[News] Ecuador and the Struggle for Latin American Unity

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Wed Sep 5 12:05:12 EDT 2007


http://www.counterpunch.org/ross09052007.html

September 5, 2007


A Bolivarian Coordinate?


Ecuador and the Struggle for Latin American Unity

By CLIFTON ROSS

Back in 1989 or 1990, as I watched, along with 
the rest of the world, the collapse of the "Evil 
Empire," I remember thinking to myself, "one 
down, one to go." I knew, and all the imperial 
hubris of Fukyama's "end of history" just made me 
that much more certain, that the time would soon 
come for Evil Empire II. "Soon" is a relative 
term. Here we are, a mere seventeen or eighteen 
years later and Evil Empire II is on its way 
down, as historical events go, at super action speed.

What I didn't expect was that new empires would 
emerge, or attempt to do so, in the wake of the 
collapse of the two empires that jostled for 
position throughout the Cold War years. Brazilian 
revolutionary theorist Ruy Mauro Marini would dub 
these rising empires, "sub-empires," and he 
claimed that the seeds of sub-empires are already 
visible in Latin America. Of course that's what 
we USAmericans were back in the early 19th 
century, an ex-colony aspiring to sub-imperial 
status, mingling with the full-fledged, grown up 
empires of Britain, France and Spain and hoping 
one day to play in the Major League ourselves.

I muse on all of this as I wait in my hotel room 
in Quito, Ecuador, for Napoleon Saltos Galazara 
to arrive. I had just finished reading his 
article, "UNASUR: la coordenada bolivariana" 
published in the extraordinary Ecuadoran review, 
"La Tendencia," in which he considers 
sub-empires, dying empires and what he calls "the 
Bolivarian Coordinate" (1) with the skill of a 
scientist. He is, after all, a scientist, among many other things.

Dr. Napoleon Saltos and I have in common our 
passage through Liberation Theology into 
socialism, although I'm not familiar with his 
mentor, the widely admired Ecuadoran Liberation 
theologian, Fr. Leonidas Proaño. But Napoleon, 
rather than following in his mentor's footsteps, 
seems to have flown over them. In addition to his 
work as professor and former director of the 
School of Sociology at the Central University of 
Ecuador, Dr. Saltos was founder of Pachakutik, 
the indigenous organization which, along with 
CONAIE (Confederation of Indigenous Nations of 
Ecuador) led the spectacular rebellions in 
Ecuador throughout the '90s. He then served in 
Parliament as a member of that party but left 
when it allied itself with the traitorous 
President Lucio Gutierrez, who rode the social 
and indigenous movements to power and then turned 
on them within days of becoming president. Saltos 
went on to work within the social movements and 
held the post of "Coodinator of Social 
Movements." He also writes and publishes what has 
become a yearly handbook on Ecuadoran reality 
entitled "Ecuador: su realidad" (Ecuador: Its 
Reality), a hefty tome full of current statistics 
on employment, imports and exports, data from 
census and an all around round-up of everything 
you ever wanted to know about Ecuador but were 
too ignorant to even know how to ask. Let me put 
that in the first person. This is, after all, my 
first visit to the country and I have very little 
prior knowledge of "its reality." But I'm 
confident, weighing his yearbook of information 
in my hands, that Napoleon is the man to ask.

He has graciously agreed to a spur-of-the-minute 
interview and has squeezed me into the space 
between a meeting an a press conference: Napoleon 
is also running for the Constituent Assembly on 
the Polo Democrático slate, a united front of 
fifty-two left groups, parties and organizations.

He arrives quickly with a man name Guillermo and 
when I ask about Guillermo, Saltos explains, 
"Guillermo always accompanies me. It's, well, 
safer that way." I can almost forget that I'm in 
a part of the world where politics can often get 
you in big trouble, even as much as getting you 
killed, especially if you organize the kinds of 
subversive circles that Napoleon does. Neither of 
the two ruling oligarchies of Ecuador are 
particularly well-known for their kindness.

