt the democratic road to socialist transformation. This is a commitment that many of the new regimes in the South American continent, backed by powerful mass struggles, are now displaying. The Ecuadorean struggle for and the Leftist victory in, the new Constituent Assembly is a further indication of this new direction. The second important point was Morales’ insistence that ‘we’ (the indigenous people) live in an entirely different relationship with ‘Mother Earth’. Thus: “We say the “Mother Earth,” because the earth gives us life, and neither the Mother Earth nor life can be a commodity. So we’re talking about a profound change in the economic models and systems.” Of course, this is something that neither the Indian ruling elites nor their Leftist counterparts can ever understand, drunk as they are on the heady brew of Capital and Consumption – even if that will lead the world to its rapid end. The likes of the CPM leaders – the Buddhadebs and Bimans for example – would in the end like to claim that “see we reached the end before you”, rather than dare to chart out a different path. It takes real courage – and of course the existential perspective of an ‘indigenous’ leader – to say that we want a radical break form this destructive model.

The news from Ecuador is important in both these respects. It is a different vision of ‘socialism’ – not a vision that wants capitalism to first destroy the planet before socialism can begin its work (for what?!) So, the Ecuadorean government now talks of ‘socialism’ as a shared economy and one moreover, that will be based on the protection and preservation of the oil wealth and bio-diversity of the country rather than its sale for global consumption.

ECUADOR: Support Grows for Letting Sleeping Amazon Oil Lie
By Kintto Lucas

QUITO, Aug 23 (IPS) – The innovative offer by the government of Ecuador to refrain from exploiting its largest oil reserve, in exchange for international compensation for nature conservation, is attracting increasing support. While oil prices are soaring, Quito is adopting the civil society initiative calling for the Ishpingo-Tiputini-Tambococha (ITT) oil reserve, the country’s largest, to remain untapped. The ITT reserve is located in Yasuní National Park, one of the most biodiverse areas in the world, in the Amazon region provinces of Pastaza and Napo.

The slogans “Yasuní Belongs to Everyone” and “Yes to Life, No to ITT”, painted on the walls in Quito and other Ecuadorean cities in the last few days, are a sign that something new is happening in this country. The idea was set forth by local environmental organisations like Acción Ecológica, has been promoted by former minister of mines and energy Alberto Acosta, and was taken up by left-wing President Rafael Correa. Quito has suspended oil drilling at ITT for one year, and has approached several foreign governments, international bodies and non-governmental organisations with the proposal that Ecuador be paid an indemnity in return for leaving the oil undisturbed, on the grounds that this would prevent environmental damages that would affect humanity as a whole.

Correa told IPS that society is being encouraged, nationally and internationally, to contribute to the Ecuadorean state in order to keep the crude underground. The hope is to raise some 350 million dollars a year, equivalent to 50 percent of what the state would earn from the extraction of the ITT crude. The envisaged procedure is that the state would issue bonds for the crude that is to remain untapped, on the undertaking that it will never be extracted, and that the Yasuní National Park, declared a Biosphere Reserve by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) in 1989, will be protected.

Ecuador is basing its proposal on four key arguments: the need to combat climate change, curb the destruction of biodiversity, protect the Huaorani, Tagaeri and Taromenane indigenous people, and transform the country’s economy by adopting a new development model.

“The 350 million dollar contribution would be for 10 years, after which it would drop steadily, because an alternative source of income for the state would be developed, that could yield dividends indefinitely,” said environmental activist Esperanza Martínez, an expert on oil issues.

So far there have been over 100 expressions of interest in supporting Ecuador’s proposal, from governments, international organisations and individuals. Among them is British musician Sting, whose wife, Trudie Styler, is active on behalf of those affected by pollution caused by the U.S. oil company Texaco in other areas of the Ecuadorean Amazon. Another is the government of Norway, one of the first to join the “great green crusade,” as some environmentalists are calling it. Norwegian Deputy Foreign Minister Raymond Johansen promised his country’s support on a visit to Ecuador in April. For its part, Spain has committed four million dollars to researching sustainable management of the Yasuní National Park, and said it would be the first to contribute to the compensation fund if it was found that not exploiting the crude was a viable option. The U.S. environmental organisation The Pachamama Alliance also expressed interest in providing economic support.

