06 March, 2007

Ecuador to US: Out Now!

Roger Burbach:

"Ecuador is a sovereign nation; we do not need any foreign troops in our country," Maria Fernanda Espinosa, Ecuador’s foreign minister announced in a meeting with the Foreign Press Association. The treaty for the base expires in 2009 and will not be renewed.

The largest U.S. base on South America's Pacific coast, the Manta installation was ostensibly set up to monitor narco-trafficking over the ocean and in the nearby Amazon basin. But it has become a major operations center for U.S. intelligence-gathering and coordinating counterinsurgency efforts against the leftist guerrillas in neighboring Colombia.

The base's $80-million runway, can accommodate the largest and most sophisticated U.S. spy aircraft. Manta is also used as a port for U.S. naval operations in the Pacific. Upwards of 475 American military personal are rotated between Manta and the U.S. Southern Command headquarters in Florida.

Popular sentiment in Ecuador overwhelmingly supports the closure of the Manta base. Since the base was set up in 1999 the civil war in Colombia has spread to Ecuador, bringing refugees, violence and social conflict, particularly in the Amazon region. Aerial spraying of herbicides by planes originating in Colombia eradicates food crops and has deleterious health effects on Ecuadorian children and adults.
. . .

[Vice-President Lenin] Moreno caused an uproar when, commenting on the upcoming trip in March of President Bush to Latin America that excludes Ecuador, he stated: "Every time Bush comes to visit our region we worry because we don't know what proposals he comes to impart and what sorts of statements he will make."
. . .

The Correa government is also moving against the neo-liberal trade and commercial policies that have been imposed on Ecuador by Washington and international lending agencies. In line with his campaign platform, [President Rafael] Correa made it clear he would never sign the Free Trade Agreement with the United States, which was being discussed with previous Ecuadorian governments.

At the same time, Ecuador is negotiating special bilateral trade and economic agreements with Presidents Hugo Chavez of Venezuela and Evo Morales in Bolivia. Venezuela has agreed to refine Ecuadorian oil and provide financial assistance for social programs, while the Bolivian government has concluded an agreement to import food commodities from small and medium producers in Ecuador.

. . . Economics Minister Ricardo Patino [announced] that Ecuador would make a scheduled debt payment of $135 million to foreign bondholders after all. Known for his long-held belief that paying off the foreign debt undercuts critical social spending programs and keeps Ecuador in a state of perpetual poverty, Patino's decision came just two days after he had announced that Ecuador would not make the payment.

Informed sources close to the government say that after high-level discussions, Correa opted to pay the bondholders, preferring to focus on the coming negotiations with international lenders over a reduction in the schedule of debt payments and the annulment of part of the debt that was the result of corrupt practices by prior Ecuadorian governments and foreign creditors.

As Baez says, "the Correa government decided to be selective in the battles it is taking on for the moment. A default now would have caused an international reaction and possibly provoked a domestic financial crisis, just as the government is trying to get its legs under it."

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