I hadn't had enough time to prepare for the 
interview since I'd only finished reading his 
article a little over an hour ago. But that 
doesn't matter. Napoleon quickly takes control 
when I explain that I was fascinated by his 
analysis of the numerous potential power 
struggles emerging from the vacuum the collapse 
of U.S. imperial power in the region is leaving 
in its wake, assuming, as nearly everyone down 
here is so doing, that the U.S. empire is in collapse.

"The struggle is much more complex now," he says. 
"On one side you have the North-South Axis with 
the neoliberal project based in the United States 
and Europe." But this axis is a waning economic 
power, with ties to the local Ecuadoran 
oligarchies, of which there are two: the 
financial business oligarchy of the mountain 
region, predominantly Quito, and the financial, 
agricultural oligarchy of Guayaquil. This 
North-South Axis, U.S/Europe-Local Oligarchy, is 
the traditional enemy of the anti-imperialist, 
anti-oligarchic left in Ecuador, as in all of 
Latin America. This is the axis of power that has 
received the most attention from political and 
social scientists, economists and activists 
worldwide. It has also been the object of most 
resentment and attacks by the latter.

But Saltos wants to explain why Correa, a 
university professor, backed largely by the 
middle class, and not the social and indigenous 
movements, is leading the anti-imperialist 
struggle on these three fronts: against Oxy 
Petroleum, the FTAA and the U.S. military base at 
Manta. And why there may be more to Correa's 
opposition to this three-fold struggle against 
the North-South Axis than immediately meets the eye.

He talks about the rebellion of 2000, which 
included social movements, the indigenous 
movement and progressive military. Though that 
movement brought Lucio Gutierrez to power, "we in 
the movement didn't manage that well. Lucio 
Gutierrez was an historical error," Saltos says, 
"We were wrong. And he cost us; he weakened us."

"This current [anti-imperialist] struggle should 
have been organized and led by the social 
movements, as in Bolivia. I speak of Bolivia as 
the process from below; Venezuela is a little 
more a process from above. We should have 
undertaken this current phase of the process as a 
social movement but we were too weak to carry it 
forth, too weak as a result of our errors."

I ask him to explain more precisely what these 
"errors" were. He nods and unhesitatingly 
explains. "We gathered great strength in the '90s 
as we united the urban social movements and the 
workers' movements, with the indigenous movement 
and we struggled together all the way up to the 
elections of 1996. And that's where you can see 
two key errors. First, we always select someone 
as our national representative from outside our 
ranks. So, in 1996 and 1998 we called on a 
journalist, Freddy Ehlers... who is Secretary 
General of CAN, Andean Community of Nations. He 
was our national representative, and then we 
parted ways and he cut off our route. Then we 
returned to the struggle and in 2000, not in an 
election, but rather in a rebellion, we took 
power with the military and, once again, we chose 
someone from outside of our ranks to represent 
us: Lucio Gutierrez. We repeated the error. "

The Ecuadoran revolutionary movement also erred 
in its understanding of the military. "The 
military can't be viewed as an institution that, 
as a whole, would move toward social change," 
Saltos explains. "There are always internal 
distinctions, as in Venezuela where Chavez also 
had problems with his military: there were 
sectors that were with Chavez, but others carried out the coup."

In the 2000 coup in Ecuador in which the 
social/indigenous movements allied with the 
military, they were turned back out of power 
within 24 hours. Lucio Gutierrez seized control 
and was supported by sectors of the 
social/indigenous movement, most notably 
Pachakutik. Saltos continued to serve in the 
Parliament until he left Pachakutik in 2002 in 
disagreement over its support for Gutierrez.

"Nevertheless, that desire for change has 
continued to the present. It's a volcanic force 
that continues to grow, not only in Ecuador, but 
in all Latin America. But we, as a social 
movement weakened due to our errors, haven't been 
able to represent it. And so it has fallen to 
Correa to gather all this energy together. He 
says, 'we're going to confront imperialism and 
the oligarchy; we're going to take on the right 
wing, down with partyocracy!' And he won the 
election. However, even though Correa confronts 
this sector, he's allied with the second axis, 
the Manta-Manaus axis, or the China-Brazil, East-West axis."

