Ecuador: Epoch-making change

An increasing number of Latin American countries are opting out of the neoliberal system. In the words of Bolivian Vice President Alvaro Garcia Linera, ‘the continent of Latin America is today in the vanguard of global mobilisation and is asking the questions that really matter – “How do we escape the neoliberal model? And then what?”’

The global financial crisis, which springs from the speculative economies of the ‘North’, gives such questions a renewed urgency. In the absence of a united response, every Latin American nation is having to find its own answer. For Ecuadorean President Rafael Correa that has meant joining Hugo Chavez of Venezuela and Evo Morales of Bolivia in stating that the only escape strategy must be what they call ‘socialism for the 21st century’. Even if this is a model whose ‘theory’ will only be tested as it develops, the new Ecuadorean constitution approved by national referendum on 28 September 2008 offers the basis for the construction of a new society, founded on a participative democracy, with an economy based on human need, planned by the state, and no longer dominated by the market and consumption.

The new Ecuadorean constitution is a response to the demands of decades of popular struggle which culminated in the election of President Correa in November 2006. In barely two years, Correa’s government has achieved significant political, social and economic changes. These include regaining state control of national resources, a key factor in a country dependent on the export of petrol; free education guaranteed up to university level; universal health care and free medicine for serious illnesses and total health cover for the disabled; social security for housewives and casual workers and paternity leave for men.

This country, so rich in biodiversity, is scarred by neoliberalism’s devastating footprint. A new economic model will have to respect the environment and live in harmony with nature. Ecuador now has the first constitution in the world to accord rights to the environment, so that any person will be able to table demands in its name and insist on wholesale restoration of the natural environment.

Every revolution contains its own contradictions and weaknesses. In defiance of international financial organisations, a no-holds-barred audit of external debt, the first of its kind to be initiated under the aegis of a government, is being carried out with a view to declaring the illegitimacy of that debt and a refusal to pay it. In demanding, in addition, the closing down of the US military base in Ecuador and abandoning its free trade agreement with the US, Ecuador has shown that it is ready to stand up to imperialism.

By declaring itself the first country to abandon visa requirements and open its doors to any person in the world, Ecuador is also sending out a clear anti-racist message.

President Rafael Correa described what is going on right now in Ecuador and throughout Latin America when he said ‘We are not only living through an epoch of change, but, in truth, a whole change of epoch’.

Fidel Narvaez

Fidel Narvaez is an activist with the Permanent Assembly for Human Rights of Ecuador and the UK Ecuadorean Movement (MERU)

FRFI 206 December 2008 / January 2009