from Weekly News Update on the Americas

On Aug. 15, residents of the Amazon provinces of Sucumbios and Orellana in northern Ecuador began an open-ended civic strike–backed by local elected officials–to demand higher wages, more jobs and the construction of roads, schools and health clinics in the region, as well as the cancellation of contracts with two transnational oil companies, the US-based Occidental (OXY) and Canada’s EnCana. The Ecuadoran prosecutor’s office has legally challenged OXY–the largest private oil producer in Ecuador–for breach of contract, saying it bought some of EnCana’s operating rights without the required approval from authorities. The strikers are demanding that OXY abandon Ecuador altogether. Some protest leaders are apparently demanding that the government renegotiate all contracts with foreign oil companies to demand a 50% share of the profits they make in Ecuador; others are demanding the full nationalization of Ecuador’s oil. (Adital, Aug. 18; Financial Times, Aug. 19; AFP, Aug. 20)

EnCana, Ecuador’s second biggest private producer, is desperate to leave the country, Britain’s Financial Times reports. No new foreign investors have signed exploration or production contracts in Ecuador since 1996. (FT, Aug. 19)

On the first day of the strike, protesters from the city of Nueva Loja (better known as Lago Agrio, capital of Sucumbios province) occupied “control station 1” of state oil company Petroecuador’s Trans-Ecuadoran Pipeline System (SOTE), leading the company to shut down pumping operations. (El Nuevo Herald, Miami, Aug. 17) EnCana followed by shutting down its output in Orellana on Aug. 17. Energy Minister Ivan Rodriguez claimed protesters had sabotaged EnCana’s pipeline, causing 1,000 barrels of crude to seep into a river. (FT, Aug. 19) In a statement, the Ecuadoran grassroots environmental group Ecological Action said the accusation was a lie, and that reporters who went to the site of the alleged pipeline leak had found no such spill. (Accion Ecologica, Aug. 19)

On Aug. 17, the government of President Alfredo Palacio decreed a state of emergency in Orellana and Sucumbios, allowing constitutional rights to be suspended in the two provinces. The Ecumenical Human Rights Commission (CEDHU) said Palacio had no legal basis to institute the state of emergency. (Adital, Aug. 18; CEDHU, Aug. 19) Indignant over Palacio’s response to the strike, thousands protested in the streets of Nueva Loja and elsewhere in the region on Aug. 17. Police and army forces cracked down on the crowds with tear gas bombs, water cannons and mass arrests. The repression left numerous people injured and many dozens arrested. Soldiers also detained between 40 and 50 people who were trying to seize a Petroecuador station. In Orellana, six people were wounded by bullets and three by tear gas bombs, according to CEDHU. (Adital, Aug. 18; CEDHU, Aug. 21)

Protesters did successfully seize several Petroecuador installations, leading the company to suspend all production on Aug. 18. Palacio announced on Aug. 18 that Petroecuador had suspended all crude oil exports because of the protests. Later that evening, the armed forces claimed they had secured the two provinces. (FT, Aug. 19; AFP, Aug. 20) Protesters also blockaded the region’s major roads and occupied the two main airports in El Coca (also known as Puerto Francisco de Orellana, the capital of Orellana province) and Nueva Loja. Soldiers finally retook control of the airports on Aug. 19 and reopened them. (AFP, Aug. 20; El Diario-La Prensa, NY, Aug. 20)

New economy minister Magdalena Barreiro said on Aug. 19 that Ecuador would need Venezuela’s help to meet oil export targets. Ecuador is South America’s fifth largest producer of crude and second biggest exporter to the US. Oil exports finance about 35% of Ecuador’s budget. (FT, Aug. 19; AFP, Aug. 20)

On Aug. 19, soldiers raided the home of Nueva Loja mayor Maximo Abad Jaramillo, who was supporting the strike, and arrested him. Later in the day, government forces burst into a meeting and arrested Sucumbios governor Guillermo Munoz and about 20 other local officials and leaders of social organizations who had gathered there to discuss a government dialogue offer. (Agencia Altercom, Quito, Aug. 19) As of Aug. 19, at least 60 people had been injured in the government repression, according to Munoz. (AFP, Aug. 20) Twenty people were detained in Orellana on Aug. 19, but they were later released. Four more people were arrested on Aug. 20. (CEDHU, Aug. 21)

