Archive for the ‘Ecuador’ Category
The New York Times/Reuters, April 22, 2011
Ecuadorean President Rafael Correa is likely to achieve a sweeping victory in a referendum next month that calls for an overhaul of the justice system, a poll by Ecuadorean pollster Cedatos showed on Friday.
In the May 7 vote, Ecuadoreans will endorse or reject 10 proposals socialist Correa says will modernize the Andean nation but critics fear are intended to strengthen his power and curb judicial independence.
The Cedatos poll gives two reforms calling for a judicial shake-up 62.2 percent and 64.1 percent support, respectively.
The proposals call for the creation of a panel that would overhaul the judiciary and appoint top judges. The temporary panel would be replaced by a five-member council with a six-year mandate.
Correa argues the changes will allow the state to stamp out corruption and inefficiency in courts and thus help police to better fight rising crime, but his critics say his real aim is to win power over judicial appointments.
The Cedatos poll shows the whole package of 10 reforms, including new rules banning bull fighting, would be endorsed by an average of 61.7 percent of voters.
If Ollanta Humala wins a run-off vote in June, he could align Peru with Latin America’s political left.
Greg Grandi, Al Jazeera, April 15, 2011
Last week, in Peru’s presidential election, Ollanta Humala, a 48-year old former military officer, pulled off a stunning come-from-behind victory.
Beating his four main rivals with over 30 per cent of the vote, Humala, who has called for a fairer distribution of Peru’s enviable economic growth, scares Washington and Wall Street.
Peruvians have committed “political suicide”, declared a former US ambassador to the country following the vote.
Equally unnerved is Peru’s Noble Laureate, Mario Vargas Llosa, who often uses his considerable descriptive talents to render in subtle hues the anxieties of Lima’s upper-class whites.
Since Humala didn’t get 50 per cent of the vote, he will face Keiko Fujimori, the daughter of jailed ex-president Alberto Fujimori, in a June run off – a choice Vargas Llosa describes as akin to one between “AIDS and terminal cancer”.
Many Peruvians, though, have worse fates in store for them than those two diseases. Despite Peru’s impressive macroeconomic performance, including low inflation, over the last decade, well over thirty per cent of Peru’s thirty million people live in poverty, and eight per cent in extreme poverty.
In the countryside, particularly the indigenous countryside, more than half of all families are poor, many desperately so.
Central areas in Lima, the capital, are booming. Profits skimmed off the high price of precious metals – silver, zinc, copper, tin, lead, and gold make up sixty per cent of the country’s exports and finance the rise of luxury condos and malls.
But the city is also sprawling outward. Mining and other high-capital, low-labour export industries – among them, logging, petroleum, natural gas, and biofuels plantations – are ripping up the Andean highlands and Amazonian lowlands, throwing a steady number of families into Lima, where they add block after block to its perimeter.
Terminal cancer might be a concern among Vargas Llosa’s condo constituency, but these economic refugees, particularly their children, are more likely to suffer shantytown diseases, including malnutrition, protein deficiency, dysentery, and drug-resistant tuberculosis. Peru ranks 23rd out of 26th in Latin America for access to waste treatment.
While all the other candidates offer variations on a theme of “more of the same”, Humala promises mild reform. He pledges to improve health care for the poor and implement a means-tested pension plan for the elderly.
To pay for it, he said he will raise the taxes on mineral exports. This is hardly a radical program, but those who have grown fat off of Peru’s unsustainable model of economic development view it as catastrophic.
News of Humala’s first-round victory sent Peru’s currency and bond prices sharply down. Opinion and policy makers in Lima and the US rushed to their keyboards to warn of “class warfare”, as did the former US ambassador cited above.
The “outcome”, he said, “could not have been worse”. There is a saying in Latin America to describe the hysteria that overcomes elites when they hear someone suggesting a more equitable distribution of wealth: “when they sit down to dinner, they see Hugo Chavez in their soup.”
Can Humala win in June? According to The Economist, polls taken before last week’s election found that “more than 77 per cent of voters expressing an opinion wanted to modify the country’s development model”. And 37 per cent wanted radical change.
