Ecuador: The ‘drone revolution’ against Moreno’s IMF package

By Denis Rogatyuk.

“Se acabó la zanganería”.

With this phrase, President of Ecuador Lenin Moreno announced the end of the 40-year long policy of fuel and petrol subsidies that traditionally benefited the working class population. “Zánganos” (or drones) is a slang term traditionally used by the richer parts of society to refer to the workers and the poor as ‘mindless’ or ‘uneducated’, once again reflecting the neoliberal president’s classist attitudes of disgust towards Ecuador’s working class.

Overnight, the slang turned into a buzzword used by Moreno’s opponents to refer to themselves and the new movement as “la revolución de los zánganos” (the drone revolution).

Following this shock economic measure, the past week has seen a series of large demonstrations across the country, as a new package of neoliberal reforms was presented by the Moreno government in a bid to satisfy the demands of the International Monetary Fund (IMF).

The latest explosion of mass protests was caused by the government’s announcement on October 1 of a series of new economic measures designed to reduce “wasteful” public spending and further balance the budget. The most controversial measure of all has been the complete elimination of the fuel and petrol subsidies, in place since the 1970s, thus directly contributing to a 123 per cent rise in the price of diesel and similar increases for other fuels. Furthermore, the package introduces a 20 per cent cut to the salary of public employees, and the initiation of plans to privatise pensions and to remove safeguards to workers’ conditions and job security.

‘State of emergency’ declared

Foreseeing the likelihood and the magnitude of protests against his government, Moreno declared a “national state of emergency” and proceeded to deploy both the police and the military against protests in the capital Quito and other areas around the country.

Among the most visible political forces leading the protests have been the Citizens’ Revolution Movement (MRC) of former left-wing President Rafael Correa, as well as a number of social and trade union organisations, such as the United Workers’ Front (FUT), the CONAIE indigenous organisation and the Popular Front (FP) political party. Furthermore, both transport workers’ unions and the taxi drivers’ associations announced strike action on October 3, bringing several cities around the country to halt, among them Quito and Cuenca.

The province of Pichincha converted into the epicentre of popular struggle, with more than 10,000 taking in part in the strike and the protests. Although the transport workers suspended the strike action on October 5, the protests by other organisations, particularly the indigenous, have shown no signs of stopping.

Below: Police retreating from mass protests in Quito

Below: Police repression in Quito – “Police retreating after injuring a protester with ammunition”

The state of emergency itself has been severely criticised by Correa’s MRC as being unconstitutional, as it lacks any specific parameters regarding proportionality, legality, temporality, territoriality and rationality (as mandated in the constitution) and is widely considered as a measure of preventing mass-scale uprisings in major cities that overthrew the neoliberal governments of Jamil Mahuad in 2000 and Lucio Gutiérez in 2005.

A total of 350 arrests have been made since the protests began on October 2, including of several activists from the transport unions, while more than 20 people have been injured around the country. In the city of Caymabe, Pichincha, the police are reported to have used live ammunition against the protestors. During the transport workers’ strike of October 3-5, several delegates and local leaders were detained by the police in the city of Cuenca, and a further four members of the taxi drivers’ associations were arrested on October 4 in relation to the strikes.

Moreno’s right turn

The cuts to the fuel subsidies have only served to fan the flames of popular discontent that has been spreading across the country since Moreno’s neoliberal economic turn and the embrace of authoritarianism.

On the economic front, Moreno has attempted to consistently discredit Correa’s (highly successful and popular) economic strategy of combining increased social spending with public investment in major infrastructure and energy projects, and the diversification of the economy away from oil through the building of a new productive matrix.

Instead, his government has pursued an IMF-mandated package of reforms that included dismissal of thousands of public sector employees, reducing the size of the public sector, initiating privatisation of parts of the public sector (particularly the public banking services), and introducing cuts to education and healthcare sectors.