Former minister Acosta suggested swapping Ecuadorean foreign debt against the country’s commitment to protect its Amazon region, to be negotiated with the Paris Club, an informal forum of 19 creditor nations. Acosta was involved in negotiations for this exchange while he was a government minister, from January to June 2007, and said he believed it was feasible. “Ecuador’s foreign creditors could reduce our payments or cancel debt, in exchange for the oil not being extracted,” Acosta told IPS.

“We must beware of irresponsible exploitation of oil resources. To continue the policy of extracting crude in the Amazon, as has been the case until now, would be really irresponsible,” he said. The non-governmental Acción Ecologica has invited international cooperation with the campaign, by “buying” the underground oil.

The proposal would ban commercial extraction of oil in the ITT in perpetuity, and explicitly recognise the right of traditional usage by indigenous people, particularly groups like the Tagaeri and Taromenane who live in voluntary isolation. “The extraction and burning of oil, gas and coal worldwide cannot continue unabated, because carbon dioxide emissions are already double what the oceans, soils and new vegetation can absorb, and therefore atmospheric concentrations continue to rise,” said Martínez, with regard to factors causing climate change.

Studies by the state oil company Petroecuador indicate that the ITT block contains reserves of close to one billion barrels of heavy crude, with a ratio of 80 barrels of toxic water to 20 barrels of oil. The Brazilian oil company Petrobras is already operating in the Yasuní National Park, in block 31, while the Spanish-Argentine firm Repsol-YPF and Canada’s EnCana have concessions for two other reserves in blocks 17 and 18, respectively, which are located near the limits of the park, and impinge on it.

The Huaorani people live in an area of the Yasuní park close to the ITT. “We know what oil is. It does not benefit us, it has only brought pollution,” said Huaorani leader Juan Enomenga. Sources at the medical centre in Coca, the capital of the Amazonian province of Orellana, report that after oil drilling began in the area the Huaorani people began to fall sick with gastrointestinal, respiratory and skin diseases. In May 2006, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights granted precautionary measures in favour of the Taromenane and Tagaeri peoples, to protect the rights and survival of these groups.

The Yasuní National Park was created in 1979 with the aim of protecting its biodiversity. It has an area of 982,000 hectares, and more than 500 species of birds, 173 species of mammals, 100 amphibian species, 43 tree frog species and 100 reptile species, including 62 species of snakes, have been identified there.

II

Ecuador’s Nascent Leftist Government Victorious in Confrontation with Right by Roger Burbach
March 25, 2007

The two month old government of leftist Ecuadorian President Rafael Correa and the popular movements that back him have emerged triumphant in their first battle with the oligarchy and the traditional political parties that have historically dominated the country. Correa in his inaugural address in January called for an opening to a “new socialism of the twenty-first century” and declared that Ecuador has to end “the perverse system that has destroyed our democracy, our economy and our society.”

Correa’s presidency is rooted in a militant mass movement that has been mobilizing and challenging the country’s ascendant economic and political interests for years. The Ecuadorian political system, referred to as a “partidocracia,” is run by factious political parties dominated by oligarchs who pull the strings on a corrupt state that includes Congress, the Supreme Court, as well as the presidency until Correa’s election. Even Michel Camdessus, the former head of the International Monetary Fund, once commented that Ecuador is characterized “by an incestuous relation between bankers, political- financial pressure groups and corrupt government officials.”

The central demand of the broad movement that brought Correa to power is for a Constituent Assembly to draft a new constitution that breaks up the current dysfunctional state, ends the reign of the “partidocracia,” refounds the country as a plurinational, participatory democracy, reclaims Ecuadorian sovereignty and uses the state to advance social and economic policies that benefit the people, not the oligarchy.

Correa upon his inauguration issued a decree calling for a plebiscite for the people to vote on April 15 for the election of a Constituent Assembly. The Congress refused to accept the president’s initiative, passing its own law saying that such an assembly would not have the right to limit the tenure of Congressional members or any other elected officials until their terms expired with the next elections. It would not be an assembly with powers to refound the country’s institutions. Then with the intent of turning the election of assembly members into a virtual circus, the Congress declared that anyone could put their name on the ballot for the assembly. No signatures or petitions were required, meaning that hundreds or more could simply sign up to run for any given seat, making the balloting virtually impossible to administer.

Correa responded by taking the Congressional legislation, eliminating the onerous clauses, tailoring it to his original decree for a Constituent Assembly to refound the country, and sending it the country’s Supreme Electoral Tribunal, which rules on elections and electoral procedures. Hopes were not high, as the Tribunal is historically viewed as part of the “partidocracia.’ The popular movements began to demonstrate in front of the Tribunal and Congress, calling for their closure, and for Correa to simply issue a decree for the Constituent Assembly.

