Citizen Action in the
Americas, No. 3


Mobilizing Against the FTAA & Militarization in Ecuador

Americas Program,
Interhemispheric Resource Center (IRC)

by Justin Ruben

Members of Ecuador’s indigenous communities rally outside that country’s Constitutional Tribunal. Photo by Justin Ruben.

Articulating an Alternative Agenda
Taking Action

The Bush administration and proponents of the FTAA hope to have the hemispheric trade pact signed, sealed, and in force by 2005 and are counting on the upcoming FTAA summit in Quito, Ecuador, to produce agreements in several key areas. But Ecuadorian campesino groups, indigenous communities, trade unions, NGOs, and community-based organizations have formed national coalitions and crossborder networks to mobilize protests at the event and to convene a counter-summit to articulate an alternative vision of economic cooperation in the Americas.
On October 31, yet another international trade summit will be attended by policymakers, angry protesters in the streets, and civil society leaders advocating alternative visions of globalization. Instead of sporting the ubiquitous yellow “Protest of the Century” plastic ponchos that were handed out by the thousands on the streets of Seattle, many of the demonstrators who converge on Quito, Ecuador, for the 7th summit of the Free Trade Area of the Americas (FTAA) will be wearing woven wool ponchos, just as their ancestors have for hundreds of years. For months, Ecuador’s social movements have been making preparations to come out in force to reject the FTAA and the economic model on which it is based. For many North Americans, the indígenas, campesinos, women’s groups, environmentalists, and union members in the streets of Quito for the FTAA ministerial will represent a first glimpse at Latin America’s growing resistance to the “Washington consensus” free trade model and to U.S. military policies in the region.

Key FTAA Challenges in Ecuador

Subsidized U.S. agricultural exports would likely swamp rural economies and devastate Ecuador’s campesinos.
If the FTAA forces Ecuador to accept GMOs, food security, agricultural diversity, campesino and indigenous cultures, and smallholder farming will suffer.
FTAA services rules would force the privatization of water, health care, and other public services.
The FTAA would give transnational corporations protection from efforts to ensure corporate responsibility, leading to forms of economic development that are ecologically destructive and do not serve local communities.
Under the FTAA, Ecuador faces further deindustrialization, leading to increased unemployment and economic insecurity.
Ecuadorian groups see the FTAA as the economic component of a broader U.S. strategy for hemispheric domination, and say that the military component of that strategy is sparking increased instability and violence in the region.

