Protests by unionists, students and indigenous activists against a free trade agreement (FTA) between Ecuador and the US have strengthened, forcing the government to declare a state of emergency in several states around the capital Quito on March 21.
Thousands of indigenous activists blockading roads and marching on
the capital were prevented from reaching their target by the army. Food
and fuel shortages are intensifying in Quito, and the main student
federation, the FEUE, brought thousands of students out onto the streets
on March 23.
The protests are against the proposed signing of the FTA, the final
rounds of negotiations for which began on March 23. Indigenous groups
and unions opposed to the FTA believe it will further harm Ecuador's
poor majority and indigenous population, and are demanding a referendum
on the agreement.
Protesters are also demanding the expulsion of US-based oil company
Occidental Petroleum, accusing it of environmental damage, breaking the
law and hiring the military to spy on activists in oil-producing
regions. They also want a popular rewriting of the constitution, to
allow more representative democracy.
The desperation of President Alfredo Palacio's government, which has
faced more than 20 strikes in 11 months, is becoming increasingly
obvious. Protesters have been attacked with tear gas and dozens
arrested. Government spokespeople tried to accuse Hugo Chavez, president
of neighbouring Venezuela, of funding the protests, despite admitting
to having no evidence.
Gilberto Talahua, coordinator of the indigenous party Pachakutik,
called the claims "irresponsible and unfounded". After the Venezuelan
government demanded an explanation, Ecuadorian communication secretary
Enrique Proano issued a letter of apology, reported Eluniversal.com on
Despite calling a temporary halt to the protests on March 24, Luis
Macas, president of the chief Ecuadorean indigenous federation the
CONAIE, has insisted that protests will continue until FTA negotiations
In response to the government's failure to respond to the popular
demands for a referendum, the CONAIE declared on March 24 that it will
no longer recognise the government, accusing Palacio of working in a
"dictatorial" manner, and will itself convene a popular consultation on
the FTA in communities across the nation.
CONAIE has called for renewed
protests from March 31, urging the Ecuadorian people to "decide their
First published in Green Left Weekly, March 29, 2006.