Ecuador : "Popular government is the only way forward"

Liberation’s Interview with Jose Izquierdo, a senor leader of the Communist Party of Ecuador (Marxist-Leninist)

In mid-April this year the Ecuadorian President Lucio Gutirrez was ousted from power following days of protest in the streets of the country's major cities and towns.

Ironically Gutirrez rode to power three years ago on the back of a similar popular uprising protesting against his predecessor's neo-liberal economic policies that have resulted in the impoverishment of large sections of the population in this oil and natural resources-rich country. Prior to his election, Gutirrez was even compared to Venezuela's Hugo Chavez and expected to implement pro-people policies but to the horror of popular movements he turned out to be a closet supporter of US Imperialism and in his first act in office was to visit George Bush Jr. at the White House!

Following his removal from office by the Ecuadorian parliament on popular demand (the third President to be ousted in five years), Ecuador once again finds itself with a transitional government, headed now by Alfredo Palacio, a former health minister who broke early with Gutirrez over differences in views over the latter's policies.

Liberation interviewed Jose Izquierdo, a senior member of the Communist Party of Ecuador (Marxist-Leninist) or PCMLE (according to its Spanish name) to talk about the future of Ecuadorian politics as well as the interesting events under Hugo Chavez in neighbouring Venezuela . Some excerpts:

The Movement against Lucio Gutirrez:

There was a mix of forces involved in the movement against Lucio Gutirrez, including right-wing elements who wanted to preserve the current system. They were against Gutirrez government because of its failure to counter the influence of left forces on popular opinion and sentiments.

Nevertheless, the overall social composition of the anti-Gutirrez was dominated by democratic and progressive elements. Our forces were present against Gutirrez and we used the slogan of 'Out Lucio-In Popular Government' which had a great deal of support with the Ecuadorian population.

On the new Ecuadorian government:

The new government is weak. They don't have parliamentary bloc and very little support. The people within the parliament who fought against Gutirrez did so because they found him unable to serve their purpose and not because of any pro-people outlook.

Initially, the Palacio government tried to gain popular support and proposed a complete overhaul of the previous government's policies. For example, they said they are opposed to signing of a Free Trade Agreement with the US, the setting up of a US army base at Manta (in Ecuador) and are against Plan Colombia (a US operation to fumigate large parts of forests along the Ecuador-Colombia border, ostensibly in the war against narcotics but actually aimed at Marxist rebel groups hiding in the forests).

They have said that all these will be considered only after popular consultation. The new President has also taken positions against the rightwing government in Colombia , called for closer relations with Hugo Chavez and criticized US actions in Latin America .

But under US pressure they have gone back on this position and have been forced to submit to US dictates. A very senior US government functionary threatened to press for the derecognition of the new Ecuadorian government by the Organisation of American States (OAS) and very soon the Palacio adminstration had to appease Washington .

Inside the country the new regime is still promoting neo-liberal policies like the privatisation of electricity.

The role of the left forces:

We have called on the people to continue with their movement to establish a popular government. We have explained that the current government is linked to the old oligarchy of Ecuador and to international capital.

We continue to fight against specific policies of the government that are anti-people. Recently, for example, they announced a new decree that prevents people from accessing the money in their social security fund. This money is being used by the government to cover its financial deficit and we are mobilizing people against this move.

We have insisted strongly on the need for a united front of left and democratic forces against the government. There are difficulties however because CONAIE (an umbrella group of indigenous peoples organizations) is quite weak right now and trade unions are also divided on several issues. But we are confident that step-by-step we can build unity among various opposition forces.

On the Hugo Chavez government in Venezuela :

We think that the Venezuelan government has taken very important positions on a number of issues. They have given political attention to popular demands like health and education and taken measures that affect the landlords, ruling classes and foreign multinational interests.

This is a government of open opposition to the US . We don't think of it as a revolutionary government but as a popular and democratic one. It is however in the process of getting more radicalized through mass participation.

Chavez's weakness lies in his political party, the Movement for a Fifth Republic (MVR) which has elements that range from the left and social-democratic forces to even those with right wing positions. But there are plenty of people still there with leftist positions.

We have expressed our solidarity with the people and government of Venezuela . Chavez wants to promote his Bolivarian movement for unity in Latin America and has organized the Bolivarian Congress of groups from around the region. Though there is no unified ideological axis in this Congress we nevertheless take part in it.

Chavez is now saying that socialism is the only alternative and wants to create a Latin American socialism, which is patriotic and anti-capitalist.