The FTAA may remain only a proposal, but the hallmarks of the neoliberal model on which it is based—privatization, deregulation, cuts in public services, and trade liberalization—are already familiar to many Ecuadorians, thanks to 20 years of structural adjustment policies (SAPs). Implemented at the behest of the World Bank (WB) and International Monetary Fund (IMF) with the support of Ecuadorian elites, SAPs have had disastrous impacts on Ecuador’s population. According to SAPRI-Ecuador, a multisector review process convened by the Ecuadorian government, the World Bank, and civil society organizations, two decades of neoliberalism have “stripped Ecuador of its productive capacity, deindustrialized the country, reduced food security, denied productive resources to low-income sectors, generated greater poverty and inequality, and destabilized Ecuador financially.”
To make matters worse, Ecuador is still in the grips of a crushing financial crisis that began in 1999. This crisis led to a financial sector meltdown and skyrocketing prices, which were the impetus for dollarization—a measure that failed to curb inflation but (because of the dollar’s strength) made Ecuadorian goods uncompetitive. The abolition of the sucre also further impoverished poor and middle-class Ecuadorians, who held few dollars to begin with.
Ecuadorian indigenous and campesino organizations say that the FTAA will bring more of the same. In particular, they single out its effects on agriculture and rural economies. Dollarization has already increased campesinos’ costs, while driving down the prices they receive for their products. Campesino organizations worry that the FTAA would accelerate this process. They cite the case of Mexico under the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), where a million or more campesinos have become destitute as a result of subsidized corn exports from the United States. The FTAA would also likely force Ecuador to accept imports of genetically modified organisms (GMOs), currently banned in the country. FTAA opponents view GMOs as a critical threat to rural food security, crop diversity, indigenous and campesino culture, and smallholder agriculture. They also worry about the possible ecological and health risks of GMOs.
According to Ecuador’s free trade critics, the widespread dislocation seen in Mexico’s rural areas post-NAFTA could also be experienced by other sectors of the Ecuadorian economy if the FTAA goes into effect. Experience in the Americas and the Caribbean has shown that in big economies like Mexico’s or Brazil’s, some firms are competitive enough to survive rapid liberalization. But in small economies such as Jamaica’s or Ecuador’s, dropping tariff protections often leads to a surge in imports that swamps domestic production. Instead of increasing local firms’ competitiveness, liberalization simply drives them out of business. This has led to a process of “reprimarization”—the return to production of primary commodities—that has occurred throughout the global South and to which rapidly liberalizing small economies are particularly prone.
Many of the nongovernmental and community-based organizations (NGOs and CBOs) fighting the FTAA see the treaty as primarily a tool for ensuring access to Ecuadorian resources by multinationals based in the global North, and they view the history of foreign oil companies in Ecuador as instructive. Oil drilling in the Amazon has not only caused ecological devastation and environmental health problems but has also led to widespread human rights violations in the region. FTAA negotiators hope to include language similar to NAFTA’s controversial Chapter 11, which has already been used by U.S. and Canadian corporations to win compensation for having to comply with national environmental, public health, and consumer-protection regulations. An FTAA with this sort of language would give oil companies and other transnationals a whole new set of tools with which to expand access to the Ecuadorian economy and to thwart efforts aimed at promoting corporate accountability. Areas ripe for takeover by foreign investors include bioresources, water, and social services such as health care, education, telecommunications, and utilities. The drive for private capital access to these sectors runs head-on into Ecuadorian civil society’s historic opposition to privatization.
One marked difference between FTAA detractors in Ecuador and their counterparts in North America is the degree to which the Ecuadorians link their opposition to resistance against Plan Colombia and U.S. military strategy in the region. In the eyes of many Ecuadorian groups, the FTAA is the economic arm of a strategy of hemispheric domination, a strategy that also includes a military element: the war on drugs, Plan Colombia, and now, the war on terrorism.
Plan Colombia certainly has had serious impacts on Ecuador: Colombian paramilitaries and rebel groups are now operating out of Ecuadorian territory, banditry has begun to spill over the border, antidrug fumigation in southern Colombia is having health impacts in northern Ecuador, and the U.S. military has begun operating out of the Ecuadorian air base at Manta. “Terrorism” in Colombia has also been used as a pretext by Ecuador’s government to limit the activities of national human rights groups and to crack down on anti-neoliberal protests. Meanwhile, the rhetoric of the war on terrorism has become common in Ecuadorian politics. In this context, some Ecuadorian groups say that the struggle against militarization and “paramilitarization” is inextricably linked to resisting the FTAA and similar initiatives. Others clearly prefer to skirt the connection, perhaps fearing the political fallout of confronting the security issue head-on.
Articulating an Alternative Agenda
The central demand of the groups mobilizing against the FTAA in Ecuador is markedly straightforward: the government should pull out of the negotiations. Indeed, these groups are calling on the 34 negotiating countries to terminate the entire FTAA process.

Civil society proposals and demands

The FTAA process must be stopped.
Andean countries should pursue regional economic integration based on “fair trade” principles with social security and production assistance programs aimed at protecting small farmers and promoting regional food security.
National policies should be enacted to promote locally beneficial economic development and assist campesinos.
Conserving crop diversity, ancestral agricultural techniques, and indigenous and campesino cultures is a way of both resisting the FTAA and building alternatives to neoliberalism.
For any alternatives to the FTAA to be successful, true democracy must be achieved, human rights respected, and corruption ended.
Andean countries should support a peace process in Colombia and demand an end to the U.S. military presence in the region.