Consequently, the levels of poverty and inequality have seen significant increases over the past several years of Moreno’s government. According to the official numbers, the level of structural poverty has increased from 23.1 per cent in June 2017 to 25.5 per cent in June 2019, with some economists projecting that structural poverty will reach 30 per cent by the end of the year if the new economic measures are enacted.

Extreme poverty has risen from 8.4 per cent to 9.5 per cent during the same period. Furthermore, the Gini coefficient of economic inequality has increased from 0.462 in June 2017 to 0.478 in June 2019, reflecting Moreno’s policies of reducing social spending, principally benefiting the rich.

On the legal side, the country has witnessed a continuous breakdown of constitutional law, with the persecution of the former vice-president Jorge Glas on dubious charges, the censorship of various critical media channels, and the scandal of the INA Papers and discovery of secret offshore bank accounts linked to the Moreno family.

It has also witnessed the dismissal of the newly elected Council of Citizens’ Participation and Social Control (CPCCS), the withdrawal from UNASUR and OPEC and the continuous political witch-hunt against Correa and other leaders of the Citizens’s Revolution, such as the former Foreign Minister Ricardo Patiño and former deputy Sofia Espin.

Esther Cuesta, a member of the National Assembly of the Citizens’ Revolution Movement, explained her party’s position regarding both the new rebellion and the growing authoritarianism and repression by the Moreno government: “Millions of Ecuadorians, whom we join as the Citizen’s Revolution Movement, reject the neoliberal economic measures, dictated by the IMF and imposed to the Ecuadorian people by Moreno’s government, mainly because they will impoverish the vast majority of the population: the middle class, the working class and the poor, as well as small and medium-sized businesses, to the detriment of the future of children and younger generations.”

She further explained the significance of the Zánganos movement in the historical context of the Ecuadorian people’s struggle against neoliberalism: “Since the paquetazo [IMF package] announcement, what started as a transportation strike emerged as a growing social protest all over the country and from different sectors of the population.

“Ecuadorian people have memory. The adjustment policies applied in the country the 1980s and 1990s provoked massive unemployment, impoverishing of the population, and about 12 percent of the population emigrated.”

Denis Rogatyuk is a Russian-Australian freelance writer, journalist and researcher. Follow him on Twitter @DenisRogatyuk.

This article originally appeared in The Grayzone and has been reprinted by Irish Broad Left with the permission of the author.

The beginning of the end for Argentina’s Macri

By Martin Burgos.

“Political vacuum”, “default” and “hyperinflation”: these are the terms being used by several economists from Argentina’s public service, discussing the country’s current political and economic situation.

Earlier this month, the Peronist opposition led by Alberto Fernández defeated the right-wing government of President Mauricio Macri in the primary elections by 47 per cent to 32 per cent. Primary elections in Argentina feature a selection of candidates and are open to the entire electorate, not only party members. the system was introduced in 2009 as a way of reducing the number of candidates in presidential elections. The participation rate for the the primaries held on August 11 was 75 per cent of the electorate.

Right-wing Argentinian President Mauricio Macri looks set to lose the Presidential election on October 27

This result, in effect, means that there is no chance that President Macri can reverse the situation in the presidential elections scheduled for October 27. Fernández leads the main opposition coalition, Frente de Todos, and his running mate is the former left-wing President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner. If he succeeds in gaining 45 per cent of the vote (or 40 per cent with a 10 per centage point lead), he will be elected President in the first round.

This situation means that we currently have a president continuing in office, with Fernández waiting to be able to assume his duties on December 10, after the ratification of his election in October.

As a result, Macri and his government exist in a political vacuum: he does not have the real power to lead the country and implement economic policies, while Fernández has real power, but not formal power. Game theory identifies this as a potentially dangerous situation, especially since the outgoing president has chosen an aggressive strategy that may be explosive for the country. This moment is reminiscent of the 1989 Alfonsin-Menem transition, when the former president had to anticipate the transition of power in the middle of an episode of hyperinflation.

