Ecuador’s Ongoing Confrontation with the Forces of Neo-Liberalism

On Sunday, the 30th of September, yet another blow was struck against the advocates and beneficiaries of neo-liberalism in Ecuador and Latin America when Rafael Correa‘s coalition won the majority of seats in the Constituent Assembly.  With this, Correa and his allies have secured the driving seat in the process of rewriting Ecuador’s constitution, which is set to begin in November.  Needless to say, Correa and his allies’ victory has sent shudders through the US administration and its corporate backers.  The reason for this is that Correa has vowed to break the back of neo-liberalism in Ecuador through embarking on a path to create “socialism in the twenty-first century.”  Rewriting Ecuador’s constitution is a major stepping stone towards this goal.

The events that have taken place over the last year in Ecuador have demonstrated that Correa’s promises, and talk of socialism in the twenty-first century, are not just hollow words.  Indeed, if the past actions of Correa’s government are anything to go by, Ecuador’s new constitution will include a number of very radical clauses.  Under Correa’s leadership, Ecuador has taken decisive steps to regain control over its natural resources including its oil.  Earlier this year, Ecuador revoked a long-standing contract that it had with the US oil giant Occidental Petroleum.  In doing so, the Ecuadorian state took direct control over Occidental Petroleum’s assets in the country.  With this, the Ecuadorian state gained direct control over more than half the country’s oil production.  Added to this, Ecuador has also annulled the mining rights of the Canadian company, Ascendant, for violating the country’s mining laws.  At an international level, Ecuador has expelled the World Bank’s representatives from its soil.  It is also one of the driving forces behind the creation of the Bank of the South, which is aimed at breaking the neo-liberal hold that the IMF and World Bank had over Latin America.  Indeed, Ecuador along with Venezuela and Bolivia has formed an axis of countries that are taking steps to break with neo-liberalism and US domination.

With their latest victory around the Constituent Assembly, Correa and his allies seem set to include some radical elements in Ecuador’s new constitution.  Correa and his allies have already indicated that the new constitution would be aimed at dismantling neo-liberalism in Ecuador.  They aim to create a new constitution that would enable Ecuador to change its economy in order to foster greater equality and to meet people’s needs rather than make profits.  To do so, they have proposed that the new constitution permit the state to create new social and economic institutions to improve the lives of the people.  In addition, Correa and his allies will be pushing for clauses that promote participatory democracy.

A number of other concrete proposals that may become part of the new constitution have already been made public.  It has already been reported that Correa and his allies have proposed that the right to work be included in the new constitution.  There have also been murmurings that progressives within the government are pushing for a clause to be included in the new constitution that will enable Ecuador to review the international debts, which were incurred by past Ecuadorian governments, to determine whether they were illegitimate.  Such a clause would set the basis for Ecuador to refuse to pay past debts that were, and are, odious.  Another possible clause in the new constitution could enable the state to expropriate the mining interests of transnational companies in Ecuador.  In fact, a number of social movements recently blockaded highways throughout Ecuador as part of a campaign calling on the state to take direct control of transnational companies’ mining interests.  This campaign is set to intensify in the run up to the Constituent Assembly.  On the 22 of October, a day of action will take place to call on the Constituent Assembly to nationalize foreign-owned mining interests.  Through this, social movements may actually get their wish.

It is important that the social movements in Ecuador continue to mobilize around the writing of the new constitution.  This is for two reasons.  If they are mobilized and their actions are effective, it is more likely that radical clauses, aimed at dismantling neo-liberalism, will be included in the new constitution.  Secondly, the new constitution, once it has been drafted, has to be accepted by a two-thirds majority in a referendum before it can come into effect.  If the social movements are mobilized and active, the chances of achieving the two-thirds majority are more likely.  Even before the referendum, however, what is already clear is that the US and their transnational corporate allies are no longer going to have an easy ride in Ecuador.  More and more people are mobilizing against neo-liberalism, and their demands are becoming more and more radical.  Another world not only seems possible, it now looks like it might even be around the corner in Ecuador.

Shawn Hattingh is a research and education officer at the International Labour Research and Information Group (ILRIG) in Cape Town.

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