At the same time, the idea that “ otra América es posible ”—another America is possible—is central to the work of Ecuadorian groups resisting the FTAA. They have spent considerable energy in the past year elaborating proposals for a different kind of integration based on principles of reciprocity, justice, sustainability, and respect for human and natural diversity. In fact, when the most important Ecuadorian indigenous and campesino groups came together in April with counterparts from Colombia, Peru, and Bolivia for the Foro Andino, they rejected economic isolationism. “Policies that aim at closing borders are limiting, scarcely viable, and have little chance of success in the face of the intense process of globalization which we are experiencing,” they noted in their final declaration. Instead, the groups called for a regional integration with “differentiated” agricultural policies aimed at “defending the small producer and the poor members of rural society.” As they travel from community to community talking about the FTAA, Ecuadorian campesino leaders sketch out possible components of this integration: regional social security programs for rural residents, regional food security policies based on fair prices and barter systems, conservation of ancestral cultivars and agricultural diversity, and government programs that give campesinos the same kind of technical support that farmers in rich nations receive.
Debt relief is another key priority of Ecuadorian organizations campaigning against the FTAA. As the Campaña Nacional En Contra del ALCA (National Campaign Against the FTAA, a coalition that includes most of the major Ecuadorian social movement organizations), wrote in an open letter to the presidents of South America: “We demand that you definitively establish a common policy for foreign debt, to keep each country from being individually strangled.”
The leaders of Ecuador’s anti-FTAA movement also acknowledge that solving the grave problems that face Ecuadorian society will require significant reform at the national level. They describe the struggle against the FTAA as inextricably linked to winning “true democracy,” ending corruption, fighting privatization, supporting human rights, enacting a coherent industrial policy, and boosting national social investment.
These groups also see the struggle against the FTAA as necessarily linked to resistance to militarization in their region. In the open letter to South America’s presidents, the leaders of the Campaña Nacional also wrote: “We demand an end to the internationalization of the war in Colombia by way of Plan Colombia, which … threatens to transform our continent into a new Yugoslavia… We demand a firm commitment from all governments to contribute to ending the grave humanitarian and human rights crisis in Colombia, including seeking a political solution through peace negotiations, respecting the sovereignty and self-determination of Colombia’s people.”
Taking Action
There are a number of spaces in which Ecuadorian resistance to the FTAA has coalesced. The broadest of these is the Campaña Nacional en Contra del ALCA, which includes the Confederación de Nacionalidades Indígenas del Ecuador (CONAIE, the national indigenous federation), CONFEUNASSC-CNC (La Confederación Nacional del Seguro Campesino/Coordinadora Nacional Campesina, Ecuador’s largest campesino federation), and the Confederación Ecuatoriana de Organizaciones Sindicales Libres (CEOSL, the leading national trade union federation). There is at least one other major national coalition, convened by FENOCIN (La Federación Nacional de Organizaciones Campesinas, Indígenas y Negras, the other major Ecuadorian campesino federation), which includes many additional labor unions and social organizations. To make matters more confusing, some organizations have drifted back and forth between these two coalitions, some organizations participate in both, and there are crosscutting projects in the areas of media relations and agricultural policy formulation that bring together the most important groups in both coalitions. There are also several networks of Ecuadorian students, independent journalists, and urban anti-authoritarians organizing around FTAA issues.
Together, these groups are planning an array of activities during the upcoming summit to oppose the FTAA. The larger organizations are working to mobilize tens of thousands of people in Quito on Oct. 31. Their plan is to surround the summit with a “ring of diversity” or a “wall of humanity” to non-violently manifest their opposition and, potentially, to disrupt the proceedings. They have also declared the end of October to be “Continental Days of Action” (Jornadas de Acción) against the FTAA and are calling on people throughout the hemisphere to take action in solidarity.
In anticipation of the summit and in order to lay the groundwork for the long-term effort they deem necessary to defeat the FTAA, Ecuadorian groups are conducting popular education campaigns in both rural and urban areas across the country. Acción Ecológica staffers have been giving presentations on the FTAA, transnational corporations, and the environment. CEOSL has begun a process of popular education of its rank and file. CONFEUNASSC-CNC has launched caravans that are crisscrossing the country giving workshops on the FTAA and Plan Colombia. These caravans will feed into four major marches organized by the CONFEUNASSC-CNC, CONAIE, and ECUARUNARI (the highland Kichwa indigenous organization). The caravans will cross the nation and converge on the summit, raising awareness and bringing thousands of campesinos to the protests.