America’s ‘backyard’ has never been so united and independent of U.S. influence.
Steve Ellner, In These Times, April 14, 2011
In his State of the Union address in January, President Obama pressed for quick passage of a free trade agreement with Colombia, and since then has followed up on the proposal. In doing so he has delighted Republicans who had been accusing him of failing to prioritize the issue. In his January speech, Obama made no reference to his unequivocal concern over human rights violations which he had raised in his third presidential debate with McCain.
Since 2008, little has improved to justify Obama’s reversal. Human Rights Watch has reported a 41 percent increase in the number of victims in 2010 over the previous year, including the murder of 44 trade unionists. In the first six weeks of 2011, death squads assassinated three more labor activists.
In an attempt to assure members of U.S. Congress that progress is being made, on April 7 Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos and Obama announced from the White House the approval of an “Action Plan,” whereby the Colombian government pledged to take stringent measures to curb abuses. Many Colombian trade union leaders, however, refused to buy into the arrangement and expressed skepticism about their government’s resolve. Tarsicio Mora, president of the Unitary Workers Confederation (CUT), objected by saying, “It just can’t be that respect for a basic right established in the constitution, such as the right to life, has to be required by a commercial transaction.”
Obama’s new stand has also failed to win over U.S. trade unionists. In January, Communications Workers of America President Larry Cohen argued against the agreement by pointing out that 15 million Colombians representing 82 percent of the working population are not recognized as workers and thus under the law “have no rights.”
Obama’s change–from opposition to the free trade agreement with Colombia, to lukewarm endorsement of it, to vigorous support–is just one example of his turnabout on Latin American policy. His modified stand distances Washington from an important bloc of Latin American governments and contributes to the decline of the U.S. leadership position in the hemisphere.
The current spat with Ecuador is symptomatic of Washington’s failure to grasp that it no longer exercises regional hegemony
Mark Weisbrot, The Guardian, April 8, 2011
Yesterday the United States expelled the Ambassador from Ecuador, in retaliation for Wednesday’s expulsion of the U.S Ambassador from Ecuador. This now leaves the United States without ambassadorial relations in three South American countries – Bolivia and Venezuela being the other two — thus surpassing the Bush Administration in its diplomatic problems in the region.
U.S. Ambassador Heather Hodges was declared “persona non grata” and asked to leave Ecuador “as soon as possible,” after a diplomatic cable released by Wikileaks showed her saying some disparaging things about Ecuador’s president, Rafael Correa. In the cable she alleges that President Correa had knowledge of corruption by a former head of the national police.
Although the Bush Administration intervened in the internal affairs of countries such as Bolivia and even Brazil, it was somewhat better at keeping its “eyes on the prize,” and avoiding fights that would distract from its main goal. The prize, of course, is Venezuela – home to the largest oil reserves in the world, estimated by the U.S. Geological Survey at 500 billion barrels. Washington’s goal there for the last decade has been regime change. The Bush team understood that the more they fought with other countries in the region, the less credible would be their public relations story that Venezuela was the problem.
It’s nothing personal, really – Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez could have chosen to be the perfect diplomat and he would still be treated in much the same manner by the U.S. government. And it’s not the oil itself, since Venezuela still sells us more than a million barrels a day and there is a world market for oil in any case. It’s just that any country with that much oil is going to have regional influence – and Washington just doesn’t want to deal with someone who has regional influence and doesn’t line up with its own goals for the region – not if it can get rid of them. And they have come close to getting rid of Chávez, in the 2002 coup – so they are not giving up.
But Washington is losing ground there too. A big blow was the change in Colombia’s foreign policy last summer, when President Juan Manuel Santos took office. An important part of Washington’s strategy in Venezuela is to maintain tension between Colombia and Venezuela. They have a head start on this project since the 2000 kilometer border between the two countries has been plagued by paramilitary and guerrilla violence for decades. Conflict between Venezuela and Colombia is also important to Washington’s electoral strategy in Venezuela. When there is trouble between the two countries, as in 2009, when Venezuela cut off bilateral trade in response to the U.S. effort to expand its military presence in Colombia, it has a negative impact on a lot of Venezuelans in border states. This helps garner some anti-Chávez votes in border states, as in last year’s congressional election in Venezuela. And accusations of Venezuelan support for the FARC guerrillas in Colombia – despite Washington’s failure to offer any evidence – are a key element of bringing its anti-Venezuela efforts under the “war on terror” umbrella.