Rene Baez, a political analyst at the Catholic University of Ecuador, says: “To the surprise of virtually everyone the popular repudiation shook the consciousness of the Supreme Electoral Tribunal.” Lead by its president, Jorge Acosta, a member of a traditional right wing party, the Tribunal declared that the statute proposed by President Correa to refound the country’s institutions would be the one that would be voted up or down on April 15.

Outraged by this decree, fifty-seven of the one hundred deputies of Congress voted to depose Acosta from the Tribunal. The next day Acosta and the Tribunal responded by expelling the fifty-seven deputies from Congress for their unconstitutional actions.

The people took to the streets in a jubilant mood. Backed by demonstrators, Correa ordered 1500 policeman to surround the Congress to enforce the decree of the Tribunal, preventing any of the fifty-seven deposed representatives from entering. They attempted to hold a rump session at the Quito Hotel, but it went nowhere, with demonstrators ridiculing them outside by throwing pieces of dried pork fat at them as they entered and left.

Since a quorum of fifty-one members is required in Congress to conduct business, the deposed members hoped to provoke an institutional crisis. But because of a quirk of Ecuadorian law, each deputy of Congress is elected along with a substitute legislator from the same party. The Correa government made it clear it would seat any of the substitutes, if they accepted the rulings of the Electoral Tribunal. Twenty substitutes almost immediately broke ranks with their parties, and Congress had the quorum necessary to function.

“This is a major blow to the right wing and the oligarchy,” says Rene Baez. “The ‘partidocracia’ has been gutted in the political realm.” President Correa proclaimed: “The fifty-seven deputies tried to sow chaos in the country…now they have been sanctioned and deposed. Congress will continue to function.”

While the plans for the Constituent Assembly to refound the country move forward, Correa on the same day that he declared victory made it clear that he intends to take advantage of his powers and a more pliant Congress, particularly to control the country’s private banks. In the midst of the political crisis, the banks spread rumors of a “liquidity crisis,” saying they were short of funds and might have to close their doors. Correa declared: “The problem is the exact opposite: The banks have ample funds and reserves, they are breaking historic records with their profits, exaggerated profits based on high interest rates, these will be regulated and controlled.”

Correa is setting up a special commission to investigate bank accesses and corruption dating back to 1998. “Let’s be clear” he said, “The banks are never again going to be in the position to break the state.”

With the victory of Correa and the popular movement, a leftist axis of nations comprised of Venezuela, Bolivia and Ecuador is consolidating in South America that is bent on carrying out profound social and economic changes at home while challenging the historic domination of the United States in the region. Correa has already announced he is shutting down the largest US military base on the South American coast at Manta, Ecuador. He is also moving forward with the expropriation of Occidental Petroleum, the largest petroleum corporation in the country, merging it with the state-owned company PetroEcuador, which in turn is signing a number of accords for cooperation and joint investments with PDVSA, the Venezuelan state company.

Simultaneously, the popular movements are moving forward with their plans to make the Constituent Assembly a democratic, participatory process. In “An Open Letter to the People,” signed by many leaders of the country’s popular organizations, they declared: “The Constituent Assembly should be an organizing process for the Ecuadorian people, including workshops, seminars, and discussions at the grassroots of society that spills over and includes the different social sectors, women, the indigenous peoples, the Afro-Ecuadorians, workers, professors, students, informal merchants …”

“Never before has it been so clear that it is the people who make history. Today we are at the beginning of an era of popular power, marked by the initial work of the Constituent Assembly. It flows out of the resilience of the Ecuadorian people. It is potent and tumultuous.”

Roger Burbach is the director of the Center for the Study of the Americas, based in Berkeley, California.

One thought on “The ‘Solidarity Economy’ – Off the Beaten Track”

  1. Even indigenous movements in India treat nature as an entity that nourishes and nurtures and in turn has to be protected. The 29 tenets of the Bishnois include protecting trees and animals. The chipko movement in turn was inspired by the bishnois tenets. I think India as a whole is drunk on a very destructive form of capitalist progress that sees natural resources as there to be exploited. For instance, the architect Laurie Baker, who death went largely unreported in the media, developed structures that used indigenous material and were suited to India’s climatic conditions. And yet, his designs are largely ignored by the mainstream.

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