Collaborative crossborder initiatives are also in the works. In the days leading up to the Quito summit, the Ecuadorian chapter of the World Social Forum and the Hemispheric Social Alliance (HSA) will convene a counter-summit to articulate alternatives to the FTAA. As part of this forum there will be discussions on a wide range of issues such as labor rights and water privatization policies.
Northern groups are assisting in the mobilization in a variety of ways. The AFL-CIO is paying for Ecuadorian trade unionists to come to Quito, grassroots North American global justice groups are holding raffles and passing the hat to pay for CONFEUNASSC-CNC’s popular education caravans, and Indymedia collectives across the U.S. are sending reporters, computers, and equipment.
Meanwhile, several efforts are underway to ensure that the world hears about what happens in Quito. CONFEUNASSC-CNC is spearheading Enlace, a project in which media teams in North America and elsewhere will contact foreign journalists before they come to Quito to brief them on the mobilization and connect them to organizations in Ecuador. Enlace will be working with the newly created Indymedia–Ecuador, part of the global independent media network launched at the World Trade Organization protests in Seattle in 1999.
These are just a few examples of the ways in which the mobilization against the Quito summit has provided an opportunity to deepen cooperation across borders. A particularly compelling aspect of this collaboration is that the benefits are reciprocal. Not only are northern groups backing the mobilization effort in Ecuador, but Ecuadorian groups are committing resources to conducting media work overseas—something that is not an immediate priority for them in their national campaigns but that is very helpful to groups in the North.
These efforts form part of a long-term strategy to defeat the FTAA. Despite the urgency with which Ecuador’s social movements are organizing around the October summit, none of them believe that one single protest, no matter how successful, will be able to derail the negotiations. Ecuadorian groups say that in addition to better local organizing and extensive public education, a far greater level of international cooperation will be necessary. In order to further all these aims, they are making plans to conduct a national plebiscite on the FTAA. This is part of a hemispheric consultation process that began in September, when 10 million Brazilians voted in a civil society-sponsored referendum on the FTAA (it was rejected by an astounding 98% of voters). In order to make concrete plans for the Ecuadorian plebiscite and to lay the groundwork for similar initiatives elsewhere, several international networks will be meeting in Quito before the summit. These include the HSA, and the Coordinadora Latinoamericana de Organizaciones del Campo (CLOC, a continental campesino federation).
Local-Global Linkages
What exactly will happen in Ecuador on Oct. 31 is anyone’s guess. Judging from prior uprisings, the potential for government repression is quite real, as is the possibility that the summit will be dramatically disrupted. Like the Seattle protests, the Quito mobilization may, in fact, succeed where previous efforts have failed in injecting the FTAA into the public consciousness and recasting the debate within Latin America regarding global trade. Whatever occurs, Quito will represent a significant step forward for the construction of a “hemispheric justice” movement, the confluence of the “antiglobalization” and Latin America solidarity movements in North America with the growing Latin American resistance to neoliberalism, free trade, and U.S.-driven militarization.
However, several factors could impede the success of the mobilization nationally and the consolidation of a continental movement. Within Ecuador, the mobilization has been unable to gain significant media coverage or to raise the profile of the FTAA issue. With Ecuador’s electoral process still ongoing, resources are stretched thin, and the main social movement organizations lack the ability to directly reach the majority of Ecuadorians without using the media. And though the campesino and indigenous movements are strong in rural areas, urban sectors are still relatively poorly organized. The movement, while ideologically coherent, is also deeply divided over turf and politics, a fact attested to by the existence of multiple, competing coalitions with virtually identical positions and strategies. These divisions have been exacerbated by bad dynamics between groups and tensions have deepened rifts between organizations.
Another challenge facing the anti-FTAA movement in Ecuador and across the hemisphere is the need to mount an effective campaign that targets national decisionmakers, but that also makes use of the fact that the resistance is international, i.e. an international campaign that ultimately adds up to more than just a series of separate national campaigns taking independent action on the same days.
There are also pitfalls facing North-South alliance preparing for the Quito summit. The demographic gulf between the global North and South remains a challenge. There are disagreements over issues like subsidies for U.S. and Canadian farmers and the inclusion of environmental or labor rules in trade agreements, conflicts that have barely been identified, let alone resolved. Nonetheless, the level of international cooperation surrounding the Quito FTAA summit attests to the degree of commitment, in both the North and the South, to constructing a unified hemispheric movement.
—Justin Ruben

