There are elections in Ecuador tomorrow, November 26, 2006. Welcome to the second round between Àlvaro Noboa and Rafael Correa. “Gong-Gong”.
Does voting change anything? It might just, -in the case of the Banana Republic of Ecuador.
Not only the moon turns the other way around in Ecuador: radical, extra-parliamentary politics with stones and molotov cocktails, not uncommon in Ecuador, are often in demand for more roads, more airports, in short, better infrastructure to be able to live better lives. For many, well most North-West European or U.S. radical, political activists there are certainly more than enough roads, let alone airports. Why would people risk their lives in battle with the Army for more roads?
The answer is easy: they need them. Or they perceive that they need them. But rather, of course, they have been persuaded, the veil of capitalism, the most comprehensively oppressive veil of them all, has been waved around their faces. People want to become economic agents. For the population of Ecuador’s Amazonian regions a road potentially brings more goods, cheaper and more tourists. It’s good for the economy, stupid! You can see why: in Amazonia there are many colonos who have been encouraged by the state and market promises to settle in towns where once there was the (rain) forest. They want their dreams realised, with proper roads for proper cars; and indigenous communities want to be connected to organised, profitable eco-tourism.
People in different places have different needs and make different demands, such as people of the “Autonomous Territory of the Original Kichwa Nation of Sarayaku”, who is technically speaking at non-violent war with an Argentinian oil company, the Ecuadorian State and the usual U.S. oil interest suspects, in this case (“the workers of”) CGC and Burlington. To divide and conquer, a community has been bought (and sold) to help the state and the oil people strangle the autonomous community. You can “normally” go by canoe to Sarayaku, but the Bobonaza River has been blocked and the only way to reach the eco-tourist destination or revolutionary front is by small, chartered plane (around $250 for three-four people).
This is a conflict in a region militarised by governments and oil and cocaine mercenaries, and an election in a country central to “Plan Colombia” – the coming together of the War on Drugs, the War on Terror and Monsanto, whose Round-Up is used to spray.
With Ecuador as a stepping stone for U.S. military interventions in the region, the election might in fact also be a choice between one more or one less U.S Army base. Manta, the base from which Colombia is currently targeted by U.S. military, might get closed if Correa is victorious, or, as the waiter suggested last night, if not, they might build another base in Ahuano (for the U.S.)
So, the familiar slogan, “Don’t vote, it just encourages them” and the ole’ “If voting changed anything they’d ban it” don’t apply in Ecuador. Firstly, voting is mandatory – you have to vote (to get a certificado de votacion, needed together with a cedula (ID card) for legal and financial transactions and to renew your cedula!). Secondly, the election in Ecuador will also have regional and global ramifications.
For the Sarayaku and all the other social and cultural movements in Ecuador, and the peasants in Colombia and Ecuador’s border territores, the choice between two political characters is very real and will have (might have tremendous) consequences.
What do we know about these two characters, what do we need to know about them?
One candidate is a “Christian of the left” with good connections to Chavez in Venezuela and Morales in Bolivia, the other a banana billionaire with U.S. connections. Meet Rafael Correa, charismatic, dressed as a cosmopolitan politician, PhD in Economics and his self-styled opponent Àlvaro Noboa, a bible swinging, opportunist, banana republic godfather.
Correa’s adviser at University of Illinois was quoted in the Washington Post saying that Correa “…appreciates the market to certain point, but he knows that the market left alone concentrates wealth …He is not going to do anything foolish… because he is a fairly open-minded person”. So to be open-minded is to realise that capitalism needs a bit of help from a stable centre, the nation state, every now and then, to take care of basic needs and to police. But Correa is a handsome, charismatic, kind looking “young man” (photographed him a few times recently in Quito from a few meters..
…all the while the crowd was singing “Eso no es pagado, es pueblo realisado“, (“This is not paid (for), it is the people realised”) with obvious reference to Noboa buying votes and making promises he cannot hold). Correa is some sort of a democratic socialist. Probably he believes that what he is doing is the right thing, a good thing, but as any other politician in an authoritarian, patriarchal, even macho culture of (Ecuadorian) economic politics he might in the end fall prey to corruption of mind and purse. For the stakes are high and his promises great:
“Correa, a professional economist, describes his five key areas of reform as: constitutional revolution, ethical revolution, economic and productivity revolution, education and health revolution, and dignity, sovereignty and Latin American integration revolution.
Correa founded the Alianza PAIS. The party did not run any congressional candidates, as Correa has stated that he will call for a referendum to call for a Constitutional Assembly. However, the Alianza PAIS movement signed a political alliance with the Ecuadorian Socialist Party, which did present candidates for Congress. The constituent assembly would rewrite the Constitution.”
Despite radical tendencies Correa has “…apologised for saying the US president was dumber than the devil and said Mr. Chávez was wrong to intervene by openly backing his candidacy”, leading in part, so understood by some commentators, to a recent surge in the polls for Correa.
Of course it is difficult to know whether the polls create the voter or the voter creates the polls – some just want to be on the side that’s winning and promises, even when fake and unrealistic, can be made to look good. Did someone say Noboa?
Noboa is an older guy, who dresses like an ordinary person, somewhat. In a leather jacket, a fat belly and the bible in his hand he makes promises to build many many houses for “the people” – a strategy that worked for Hitler with added X-tian value. Noboa is a man who has lawyers employed to creatively account for matters and armed gangs to break and beat up workers organising. One worker demanding his legal right to organise lost a leg in a clash where 19 other were injured. Finally, one is tempted to say, Àlvaro Noboa has alienated parts of his family by dragging them through one of the world’s most expensive family feuds to gain control of their father’s banana (and real estate, banking and various other industrious activities) empire. As a man of god, he is quite a devil in disguise – as Arundhati Roy so well put it “So now we know. Pigs are horses. Girls are boys. War is Peace.” And in Ecuador, even the Moon turns upside down.
If Noboa wins there is likely to be quite some movement in opposition to his presidency. He will most likely be accused of fraud in the election process (but who wouldn’t?) and the indigenous and peasant movements will most likely create various blockades in demand of their general and particular interests. The traditional, socialist left might be invigorated further, repression scaled up and a seriously violent state of affairs can be the sad outcome if Ecuador has at the helm a banana republican like Noboa. Someone showed me the other night a wrapped up alleged weapon that he had acquired for “when the shit hits the fan”. There might be 100.000 people active in the political networks that has grown in the pro-Correa and anti-Noboa campaigns. Some people have had enough, do you know the feeling?
If Correa wins there is a great chance that he will (try to) close the Manta base and establish tighter economic links with Hugo Chavez in Venezuela and Evo Morales in Bolivia and as such widen the social-democratic renaissance in Latin America.
The choice is yours, so to speak, but remain assured, many choices are for sale and one of the candidates have an “unlimited” supply of cash – it is hard US$ cash against the realm of ideas and utopian visions of social organisation that is worthy of the term democratic.
More on this later. The votes should be counted well enough, save major fraud scandals, on sometime Monday to get a reliable idea of the final outcome, but since elections can be bought and sold in the market and won or lost in a court of law anything could happen. After all, last time the (Brazilian E-VOTE) voting system crashed when around 70% of the votes were counted in the first round, in October, adding to confusion and suspicion.
Some of the references used or just relevant :
- An article in Forbes Magazine (about how he screwed his family to take control of the family empire) Noboa says that “…there are many strange things in my life … But what can I say? I always come out well.” http://www.forbes.com/free_forbes/2003/0317/108.html
- www.sarayacu.com – www.sarayacu.com/oil/antecedentes.html#eng