MercoPress - Tuesday, 21 March 2006
Ecuador: rioting against free trade agreement with US escalates
Ecuador’s main Indian federation claimed Monday that 30 peasants had been hospitalized and over 100 arrested during violent protests against a free trade pact with the United States scheduled to be signed in the coming days.
Santiago de la Cruz, a leader from the Indian federation said that peasants clashed with police and soldiers in several parts of the country. Official reports indicate that the riots occurred in at least eight of the country’s twenty two provinces.
The indigenous protest, which began on March 13 but lost steam last week erupted again Monday with demonstrators demanding an immediate suspension of the free trade talks, the ousting from Ecuador of U.S. oil firm Occidental (Oxy) and the convening of a Constitutional Assembly.
De la Cruz added that the number of injured and arrested could be even higher since reports from several provinces were still missing.
"The situation of some of our injured is very serious. The government has ordered full repression against demonstrators”, stressed the Indian leader who accused the President Palacio administration of curtailing “freedom of expression and the right to protest, which are safeguarded by the Constitution".
However Mr. De la Cruz warned that the protests will continue as long as necessary until the government agrees to “our demands: no free trade talks and out with Oxy”.
Earlier in the day the Ecuadorian government called on the United States for more flexibility in negotiating the agricultural section of the free trade agreement and asked the Indian federation to cease protests.
Colombia and Peru, which began free trade talks with the United States along with Ecuador in mid-2004, have already concluded negotiations.
Indian federations fear an influx of cheap farm produce from United States if the free trade agreement is signed.
Meantime Occidental Petroleum has offered to pay a billion US dollars in disputed taxes and extra revenue to end a legal dispute with the government in Quito.
The dispute centres on whether the US firm transferred part of an Ecuadorian field to Canada’s EnCana in 2000 without approval from the Ecuador authorities.
Occidental proposes giving Ecuador at least 600 million US dollars in extra revenues from the disputed area, but denies wrongdoing.
The company faces the possibility of having its Ecuador licence revoked. It currently extracts 100,000 barrels per day from the country, South America’s fifth largest oil producer.
Occidental also offered 100 million for health and social development projects and another 110 million in new projects with Ecuador’s Petroecuador.