Here Napoleon mentions the theories of Theotonio 
Dos Santos Ruy Mauro Marini who worked on the 
theory of sub-empires from the Brazilian context. 
Marini defines subimperialism as "the form that 
the dependent economy assumes on arriving at the 
stage of the monopolies and finance capital." It 
is characterized by "the exercise of an 
autonomous expansionist policy" and he added that 
"only Brazil, in Latin America, fully expresses a 
phenomenon of this nature," although he goes on 
to add both Mexico and Argentina as countries 
having "sub-imperialist characteristics." One 
must keep in mind, however, that Marini wrote 
this well before Argentina's economic implosion 
in 2001 and that would leave only Mexico and 
Brazil as countries in Latin America displaying 
such "sub-imperialist characteristics." (2)

Meanwhile, Venezuela continues to promote its 
"counterhegemonic" and anti-imperialist project 
of regional unity, what Saltos calls "la 
coordenada bolivariana" (the Bolivarian 
Coordinate). In April of this year, President 
Chavez proposed UNASUR during an energy summit of 
the Americas on the island of Margarita. In 
addition to coining the name and calling for a 
Secretariat of the organization to be located in 
Quito, Ecuador, Chavez pushed the idea of 
regional unity a little farther in the process, 
but some analysts think that Brazil may not be 
amused, much less interested in playing ball, 
even though both Chavez and Lula deny any sort of 
rivalry. At least one analyst thinks that Brazil 
prefers Mercosur to UNASUR "because it is a forum 
that cannot do anything without its approval. But 
Brazil's leadership might be diluted if UNASUR 
gets off the ground -- in fact that is what 
Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez is counting on. 
UNASUR would have to function by unanimous 
agreement, which would probably paralyze it, or 
by majority, to which Brazil is unlikely to submit." (3)

This division between Brazil and Venezuela was 
best symbolized by the brand of energy each 
country promotes, ethanol and petroleum, 
respectively, but there is much more to the story 
than what goes into the gas tank of a car. And 
Ecuador may be the key chess piece in the 
regional Great Game. Among others, Ecuadoran 
writer Kintto Lucas in his book on recent 
Ecuadoran history, "Un pais entrampado," sees 
Ecuador as an integral part of Brazil's 
aspiration to carve a path to the Pacific, using 
what is called the "Manaos-Manta multi-modal corridor."

Both Lucas and Uruguayan writer Raúl Zibechi 
quote General Golbery do Couto e Silva, author of 
"Brazil's Geopolitics," in which that Brazilian 
strategist stated flatly that "Brazil must not 
dwell on what it has already accomplished; it 
must arrive hegemonically to the Pacific."(4) 
Zibechi in his article on the subject goes on to 
discuss the frontier expansionism of Brazil, 
using the contemporary example of Brazil's 
leadership of the occupation of Haiti under the 
auspices of the U.N. as a point of departure to 
discuss historical examples of Brazil's 
occupation and conquest of neighboring territory. 
"Between 1850 and 1950," Zibechi tells us, 
"Brazil's 'Amazonian territory' doubled at the 
cost of its neighbors; Bolivia, Peru, Colombia, 
and Venezuela lost portions of their land during 
that timeframe." Indeed, "Brazil's consolidation 
as a regional and world power -though it 
champions multilateralism- is leaving a bitter 
taste in the mouth of those who feel Brazil's 
steamroller-like advances are creating a new 
disequilibrium on the subcontinent."(4)

The struggle between Venezuela and Brazil 
potentially represents a much deeper division 
emerging in Latin America today as the U.S. 
empire tanks and digs its way deeper into the 
morass it has created for itself in the Middle 
East. The U.S., in its National Security Strategy 
of September 17, 2002, proposed to prevent any 
possible players from challenging its supremacy, 
stating that "America (sic) will act against such 
emerging threats before they are fully formed." 
On the American continent it hoped to contain 
such "emerging threats" as Brazil by means of 
walling it in along the Pacific by means of "free 
trade" agreements with Chile, Peru, Ecuador and 
Colombia. The 2006 election of Correa to the 
Presidency of Ecuador just as the nation 
considered such a treaty changed all that. Since 
that time, Ecuador has effectively broken the 
US-imposed barrier to the Pacific and now clears 
the way for the Brazilian dreams of empire, or at 
the very least, the further strengthening of a great regional power.