The reasons for Macri’s defeat are clear: the electorate soundly rejected his neoliberal economic policies that have led to indebtedness, rising interest rates, the fall in GDP and wages since 2016, increases in utility rates, the rise in inflation that has reached 52 per cent (compared to 25 per cent in 2015) and the tumbling exchange rate (at 45 pesos per dollar, compared to nine pesos per dollar in 2015). The economic crisis of 2018, from which the country never recovered, combined with the unification of the opposition explains this political Waterloo of the Argentinian right.

Markets react with capital flight

The day after the primary elections, the exchange rate tumbled further, from 45 to 55 pesos, and the stock market fell by 30 per cent. The Emerging Market Bond Index (EMBI) Country Risk rose from 800 to 1800 points, illustrating investors’ doubts about Argentina’s ability to repay its debts. The 75 per cent interest rate the day after the primaries did not have positive effect on monetary variables, and the rush to the dollar was unstoppable.

For the “markets”, the defeat of their champion is grim news, especially as the talk on Wall Street describes Alberto Fernández as a puppet of Cristina Fernández de Kirchner, and fears a return of “populism” and “Chavismo” in Argentina.

The risk for Macri is that the economic chaos caused by his allies in the financial world will be used against him in the presidential campaign. For the moment, the support of the International Monetary Fund is propping up the government. The IMF sent the director of the central bank to Washington to request a $20 billion loan from the US government.

While US President Donald Trump has consistently helped Macri, it is very likely that this aid will end. That day, the government will have a hard time coping with the forces of the “market”, the very same forces that promoted Macri to power.

Martin Burgos is an economist at the Centro Cultural de la Cooperación in Argentina. Title photo shows Alberto Fernández, right, with former President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner

Marta Harnecker, presente!

By Federico Fuentes.

The international left has lost one of its most lucid intellectual, pedagogical educators and determined activists with the passing of Marta Harnecker on June 14, aged 82.

Marta will forever be remembered as one of the most influential and prolific writers on the Latin American left, having written almost 90 books covering a wide array of topics and debates on the left. Her collected works in many ways serve as insights into her lifelong commitment to learning, educating and defending the revolutionary cause throughout the continent.

Born in Chile, Harnecker began her activism in the early 1960s as a Catholic student activist before moving to France, where she studied under Marxist philosopher Louis Althusser.

Returning to her home country as a committed Marxist, Marta dedicated herself to popularising these ideas by producing numerous pamphlets such as Exploited and ExploitedCapitalist ExploitationSocial Classes and Class Struggle and Capitalism and Socialism.

Together with arguably her most famous work, Elementary Concepts of Historical Materialism,which was based on notes she prepared for Latin American students studying Althusser, these texts quickly became almost obligatory reading for leftists across the region.

Marta also threw herself into supporting the newly-elected socialist government of Salvador Allende, particularly in her role as editor of the political weekly Chile Hoy.

Forced to seek refuge from the military dictatorship that followed Allende’s overthrow, Marta left for Cuba, which had captured her attention when she first visited it shortly after the 1959 Cuban Revolution.

In Cuba, Marta married her first husband, Manuel Piñeiro — Comandante “Red Beard” — a leading figure in the Cuban Revolution. Together they had a daughter, Camila, before his untimely death in a car accident in 1998.

There she also published Cuba: Democracy or Dictatorship? a collection of testimonies and experiences of popular power she documented.

Her constant quest to both learn from others and transmit these lessons as widely as possible led Marta to spend much of the next two decades collecting extensive interviews with key figures from the Latin American left, starting with guerrilla commanders from Central America and Colombia in the 1980s and leaders of some of the emergent left forces in South America in the ’90s.

Building left unity in reality

In these interviews, which were later published in various testimonials, Marta sought to draw out the lessons of defeats suffered, the strengths and weaknesses of differing tactics and strategies, the challenges of left unity and how revolutionary forces could begin to rebuild themselves and accumulate the forces required to turn ideas into reality. 

Marta also set up the Popular Latin American Memory Centre of Investigations (MEPLA) in Cuba to study and disseminate real-life experiences of communities working to build a better world.