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Jonathan Glennie, The Nation, April 6, 2011
The idea that a successful model for development in one country could sensibly become a blueprint for another is now unfashionable – but important lessons can still be learned by examining other nations’ development paths.
One region is routinely overlooked in international development discussions that tend to contrast Asian success with African stagnation: Latin America.
Life expectancy has risen from 56 in 1960 to 73 today, and primary school completion rates are hovering at near 100%.
But the past decade has been the most dramatic for Latin America as the New Left governments – such as those led by Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva in Brazil, Cristina and Néstor Kirchner of Argentina, Michelle Bachelet in Chile, Evo Morales in Bolivia, Rafael Correa in Ecuador, Tabaré Vázquez in Uruguay, Fernando Lugo in Paraguay and, of course, Hugo Chávez in Venezuela – have swept to power.
After the years of austerity in the 1980s and 1990s, during which income poverty levels increased or stagnated, sustained growth in the past decade accompanied significant poverty reduction. Some 13% of Latin Americans lived in absolute poverty in 1980, and that figure was still 11% in 2002. But just three years later that figure had dropped to 8%, according to the World Bank.
Latin American countries are emerging from the global financial meltdown in good shape, in part because of their apparent familiarity with the rules of counter-cyclical spending, which depends on storing up money in the good times, and in part because their financial sector was less liberalised than in the west.
San Francisco Chronicle, April 5, 2011
In February, San Ramon-based Chevron was dealt the largest environmental damages ruling in history. The company vowed never to pay a cent of the damages, and it appears to be keeping its word.
A little background: The epic lawsuit, filed by Amazon indigenous groups in U.S. court in 1993, was moved to Ecuador at Chevron’s request in 2002.
After the February ruling, Chevron appealed in U.S. court on the grounds that Ecuador’s legal system is corrupt and inadequate. (The Ecuadorian ambassador to the U.S. was not pleased.) U.S. District Judge Lewis Kaplan of the Southern District of New York slapped the plaintiffs with temporary injunction, barring them from attempting to collect the mandated damages from Chevron.
Now Chevron has begun selling off its assets in countries that may be less inclined to protect it from the Ecuadorian ruling than its own. It has allegedly reached an agreement to sell $1.7 billion in assets located in the United Kingdom and made plans to divest of assets in over 20 other countries.
Chevron has based its suggestion that the Ecuadorian ruling stems from corruption only on innuendo-rich “sting” video tapes acquired through means of dubious legality and outtakes from the movie Crude, which Judge Kaplan forced documentary filmmaker Joe Berlinger to turn over. — the company shouldn’t have to hide its assets. The Goliath corporation ought to be able to prevail in a court of law against the handful of Davids suing it.
Incidentally, the company ought also to pay some taxes on its massive profits here in the U.S. In 2010, it got a $19-million rebate on profits of $10 billion. Its toxic asset fire sale will probably mean an even fatter profit in 2011.
Alexander Martinez, AFP, April 5, 2011
President Rafael Correa claimed that the United States has infiltrated Ecuador’s armed forces and police, shortly after he ordered the US ambassador out of the country over a leaked Wikileaks diplomatic cable.
Foreign Minister Ricardo Patino earlier announced that the US ambassador, Heather Hodges, was sent home over the leaked cable that quoted her as saying Correa knowingly appointed a corrupt chief of police.
Correa said that the US cable in question, first published by the Spanish newspaper El Pais, “includes considerable information from inside the police, which shows that these people have infiltrated the Armed Forces and the police, which is already an open secret.”
“But for it to be turned around and made use of institutionally by the US ambassador in Ecuador really is bald-faced, so this woman has been declared persona non grata and will have a few days to leave the country,” the president said in a radio interview.