Supporters and opponents of Ecuador's President Rafael Correa took to the streets of Quito by the thousands Sept. 17—at one point clashing with each other, resulting in eight arrests. Authorities claimed several police officers were injured. Correa, who addressed his supporters at Plaza de la Independencia, boasted that the pro-government march was "bigger, much, much bigger." This was contested by organizers of the opposition march, who claimed to have mobilized some 5,000. The opposition rally was called by the Unitary Workers' Front (FUT), the country's principal trade union federation, in alliance with the indigenous organizations CONAIE and Ecuarunari. FUT called the march to oppose Correa's reform of the labor code, which union leaders denounced as a "neoliberal" roll-back of workers' rights. The indigenous groups joined to protest ongoing oil and mineral development.
In his speech, Correa said his "Citizen Revolution" is facing opposition from a "conservative onslaught" and urged his followers to "avoid the confusion" that right-wing sectors are attempting to sow through "political protests." Conflating FUT and CONAIE with the rightist opposition, he said, "Their audacity is awesome, the world is upside down, the exploiters are now talking about freedom and labor rights… Those who allowed the theft of our oil, now call us traitors and say we are handing the country over to China." (TeleSUR, BBC Mundo, Sept. 18; El Comercio, Quito, Sept. 12 via La Línea de Fuego)
The oil rush in Ecuador's Amazon region continues to advance. One day after the Quito march, Italy's Eni SpA announced a discovery at its Oglan-2 exploration well in Pastaza province that could hold 300 million barrels of crude. Oglan is within the area designated Bloc 10, already producing some 12,500 barrels a day. The smallest of the OPEC countries, Ecuador currently produces about 555,000 barrels a day. Petroamazonas and Rio Napo, the country's two state-run oil companies, account for 78% of Ecuador's total production, but private and foreign firms hold a growing share. (AFP, Sept. 19; WSJ, Sept. 18)
China's growing presence in Ecuador's oil sector has gone along with increasing political and military ties. The day before the Quito march, Ecuador's Defense Minister Maria Fernanda Espinosa and her Chinese counterpart, Chang Wanquan, agreed at a meeting in Beijing to strengthen bilateral military ties. "China is the most important economic and strategic trade partner Ecuador has at the moment," Espinosa said, noting five cooperation pacts already in effect between the two nations. Instructors from the People's Liberation Army are providing training in martial arts as well as Chinese language at Ecuador's Armed Forces University. Espinosa's visit comes after the two countries signed a military assistance pact in early September, with Ecuador to receive $4.8 million from China. (EFE, Sept. 16)