The lessons Marta extracted from these interviews and experiences, combined with her own original contributions and ideas on topics such as globalisation and the collapse of the Soviet Union, became the basis for The Left on the Threshold of the 21st Century: Making the Impossible Possible.

Published in 1999, the book came out just as Hugo Chávez was elected in Venezuela — the first of what became a string of progressive presidents elected in the region.

For the next two decades Marta devoted herself to studying these experiences, steadfastly defending them while never being afraid to express her criticisms. She collated many invaluable lessons learnt along the way, firstly in Rebuilding the Left, and then A World to Build: New Paths toward Twenty-First Century Socialism.

After reading The Left on the Threshold, Chávez granted Marta an extensive interview, in which Marta — in her customary manner — challenged and probed him like few dared to do. The experience led Chavez to ask Marta to come and work with him, where she continued to challenge him whenever she disagreed.

Marta moved to Venezuela with Michael Lebowitz, her second husband, who, like her, had dedicated his life to enriching Marxist ideas. Together they shared a profound belief in the revolutionary potential and creativity of ordinary people engaged in struggle, along with a deep love for each other.

They helped organise two international solidarity gatherings in Caracas, in 2004 and 2005, and were fundamental to the establishment of the Miranda International Centre (CIM) in 2006 as a space for Venezuelan and international intellectuals to contribute their ideas to the process.

In between giving workshops in communities and workplaces and constant meetings with activists seeking advice, or simply wanting to discuss politics, Marta continued to collect testimonies from anyone she felt others could learn from.

As part of her work in CIM, she organised a series of panels bringing together key figures from the new left in Brazil, Bolivia, Paraguay and Ecuador, during which she would conduct a collective interview with the aim of encouraging comradely discussion and debate between the participants.

She always sought to include all voices in these panels, believing everyone had something to contribute and that by opening such space we could learn from each other. Participants often commented that such encounters seemed almost impossible at home but were of great value, helping bridge seemingly unbridgeable divides.

As a result of these interviews, Marta published a series of unique books chronicling the rise and challenges of these new left parties, encompassing their differing viewpoints.

Venezuela’s communal councils

Marta was able to do all this while dedicating much of her time to highlighting various experiences in popular participation at the community level, travelling across Venezuela to listen and debate with local activists.

These community experiments became of intense interest and concern for Marta, who saw in them not just the embryos of local self-government but everyday schools that could foster the revolutionary subject required to push the process forward.

Through this work Marta played a critical role in bringing the Venezuelan government’s attention to various experiences in building communal councils. Chávez would go onto embrace the communal councils and then the communes as central to his emancipatory project of 21st Century Socialism and asked Marta to become an advisor for the new Ministry of Popular Participation, which he created in 2005.  

Becoming acutely aware of some of the negative state practices that were undermining this process, Marta publicly spoke out about them, even when it earned her the ire of some in government.

The lessons she obtained from the communal councils and communes, together with other experiences she studied in Kerala, India and Porto Alegre, Brazil, nourished the ideas she outlines in Planning from Below: A Decentralized Participatory Planning Proposal, which is due to come out just weeks after Marta lost her battle with cancer.

Without doubt, Marta will forever have a place among the key left thinkers of the past century. Her extensive collection of books, pamphlets and articles will serve as invaluable tools for activists, young and old, new and experienced, for many years to come.

For those like me, who had the pleasure of working with her, and countless others who had the opportunity to meet her, she will always be remembered as much more.

She will forever be that Marta who always wanted to listen and learn from others, who always had an encouraging word to say, who believed everyone had something to contribute, and whose profound and unwavering belief in humanity was not simply something she preached, but something she practiced every day of her life.

Compañera Marta Harnecker, presente! Now and forever!

Federico Fuentes is an Argentinian-Australian writer and activist who worked with Marta Harnecker in various capacities over the past decade. This obituary was first published on June 21 in Green Left Weekly and has been reprinted here with the permission of the author. Follow Federico on Twitter @FredFuentesGLW.