On Aug. 19, members of various Sucumbios women’s organizations marched in Nueva Loja dressed in white and with their mouths taped shut to support the strike and protest the repression. (Altercom, Aug. 19) The Confederation of Indigenous Nationalities of Ecuador (CONAIE) and the indigenous Pachakutik Movement political party both issued statements expressing support for the strike’s demands, and condemning the repression. (CONAIE, Aug. 18; Radio Nizkor, Aug. 20; ED-LP, Aug. 20)

After visiting detainees at police headquarters in Nueva Loja on Aug. 19, the Lago Agrio Human Rights Commission reported that a number of people detained there since Aug. 17 were tortured by soldiers. “They are being beaten and every half hour they [the soldiers] throw a tear gas bomb into the cell,” the group reported. Among the detainees were eight boys ages 12-17. (CEDHU, Aug. 21)

On Aug. 19, Defense Minister Gen. Solon Espinosa either resigned or was forced out–apparently because he opposed repressing the strikers. (ED-LP, Aug. 20 from AFP) The Permanent Human Rights Assembly (APDH) of Ecuador blasted Palacio’s choice of retired general Oswaldo Jarrin to replace Espinosa, saying Jarrin heads a rightwing pro-US tendency among high-level retired officers and supports a heavy-handed response to social conflicts. (APDH, Aug. 19)

On Aug. 21, Nueva Loja mayor Abad–still under arrest–told the Spanish news service EFE the strike had been “suspended” to allow a dialogue with the government. He clarified that the suspension didn’t mean an end to the strike, but rather a temporary truce while a dialogue proceeds. Guadalupe Llori, president of the strike committee in Orellana province, told EFE that the strike had not been suspended and would continue in force until Abad and Munoz had been freed. (Resumen Latinoamericano, Aug. 21)

Weekly News Update on the Americas, Aug. 21


After serving for five months as Ecuador’s economy minister, Rafael Correa resigned from his post on Aug. 4, saying he was being forced out by “strong pressures” seeking to “block any relationship with a brother country like Venezuela.” (El Nuevo Herald, Miami, Aug. 6 from AP) Since July, Correa had been leading negotiations with the leftist Venezuelan government over plans for Venezuela to buy some $200 million in Ecuadoran debt bonds; on July 18 Correa called the plan “great business for Venezuela and great business for Ecuador.” Also being negotiated is a plan for Venezuela to refine Ecuadoran crude oil. (AP, Aug. 18, 20)

President Alfredo Palacio’s acceptance of Correa’s resignation prompted hundreds of students, workers, indigenous people and others to protest in Quito on Aug. 4, and again on Aug. 5. Palacio, the former vice president, became president on April 20 when popular protests forced out previous president Lucio Gutierrez Borbua. Humberto Cholango, leader of the Confederation of Indigenous Nationalities of Ecuador (CONAIE), warned that if Palacio fails to maintain Correa’s progressive economic policies, “there will be an immediate national mobilization.” If Palacio “dares to sign the Free Trade Treaty (TLC) with the US” or otherwise “betrays the trust of the people,” said Cholango, there will be a new “popular insurrection.” (Noticieros Televisa, Aug. 5 with info from EFE, Notimex)

On Aug. 5, Palacio rushed to deny that Correa’s resignation was prompted by pressures or that it would bring changes in economic or foreign policy. Regardless of who replaces Correa, said Palacio, “the Ecuadoran government’s policy will be exactly the same; it has to be a policy of sovereignty, dignity, social orientation.” Palacio specifically confirmed that the negotiations with Caracas “will continue and will not be stopped.” Palacio emphasized that he would not order any repression against protesters, and said he was prepared to resign if the people demand it. (ENH, Aug. 6 from AP; Prensa Latina, Aug. 5; Hoy, Quito, Aug. 6)

Weekly News Update on the Americas, Aug. 7

Weekly News Update on the Americas

See also WW4 REPORT #112


Reprinted by WORLD WAR 4 REPORT, Sept. 1, 2005

Reprinting permissible with attribution