Nevertheless, the struggle to contain Brazil 
continues to be part of the greater problem of 
constructing a regional unity that will enable 
the southern nations to contend with their more 
immediate concern, and that is the still-present 
threat of the U.S. empire. Ecuador's current 
strategy seems to be to build alliances with 
Venezuela, Brazil and whatever other potential 
allies may offer to consolidate a block of power against U.S. hegemony.

Tomás Peribonio, ex-Minister of Foreign Trade 
under President Alfred Palacio, is now working as 
a contractor for the current Correa government 
designing the Manaos-Manta multi-modal corridor. 
He's a handsome, friendly fellow who has also 
granted me a spur of the moment interview when I 
showed up at his penthouse office in the Ministry 
of Public Works building. He offers to do the 
interview in his excellent English, but quickly 
slips into Spanish as he emphasizes that "the 
most important thing is regional unity." The 
construction of this multi-modal corridor, he 
describes as a "mega-project" that would be 
constructed "over the course of years and perhaps 
even decades." The aim, he says, is to unite 
"Pacific Asia, which, from my point of view, is 
the area of major world commerce, managing about 
fifty percent of world trade" with the Atlantic, 
specifically Brazil, which is increasing its 
cultivation of soy and other grains with an eye on exports.

For Peribonio regional integration begins at 
home, with Ecuador, a country that commonly 
characterizes itself as the "nation of four 
regions," which are the Amazon, the mountains, 
the plains and coast, and the Galapagos. These 
regions have experienced strong tensions and this 
fact has often been posed as a primary problem 
confronting national leaders as they attempted to 
unite the country. This multi-modal corridor, 
Peribonio hopes, will serve to first unite the 
country and then go on to unite Ecuador with Peru 
and Brazil, since the corridor would also go 
through Peru. Finally, says Peribonio, the 
corridor would integrate Ecuador more firmly into the world economy.

Will that be Venezuela or Brazil, the plan of 
Chavez for what Napoleon calls the "Bolivarian 
Coordinate" as embodied in ALBA, the Bolivarian 
Alternative for the Americas, or will it be the 
model defined by Brazil's need for growth, or an 
alliance between these two models? Is there 
another option? Peribonio shrugs. "Our countries 
have to unite in order to grow and develop. 
Europe, for instance, has grown enormously as a 
result of a complete integration. The model which 
has the greatest support will be the one that 
wins. But we can learn a lot from Europe and the 
approach it has taken toward integrating the 
smaller, poorer countries into its Union. But 
what's most important is convincing our people, 
the workers, indigenous people and people in the 
neighborhoods that alone we're small and weak, 
but that it's only through regional integration 
and unity that we'll become strong."

Clifton Ross is the co-editor of Voice of Fire: 
Communiques and Interviews of the Zapatista 
National Liberation Army (1994, New Earth 
Publications). His book, Fables for an Open Field 
(1994, Trombone Press, New Earth Publications), 
has just been released in Spanish by La Casa 
Tomada of Venezuela. His forthcoming book of 
poems in translation, Traducir el Silencio, will 
be published later this year by Venezuela´s 
Ministry of Culture editorial, Perro y Rana. Ross 
teaches English at Berkeley City College, 
Berkeley, California. He can be reached at 
<mailto:clifross at gmail.com>clifross at gmail.com .

Notes

1. "UNASUR: la coordenada bolivariana", La Tendencia, May, 2007

2, Marini, Ruy Mauro, in 
"<http://www.marini-escritos.unam.mx/006_acumulacion_es.htm>La 
acumulación capitalista mundial _y el subimperialismo,"

3. http://www.stratfor.com/products/premium/read_article.php?id=287656

4. Zibechi, Raúl, 
"<http://americas.irc-online.org/am/3144>Brazil 
and the Difficult Path to Multilateralism,"

5. http://www.whitehouse.gov/nsc/nss.html




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