Ecuador’s President Correa again won the presidency in the country’s recent election. In addition, his party won more than a 2/3 majority in the national congress. This means that he now has the power to change the constitution without a national vote. Essentially, he has no opposition that matters.
People are beginning to wonder about the implications of this unlimited power. Two serious conflicts already loom on the horizon as a result of Correa’s desire to again alter the path Ecuador will follow. One is a possible war in the Amazon. Another could mean the wholesale introduction of GMO’s into the country.
As was expected, Correa won the election handily, with more than 57% of the vote. His closest rival gained only 24%. It makes me wonder if some of the multitude of other candidates got any votes at all other than from family and friends.
“This victory is yours. It belongs to our families, to our wives, to our friends, our neighbors, the entire nation,” Correa said. “We are only here to serve you. Nothing for us. Everything for you, a people who have become dignified in being free.”
Having lived in Ecuador under Correa’s rule for more than 6 years, I have seen many changes as a direct result of his presidency. The country is booming economically, unemployment is way down, the poverty level is greatly reduced and the country’s infrastructure is so much better than it was in 2006 that I almost feel as if I’m living in a different country.
Yet all of this investment requires money. And here is where I begin to get nervous. For in addition to having an incredibly beautiful country with a young, energetic population, Ecuador has an abundance of natural resources–oil, gold, copper, other minerals, water, hydroelectricity and rich farmland.
One of the reasons Ecuador is prospering while much of the world continues to wallow in recession is because early on in his presidency Correa succeeded in renegotiating Ecuador’s cut of the oil profits to a much higher level. Had he not had the moxie to accomplish this feat against the oil companies, the country would not have prospered nearly so much due to the higher oil prices of the last few years. Oil production is down as fewer companies are willing to play, but revenues are much higher, and more oil is being held in the ground for the future.
Correa also renegotiated the country’s international $3.2 billion debt, which he said was acquired illegally by his predecessors, and ended up paying 30 cents on the dollar. Following the debt and oil renegotiations, Correa began a massive stimulus through infrastructure construction–new highways, bridges, schools and hospitals, as well as spending on social programs to benefit the poor. He has also increased the minimum wage three times.
Right now, Ecuador has one of the lowest debt-to-GNP ratios in the world. Much of the world press refers to this action on the debt as a default. Technically, it was a default on a debt that Correa said was entered into illegally. But after the default, Correa went back and renegotiated the 30% repayment which has been paid off. He now does not borrow from the IMF or the World bank.
Instead, he has a $3.4billion debt with China at commercial rates. In turn, China is making much more investment in the country. While others say this was a failure to live up to obligations, I prefer to see it in terms that he beat the world bankers at their own game, and the country is prospering from it.
Here’s a great video by Bill Black, as associate professor of Economics at the University of Missouri. Black discusses all of the things that Correa has done right for his country economically.
Yet in his appetite to gain more money, it appears on the surface that Correa is willing to sell his soul to multinational resource exploitation corporations at the expense of the very heart of Ecuador itself—the Amazon rainforest and its indigenous peoples.
Correa did make a bold initiative to the United Nations when he said he would sign an agreement to leave the oil under Yasuni National Reserve in the ground, if the world would pay Ecuador $3.5 billion, which is about half of the value of the oil that is in the ground.
The Yasuni National Reserve is one of the most pristine and bio-diverse regions in the world. It has more species of trees (644) in one hectare of land than exist in all of North America. However, as of this writing, only $300 million has been committed or pledged by other countries. The world may talk about saving the rainforest, but when it comes to putting the money up to do so, the world is strangely quiet.
In fact, two groups of indigenous living in the Amazon have vowed to fight to the death to protect their ancestral homeland. The Shuar, a fierce people, only one or two generations away from their headhunter past, live near the Ecuador-Peru border. They are essentially declaring war on Canadian and Chinese companies who have been granted mining rights, and the government itself. They have vowed to fight to the last person of their 8,000-strong tribe in order to prevent exploitation of gold and copper and the destruction of hundreds of thousands of acres of tropical rainforest which is their ancestral homeland.
Likewise, the 400 member strong Kichwa tribe who live near the Yasuni National park have also said they will fight if needed to preserve the jungle.
In 2010, Linda and I attended a showing of the movie “Avatar” in Quito. We watched as several indigenous from the Amazon filed into the movie in full ceremonial headdresses. They watched the natives in the movie fight to protect their forest and their way of life. Read Linda’s blog post here.
Now, in 2013, it appears that the mythical battle in Avatar is going to be played out in real life in the Ecuadorian Amazon.
The website Salon recently published an excellent, well-researched article about the confrontation shaping up in the jungle. It’s entitled, “To get the gold, they will have to kill every one of us.” The next few years will tell the story of whether the incredible treasure that is the Ecuadorian rainforest will be saved, or if it will be opened to satisfy the oil-guzzling addictions of the modern world.
Another item that I find troublesome is that in an interview with El Comercio, Correa said he wants to change the Constitution of Ecuador to allow the use and distribution of transgenic seeds (GMOs).
GMOs are a disaster in the making. Already, super weeds resistant to Monsanto’s Round Up are spreading around the globe, and by most accounts, the increased production promised by GMOs area fantasy. Hundreds of thousands of peasant farmers in India have committed suicide because GMO economics have not allowed them to pay their bills and support their families.
My hope is that as the economic consequences of GMOs become more obvious, Correa will turn away from them. Time will tell if I am living in fantasy land or not.
One of the highlights of the new Constitution written and approved by the Ecuadorian people in 2008 was the idea that Mother Nature (Pachamama) had rights equivalent to any natural person. It was a beautiful statement that gained wide applause and recognition around the world. It would be a shame to see Correa back down on that commitment.
The new assembly takes office in May of this year. We do not have long to wait to see what happens to a very popular politician when he assumes nearly unlimited power, and to the country that in the short term has become the environmental darling of the world.
And that’s today’s, View from the Roof.