50 years of oil and 16 days of national strikes

June 29, 2022
50 years of oil and 16 days of national strikes: Honoring those who have fallen. In memory of Henry Quezada, Marcelino Villa, Byron Guatatuca, Franco Iñiguez, Jon Muenala, and José Chimarro

After 16 days of national strikes and a state of exception – a state of emergency – declared by President Lasso in six provinces in Ecuador, Stand.earth stands in solidarity with those who have lost loved ones in the national protests. With the wounded, with entire families who have walked to the capital for days to demand more equality, with the Indigenous peoples who experience oil, oil spills, and mining extraction in their territories, with the rural farmers whose products rot in the fields, and with the Ecuadorians who fight every day for a better future.

We welcome the restoration of civil rights in the provinces affected by the state of exception that has been the vehicle of abuse by the armed forces and police. Henry Quezada, Marcelino Villa, Byron Guatatuca, Franco Iñiguez, and Jon Muenala died in confrontations with the armed forces, nearly 200 people have been injured and 123 arrested since June 13. According to the police, there are 117 wounded troops and soldiers as well. Sergeant José Chimarro died on June 28th after a convoy of military personnel was attacked. Fundamedios, an organization that promotes and protects the rights and freedoms of expression of the press, has reported 135 attacks against journalists and media, countrywide. These alarming figures are the result of the racism expressed by different sectors that have fueled the hatred and violence in the country, of Ecuadorians against Ecuadorians.

At Stand.earth, we urge President Lasso to stop the violence and reach an agreement to respond to the demands of Indigenous peoples with policies that benefit the population as a whole. We hope that the 10 points presented by the Indigenous and social sectors of the country will not only be incorporated into the government’s plan but will also be the basis for building a fairer country where humans and their rights prevail, and not an economy based on violence and extractivism. Peace, or the perception of peace in the cities, cannot mirror extreme poverty and destruction in rural Ecuador.

The pandemic has left Ecuador in profound debt. Contrary to expectations, Lasso’s policies have increased the price of diesel by 65% and gasoline by 37% in his first year in office. The elimination of fuel subsidies has resulted in inflation and the price of essential products is skyrocketing. Four million families in Ecuador are swamped in debt and unemployment, and yet banks made a profit of over USD 400 million in 2021. (Note: Lasso is a banker.) The movement is requesting a moratorium in payments for poor families, and the cancellation of debts of small and medium-sized rural producers. There is also a call to reestablish labor rights given that during the pandemic, many labor rights were eliminated or made more flexible.

For Indigenous peoples and their territories, one of the main demands is to stop the expansion of the extractive mining and oil frontiers, and better auditing and comprehensive reparation for socio-environmental impacts. Indigenous peoples want protection of their territories, water sources, and fragile ecosystems. The call is to eliminate decrees 95 and 151 related to oil and mining expansion respectively. Furthermore, they request respect for their collective rights, underscoring budgets for bilingual education and the implementation of Free, Prior, and Informed Consent (FPIC).

The petitions are also aimed at stopping the privatizations announced by Lasso in all sectors: social security, communications and health, among others. The call is to invest in health and education immediately. Hospitals lack medicines and personnel. Meanwhile, nearly 100,000 high school graduates have not been able to enter university while Lasso cut nearly $US 100 million from university budgets. The movement is demanding answers to respond to the new generation with hope. Social injustice has been paired with increasing violence.

Ecuador needs a just transition and peace now.

Oil is not the path

Since 1996, social protests in Ecuador have been linked to increasing oil and propane prices. As a result, the social protest has led to coups that have not solved the core problem: an economy based on oil and extractivism. The events of the past two weeks are following the same script. Assembly members are pushing for the dismissal of Guillermo Lasso amid the protests. After three days of interventions, Ecuador’s National Assembly has voted against the impeachment of Lasso. The legitimacy of his term depends on bold actions to respond to these protest demands.

In order to meet the external debt quotas and the demands of multilateral organizations, President Lasso has opted for a policy of eliminating fuel subsidies affecting the economy as a whole, but above all, the most vulnerable households. His plan of government is based on doubling oil production in primary forests that lie within Indigenous territories, to increase mining, and to privatize social security, health, and other public services.

50 years of oil extraction show that extractivism is not the path. Ecuador’s social protests and political turmoil is a global responsibility. The oil supply chain involves international banking, mainly European banks in oil trade and US banks financing the projects. US oil companies and refineries are complicit as 89% of the Amazon’s oil comes from Ecuador and two-thirds is exported to the US, with the majority destined for California.

The link between oil and debt has expanded the oil frontier. Oil exploitation to pay the debt with China and other debt holders occurs in Indigenous and uncontacted peoples’ territories. At the time of writing this statement, Ecuador is renegotiating oil contracts with China that have a 7 to 7.5% interest while the IMF has a 1.9% rate. All this happens with the silence of governments, international multilateral organizations, conventions, and international financial institutions. Ecuador deserves the opportunity to cherish its mega diversity, the cultural wealth of the Indigenous peoples and the abundant nature of their territories. Peace cannot rely on the destruction of all its natural and cultural wealth.

Ecuador needs an immediate transition to an economy beyond extractivism and the memories of Henry Quezada, Marcelino Villa, Byron Guatatuca, Franco Iñiguez, Jon Muenala, and José Chimarro should be the seedlings for radical change.