By Juan Manuel Boccacci
Ecuadorean President Lenin Moreno seems to be determined to not listen to the claims being demanded across the country that began only 20 days ago. Revoking Decree 883, which eliminated fuel subsidies, led to a struggle between the Government and indigenous organizations headed by the Confederation of Indigenous Nationalities of Ecuador (CONAIE). As this issue is still under political discussion, the Government continues bowing to the dictates of the International Monetary Fund (IMF). Moreno submitted to Congress a huge economic reform project depriving the State from the jurisdiction to intervene against giving in to the markets. In turn, CONAIE proposed an alternative economic plan demanding first of all to not accept the conditions imposed by the IMF. A strong recession is expected as a result of the package of measures between the IMF and the Government. Political persecution continues against members of the Citizen Revolution Movement, ex president Rafael Correa’s political party, as well as indigenous groups. Meanwhile, thousands of citizens continue protesting in the streets. They are all taking part in a live memory that continues instead of going back to how it was before.
Moreno, CONAIE Weigh In
Following the 20 days of social unrest and the fuel tax was revoked, negotiations began between the Government and indigenous organizations with mediation from the United Nations Organization and the Ecuadorean Episcopal Conference to discuss about a new subsidies policy. But from the very beginning of the negotiation, they were far from reaching an agreement about which actual issues would be at stake. The Moreno Administration said they would work on a decrease on subsidies per sector. CONAIE responded that the issue should have a comprehensive look. Between these two stances, prices went back to what they were before the increase and subsidies continue while discussion are under way. Conversations reached a stalemate when the Ecuador’s Attorney General started an investigation of CONAIE leader Jaime Vargas, who had talked about the need of creating an indigenous army to defend their own interests. The indigenous movement have denounced persecution against their leader.
Seeking to draft an economic alternative to the Government’s, CONAIE set up the Parliament of the Peoples in Quito. Their guiding principle was the “sumak kawsay” (good living) and preventing a “new neoliberal package against the population.” They received several volunteers to help draft a comprehensive and representative project including Pablo Iturralde, coordinator of the Economic and Social Development Center (CDES), an institute supporting the CONAIE’s action for years. “The huge responsibility of bargaining with the Government fell on indigenous groups. In order to decentralize their decisions, they called on human rights organizations, workers’ unions, transport unions, small and medium-sized enterprises, gender equality defenders, students, etc.,” Iturralde said. They presented their collaborative economic plan to the negotiating table last Thursday while demanding the Government tackle the country’s economic policies regardless of the IMF pressure. “We think fuel subsidies should be maintained until a criteria of justice and equality are set regarding the economic and fiscal policy,” the introduction to the plan read. The elimination of subsidies had caused fuel price increases of up to 125 percent. Meanwhile, the Government appealed to other spokespeople to work on a new decree, in an attempt to undermine the CONAIE as the main opposition force.
While this discussion was taking place, the Moreno Administration submitted to Congress a major economic reform project dictated by IMF demands. This “Economic Growth Act,” as they called it, is 200 pages long and reforms 27 laws and organic codes. “They sent the draft bill to the Parliament as needing ‘urgent attention’, to force a discussion of it before November 18. Of course a big package of this many measures cannot be debated in such a short time, as the Government is demanding,” Iturralde explained. “Besides, given the ‘urgency’, the law is going to be automatically passed if the Parliament does not decide over its refusal or approval right away. In order to decide for one or another option, deputies will need a majority of 70 votes (out of a total 137) but no political force has that today. So the act will be passed instead by default.”
Reforms proposed by this law would limit the State from intervening in the country’s economy, the researcher noted. “Among the macro economic effects of this law, controls on export and the movement of capitals are lifted. So capital flight is enabled, benefiting the banking sector and importers. Banks are allowed to significantly decrease their reserves in dollars as well. That is very harmful for a dollarized economy which cannot issue its own currency,” said Iturralde. “It also proposes a tax reform to limit the Executive Power’s capacity to coordinate measures with the Central Bank. They are trying to take the Government and Parliament out of regulating the amount of money circulating in the economy, leaving this task to the big private banks. They are privatizing the country’s dollarization scheme,” he added. Passing this project, together with the labor reform, are part of the letter of understanding signed by Lenin Moreno and the IMF last March.
Against Correa Supporters
Persecution against opponents, civil society organizations, and demonstrators began during the protests. Once the conflict ended, lawsuits against indigenous leaders and members of the Citizen Revolution increased. Besides, business sectors are also denouncing them as promoters of terrorism, rebellion, and insurgency. Citizen Revolution deputies have been staying in the Mexican embassy for three weeks, where they applied for political asylum. But the biggest open action of persecution was carried out against Pichincha province governor Paola Pabon, who has been under arrest since October 14. “She was charged with rebellion and she is now under pre-trial detention. This might last a
year or maybe more,” Iturralde explained. “They created a persecution rhetoric. They are linking former President Rafael Correa’s supporters with revolt or rebellion against authorities. That means criminalizing a political option. Many people who were arrested during the curfew were not members of that party. But they are trying to label them as pro-Correa anyways.”
The Ecuadorean Government continues denying the security forces’ brutal repression during the days of protests. A few days ago, a delegation of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) arrived in the country. They met with members of the State, indigenous organizations and civil society representatives to evaluate the situation. “The Government is in denial. They are admitting only one casualty during the protests and they claim it was a car accident. But the Ombudsman is denouncing that there are 11 deaths,” Iturralde commented.
As the IMF and as Government estimate recession for the Ecuadorean economy next year. Citizens expressed their opinion 20 days ago: They are not willing to put up with adjustments. “The population is going to fight back against the elimination of subsidies, even if it is gradual. But transportation fares and living condition in general are going to increase and recession will worsen because subsidies are eliminated or due to the new economic law. This leads to a scenario of new conflicts in the streets,” noted the researcher. “We will probably have a new round of social unrest soon.”