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Ecuador: social agitation against FTA

Havana. March 15, 2006

ECUADOR: Social agitation against FTA

Granma International staff writer

THE battle against the Free Trade Agreement (FTA) with the United States is continuing in Ecuador.

After his surprise visit to the United States, President Alfredo Palacio has seemingly returned willing to sign the agreement.

The capitalist theory of "divide and rule" appears to be working for the U.S. government; what it was unable to achieve with a bloc of countries, it is trying to do in a bilateral form.

The Ecuadorian authorities had planned to conclude the FTA negotiations in December 2005. However, during the fourteenth round in Washington, D.C. the country stated that it was not willing to cede on the issue of intellectual property rights beyond what was agreed with Central America.

Agriculture is another controversial issue in the negotiations. In exchange for the introduction of a few export products in the U.S. market, Ecuador would "grant considerable access to products exported by the United States." This would bankrupt Ecuador’s small-scale agriculture and dairy farming as these cannot compete with the large-scale subsidized agricultural produce of the United States.

As time gets shorter, concern is growing among the social sectors that would be affected by the agreement. "The signing of the FTA would mean the destruction of the country’s agricultural production, which is the base of our economic sustenance and Ecuadorian food security and sovereignty, currently threatened by the introduction of subsidized and transgenic products. Another threat is the privatization of water located in the highlands and in the indigenous constituencies of the Amazon. Oxygen is to be privatized with the buying and selling of ‘environmental services,’ another geo-imperial strategy of the United States, according to the National Indigenous Federation of Ecuador (CONAIE).

With the FTA, the precarious health of Ecuadorians will be aggravated by a rise in the price of medicines and the disappearance of generic drugs. The ancestral knowledge of our people is in danger. Unemployment, poverty, crime and migration will increase," added CONAIE.

Another combined demand of the indigenous movement and the social sectors in general is related to the expulsion of the U.S. oil company Occidental (OXY), a review of all contracts harmful to the country’s interests and the nationalization of oil. The attorney general and the Petroecuador state oil company have demanded the termination of the OXY contract due to breaking a contract with the state by selling 40% of its exploitation rights to the Canadian ENCANA company without asking the Ministry of Energy and Mines for authorization, thus giving them grounds for nullifying the contact.

And finally, the CONAIE is calling on the government to convene an Assembly with full powers and with the participation of all the peoples and nationalities of Ecuador with a view to forming a multi-ethnic national state.

The labor unions of Ecuador, with some 200,000 members, announced last Wednesday the start of a staggered strike against the Alfredo Palacio government. "We are going to show him that if he doesn’t listen to us he will have to go home, because the general slogan, from the countryside to the city, is: FTA signed, Palacio out," said Mesías Tatamues, president of the trade union federation Cedoc-Cut.

Tatamues added that the labor unions will also take to the streets to demand the annulment of the contract with 0XY - implied in the lawsuit with the state - a wage increase of $30, and the rejection of Plan Colombia against drugs and the insurgency movement, because of its effect on the Ecuadorian people.

"Wednesday’s stoppage was for 24 hours, but it represents only the beginning of upcoming protests to make the government understand that it cannot hand the country over to the U.S. empire; that it must govern for Ecuadorians," warned the trade union leader.

"A government that only has 14% support cannot sign the Free Trade Agreement on behalf of all Ecuadorians, and this he must understand. Unfortunately here the people are only heard when they take to the streets," added the Cedoc-Cut leader.

Ecuador expects to wrap up negotiations on the trade agreement with the United States after March 23, the date for what could be the final round of discussions in Washington.

Feelings of great uncertainty have invaded Amazonian inhabitants due to the state of emergency declared in this area and government inflexibility in ending the strike by subcontracted oil workers.

 source: Granma International