Ecuador: World Bank booted, legislators flee, Chevron upbraided

Ecuador has expelled World Bank representative to Quito, Eduardo Somensatto, on the order of President Rafael Correa. Though Ecuador did not give an official reason for the expulsion, but Correa had protested the Work Bank’s withholding of a $100 million loan in 2005, when he was the country’s economic minister. Correa charges it was because of the country’s moves to nationalize the oil sector. The bank contends the loan was suspended because Ecuador violated terms by dissolving an oil fund set aside to pay off foreign debt. Ecuador last week paid off the balance of its debt to the International Monetary Fund, but Correa has threatened to default on the remaining foreign debt. The country owes the World Bank an estimated $748 million. (UPI, April 26)

Six ousted Ecuadoran opposition lawmakers fled to Colombia April 26 after a prosecutor requested that they and their colleagues be arrested for sedition. Prosecutor Elsa Moreno accused the two dozen legislators of disregarding authority after they declared themselves legitimate office-holders based on a Constitutional Tribunal ruling. Correa had disregarded the ruling, and surrounded Congress with police to prevent the lawmakers from returning. The legislators had opposed the calling of a constitutional assembly, approved by 82% of Ecuador’s voters. Exiled legislator Gloria Gallardo said the lawmakers feared for their lives and were considering filing for political asylum in Colombia. (AP, April 27)

Correa upbraided Chevron Corp. April 27 for dumping billions of gallons of toxic wastewater in Ecuador’s Amazon rainforest. Leading reporters on a tour of a jungle area near the Colombian border, Correa lifted a fistful of greasy dirt from a small farm and said: “Soil with oil, friends.” Correa said that damage to the site, once an oil pit operated by Texaco—which merged with Chevron in 2001—has prevented peasants such as 76-year-old Manuel Salinas from cultivating his land. Salinas also told the president and reporters that he and his family suffer from stomach and skin ailments. Correa said the damage from Texaco’s drilling was 30 times worse than that of the 11-million gallon (42 million-liter) Exxon Valdez spill off Alaska in 1989. “But it would seem that what happens in the Third World doesn’t matter,” he said.

A pending lawsuit, opened in Ecuador in October 2003, alleges that Texaco dumped more than 18 billion gallons of oily wastewater from three decades of drilling. The plaintiffs—30,000 indigenous inhabitants and settlers—are seeking $6 billion in damages. The plaintiffs tried for a decade fruitlessly to bring the case before a US federal court. Chevron says Texaco followed Ecuadoran laws and spent $40 million on a cleanup launched in 1995. The Ecuadoran government’s 1998 certification of the cleanup is assialed by Correa as a “fraud for the country.” (AP, April 27)

See our last post on Ecuador.