Article | The first hundred days of Lasso deepen

The government of Guillermo Lasso, in Ecuador, completed one hundred days on the 31st of August. What can be seen in this beginning is the continuation of the neoliberal sacking initiated by Lenín Moreno.

Domestically, there are cuts in social spending, regressive fiscal reforms, privatization plans and, with the exception of vaccination, there is no other measure to alleviate the economic crisis. At the international level, a foreign policy that is totally submissive and subordinate to US interests and that harms the Ecuadorian people.

Economy

Seven out of ten Ecuadorians do not have a formal contract and are in precarious jobs that characterize underemployment. Before the pandemic, at the end of 2019, the percentage of poor population had increased to 25% (it was 21% in 2017) due to the reduction in public spending and Lenín Moreno’s neoliberal measures. Since the beginning of the pandemic, although the data cannot be compared because the measurement methodology has changed, poverty has increased in the country.

At the end of August, Ecuador received US$950 million from the IMF in Special Drawing Rights (free resources): only 2% of the total amount that the IMF will allocate free to the region, which corresponds to US$48.97 billion.

In return, Ecuador will continue with a fiscal restriction policy initiated in the previous Moreno government, which signed a letter of intent with the IMF in 2020.

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For this reason, plans are also continuing to privatize Banco del Pacifico, the Esmeraldas Refinery, sell off state assets and further reduce taxes, in addition to the capital outflow tax, which was already reduced in July. These measures will further reduce public investment and the State’s capacity to guarantee the rights of the population, especially those of the poorest.

About extractivism, Presidential Decree 151, issued on August 5, 2021, constitutes the roadmap for the implementation of the Action Plan for the mining sector.

Funded with a $78.4 million IDB loan, its objective would be to strengthen mining public policy capacities to generate a business environment conducive to investment.

The Plan concerns existing mining rights, supported by Investment Treaties and Free Trade Agreements, which provide for claims against the State in international arbitration courts and the use of repressive force against the population in the name of protecting mining interests.

Thus, the plan will serve to protect transnational and national capital, subordinating constitutionally recognized human rights to the rights of investors in mining.

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In relation to the pandemic, the Phoenix Plan, which began on May 31, aims to vaccinate 9 million Ecuadorians free of charge in the first 100 days of government. Until August 31, the goal was met and 9,987,247 people had already been vaccinated with the first dose and 8,208,617 with both, representing 47.5% of the population. In the country, Pfizer, AstraZeneca, Sinovac and CanSino vaccines are being used.

Due to the fragility of the public health system and lack of resources, vaccines are being administered free of charge in public and private universities and in companies, in addition to health centers and public and private hospitals. Brigades and mobile units have also been created in rural areas, and the military is moving into more remote areas.

Apart from vaccination, there is no other measure to alleviate the effects of the pandemic. ECLAC pointed out that the country’s economic recovery this year will be one of the lowest in the region, surpassing only Nicaragua, Cuba, Haiti and Venezuela.

Policy

Even having the largest number of parliamentarians in the National Assembly, the bench of the Union for Hope (UNES) movement, the “correistas”, does not have a majority.

They made a dubious pact with the Christian Social Party (PSC), a traditional right-wing party which, in turn, is allied with CREO, Lasso’s party (they disputed the elections together).

In this agreement, the UNES parliamentarians hoped, in exchange for handing over the presidency of the Chamber to the PSC – CREO, to win one of the vice-presidencies (there are two) and to create a kind of “truth commission” to fight the lawfare, obtaining information to defend in international courts former President Rafael Correa, former Vice President Glas and other Correista leaders persecuted during Moreno’s administration.

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The pact did not prosper because Lasso withdrew his support at the last minute and the presidency of the National Assembly was in the hands of Pachakutik, the second-largest electoral force, which already had an alliance with the Izquierda Democrática (ID), the third-largest electoral force since the second. shift, which allied with CREO.

This majority formed by CREO, Pachakutik and ID, together with parliamentarians from other small right-wing parties, elected Guadalupe Llori, an Amazonian indigenous woman, as president of the Assembly.

With this majority, Lasso pointed out that the priority laws for the Assembly to work on in the next period will be the following: reforms in the Communication Law and in the Higher Education Law, the latter already presented, which aims to deregulate the sector and reduce public funds for the area, neglecting the quality of education; in addition to the labor, tax and penitentiary reforms.

Protest of workers in the streets of Quito, capital of Ecuador / Rodrigo Buendia/AFP

In relation to popular movements, on July 2, leader Leonidas Iza took office as the new president of the Confederation of Indigenous Nationalities (CONAIE), the largest indigenous group in the country. Iza’s election represents a shift to the left within the largest organization in the Ecuadorian popular camp, as he was one of the main leaders of the intense protests that took place in the country in October 2019.

In these first months of government, mobilizations against the president and his neoliberal policies began to be organized. The first demonstration against the government of Lasso took place in June, when rice farmers demanded a minimum price to support production.

After that, for a month – between July 12th and August 13th – 89 teachers from schools and colleges affiliated to the UNE (National Union of Educators) went on hunger strike against the attempt to change the Organic Law on Intercultural Education (LOEI) . And the strike won. In other words, the LOEI, which has existed since 2011, remains, since the Constitutional Court said no to the change proposed by Lasso.

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The first joint demonstration against the Lasso government took place on August 11, due to the rise in fuel prices, linked to international prices since May 2020, suffering periodic increases.

The protest, with focuses all over the country, was organized by the indigenous movement and by the trade union centrals linked to the Workers’ Unitary Front (FUT). Lasso has kept it as it has meant a price increase of 30 to 60%.

On education, with another cut announced at the end of August, the public budget will have 500 million dollars less next year. A presidential decree was also signed that opens the door to private financing of public education and health.

The Board of Higher Education reduced the budget of private universities that receive public funding by 12 million dollars.

These universities, according to the Law on Higher Education, must use the public funds they receive to offer scholarships to people with limited economic resources, taking into account the criteria of the quota policy for the inclusion of indigenous, black and people with deficiency. In view of the measure, private universities announced, on August 22, that they will offer fewer scholarships.

“Vira-latism”

The policy of surrendering national sovereignty implemented by Moreno not only persists, but is being deepened.

Lasso resumed the process of negotiating a Free Trade Agreement (FTA) with the United States. The first step in this process was taken by Moreno, who signed on December 8, 2020 a Protocol to the US-Ecuador Trade and Investment Council Agreement on Trade Rules and Transparency.

This protocol was called the LAC’s “Preliminary Agreement” or “Phase 1 Agreement” with the United States, and it entered into force on August 12 of this year.

In the same direction, the Lasso government made Ecuador return to international arbitration courts, such as the International Center for Settlement of Investment Disputes (ICSID), something that was harmful to the country’s interests, as these entities only defend the businesses of transnational corporations and from the countries of the Global North.

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This has already happened in the Chevron case, when the oil company was sued for damages in the Ecuadorian Amazon.

The plenary of the National Assembly, with a majority formed by UNES and Pachakutik, passed a resolution condemning the signing of the agreement with ICSID. In addition, a group of parliamentarians filed a Public Action of Unconstitutionality in the Constitutional Court because the acceptance of this type of international arbitration violates Articles 419.7 and 422 of the Constitution of Ecuador.

Edition: Arturo Hartmann

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