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Trudeau silent on police crackdown in Ecuador

Schalk: Canada has a vested interest in maintaining Ecuador’s neoliberal status quo

Canadian PoliticsIndigenous PoliticsHuman RightsLatin America and the CaribbeanSocial Movements

Police in Ecuador’s capital, Quito, fire tear gas to disperse Indigenous protesters rallying against soaring fuel prices and living costs, June 2022. Photo by Ivan Alvarado.

Since mid-June, protests have been sweeping across Ecuador in opposition to President Guillermo Lasso’s neoliberal economic policies, and specifically his government’s inaction concerning shortages of food and fuel in the country. The protest movement, spearheaded by the Confederation of Indigenous Nationalities of Ecuador (CONAIE), has demanded that the Lasso government intervene in the markets to guarantee affordable gas prices at 45 cents per gallon and institute price controls in the agricultural sector. CONAIE is also demanding “a moratorium on the repayment of private bank loans held by rural people…more spending on healthcare, education, security and job creation, and an end to mining concessions in Indigenous territories.”

The protestors have organized over 900 road closures across 23 provinces. As the protest movement intensified over the past week, ultimately moving into nation’s capital, police repression increased. Lasso’s government attempted to stem the resistance by declaring a state of exception in six provinces and arbitrarily arresting protest leaders like Leonidas Iza, president of CONAIE, which ultimately backfired when thousands of supporters marched to the prison where Iza was being held, drawing international attention to the arrest and helping to ensure his safe release. After stepping free, Iza vowed to maintain the resistance and “consolidate the strength of the various other organizations and sectors of the country which have joined the strike.”

So far, four protestors have been killed by security forces, one of them a Kichwa man who died from a teargas canister fired directly into his head. Police denied that they were responsible for the death, saying the protestor died “as a result of handling an explosive device,” but CT scans clearly show that his skull was shattered by a canister fired at close range.

The most recent killing of a protestor was on June 23. This person died from “penetrating trauma to the thorax and abdomen caused by pellets” while protesting in El Arbolito park in Quito. CONAIE has also accused police of “indiscriminately causing hundreds” of injuries, many of them serious in nature.

For over ten days, Lasso shunned dialogue with the Indigenous-led protest movement while his interior minister Patricio Carrillo demeaned them as “drunks” and “terrorists” and accused them of being influenced by “radical groups” like former president Rafael Correa’s left-wing Citizen’s Revolution. On June 23, the CONAIE members successfully resisted state pressure and were able to convene a massive assembly in the House of Culture in Quito, where they will decide the future of the strike.

Like other countries in the Global South, the current crisis of inflation and high commodity prices sweeping the world—inflamed by the blowback of Western sanctions against Russia—has crashed full-force into the Ecuadorian economy. The economic policies of Lasso, a conservative and millionaire ex-banker, has only made living conditions worse. “We have two main sources of income in exports,” explained Ecuadorian economist Juan Fernando Terán in an April 2022 interview with Kawsachun News. “The first is oil, [and] logically, the war in Ukraine should have been beneficial because the price of oil has risen…However, the conservative President Guillermo Lasso had already promised the IMF the payment from future oil sales. Even if the price of oil goes to $300 it won’t benefit ordinary citizens.”

Terán continued: “Countries can survive this storm if they have an umbrella, but Ecuador doesn’t have a progressive government. It has a neoliberal government. Our economy has no umbrella now.”

Indigenous Ecuadorians march in southern Quito, June 20, 2022. Photo by Christina Vega/RHOR.

Ecuador is a key site of Canadian investment in South America. Canada is the largest foreign investor in Ecuador, and on April 8, Canadian Trade Minister Mary Ng met with Julio José Prado, Ecuador’s Minister of Production, Foreign Trade, Investments and Fisheries, to announce the Trudeau government’s desire to deepen trade ties with the country. In particular, she emphasized the importance of “responsible [Canadian] investments in the mining sector.”

Imports from Ecuador have grown every year since 2017, mainly in the areas of mineral and vegetable production. It can therefore be said that Canada has a vested interest in maintaining Ecuador’s neoliberal status quo, as it does with other countries in Latin America. Neither Trudeau nor Mélanie Joly, so vocal when it comes to protests in countries governed by socialist or socialist-oriented parties, have breathed a word about the ongoing repressive measures in Ecuador.

The Canadian Embassy in Ecuador, however, did release a statement in which it labelled the ongoing protests “violent riots,” echoing the Lasso government’s rhetorical construction of protestors as vandals and terrorists in a bid to delegitimize their legitimate resistance to a punishing status quo. This statement not only adopts the racist and dehumanizing rhetoric deployed by some of Lasso’s supporters and government officials against the Indigenous-led protest movement—unsurprisingly, it also mirrors a statement released by former foreign affairs minister Marc Garneau during intense police repression of anti-neoliberal protests in Colombia last year, in which Garneau voiced Canada’s concern over “acts of vandalism” perpetrated by protestors while totally neglecting to mention the context of socioeconomic despair and violent state repression out of which the protests had sprung.

Trudeau’s current silence on the police crackdown in Ecuador—labelled a “massacre” by Ecuador’s Alliance of Human Rights Organizations—is in keeping with his approach to the country and its popular protest movements. Prior to the election of Lasso, former Ecuadorian President Lenín Moreno led an intense and systemic campaign of repression against supporters of the left-wing Citizen’s Revolution, the political project helmed by Rafael Correa between 2007 and 2017. While seeking to arrest Correa and former government officials on politically motivated charges, Moreno also “restructured the judiciary, the electoral council, [and] his own party, all in an effort to persecute supporters of Rafael Correa and prevent the ex-president’s return to power.”

During Moreno’s reign, the Canadian government never issued a statement of condemnation regarding his arbitrary persecution of political enemies and did not criticize the state’s violent reaction to nationwide protests in 2019. Indeed, Trudeau never publicly commented on Moreno’s anti-democratic behaviour, but he did meet the president in September 2017, apparently to discuss “areas of trade and investment, Indigenous issues, and social inclusion.”

Now, history is repeating itself. Thousands of Ecuadorians are bravely rising up in protest of a mercilessly cruel economic system, facing down police repression and the constant possibility of injury or death, while the Trudeau government stays silent and the Canadian embassy degrades them as violent rioters. It should come as no surprise that the leader of a global mining superpower, whose country is the largest foreign investor in Ecuador with a particular focus on the mining sector, should react this way toward a protest movement demanding progressive social and economic change within Latin America.

Owen Schalk is a writer based in Winnipeg. He is primarily interested in applying theories of imperialism, neocolonialism, and underdevelopment to global capitalism and Canada’s role therein. Visit his website at www.owenschalk.com.

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