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Ecuadorian Organizations
Ecuadorian Organizations
Campaña Nacional En Contra del ALCA
Tel: +(593) 2-245-3339
The majority of Ecuador’s indigenous, campesino and other social movements, along with various NGOs, have come together under this national anti-FTAA effort.
Confederación de las Nacionalidades Indígenas de la Amazonia Ecuatoriana (CONFEIAE)
Tel: +(593) 543-973
Confederacion de Pueblos de la Nacionalidad Kichwa del Ecuador (ECUARUNARI)
Tel: +(593-2) 580-699
Acción Ecológica
Tel: +(593) 2-2547-516, +(593) 2-2230-676
Acción Ecológica is an environmental NGO that is a member of the National Campaign Against the FTAA.
Campamento Internacional Permanente por la Justicia Social y la Dignidad de los Pueblos
Established in 2001 as a collective effort to construct resistance to the FTAA and Plan Colombia.
Confederación de Nacionalidades Indígenas del Ecuador (CONAIE)
Tel: +(593) 2-244-1991, +(593) 2-244-2271
Leader in organization against neoliberal policies and for indigenous rights. CONAIE also houses the secretariat of the National Campaign against the FTAA.
Confederación Ecuatoriana de Organizaciones Sindicales Libres (CEOSL)
Tel: +(593) 2-2522-511, 2-2506-723
Email: ,
Ecuador´s largest labor federation.
Confederación Nacional del Seguro Campesino/Coordinadora Nacional Campesina (CONFEUNASSC-CNC)
Tel: +(593) 2 223 5935
Email: ,
The most powerful national campesino federation in Ecuador, and a convenor of the National Campaign Against the FTAA.
Federación Nacional de Organizaciones Campesinas, Indígenas y Negras (FENOCIN)
Tel: +(593) 2-228-191, +(593) 2-552-076
Red Autónoma Desobediente Anti-Kapitalista (RADAK)
A network of collectives formed in order to create an alternative forum that is within the anti-FTAA mobilization but outside of NGO spaces and various “counter-summit” forums.
World Social Forum–Ecuador Chapter
Coordinating the Continental Gathering for Reflection and Change: “Another America is Possible, in Quito from the 27th to the 30th of October, 2002.
International Networks
Acción Global de los Pueblos
Global network of collectives and social movements that has been a key conduit for the organizing of many of the big “antiglobalization” protests, from Seattle onward. Is hosting a strategy session in Quito.
Alliance for Responsible Trade
This coalition of U.S.-based groups working on trade in the Americas forms part of the larger Hemispheric Social Alliance effort.
Campaña Continental En Contra del ALCA
Effort via which social movements and NGOs across the hemisphere have begun to coordinate resistance to the FTAA. This website also provides information on the pre-ministerial Hemispheric Meeting of Reflection and Exchange: “Another America is Possible” and the Hemispheric Resistance Days against the FTAA.
Coordinadora Latinoamericana de Organizaciones del Campo (CLOC)
A major hemispheric campesino federation that is organizing an international campesino gathering in Quito during the mobilization.
Hemispheric Social Alliance
Network of progressive, social justice and fair trade organizations in the Americas. Leading player in crossborder organizing related to the FTAA.
Agencia Latinoamericana de Información,
Alternatives for the Americas
Encuentro Hemisférico de Lucha Contra el ALCA
FTAA Information | Global Exchange
FTAA Information | Global Trade Watch
FTAA Information | Red Mexicana de Acción Frente al Libre Comercio
FTAA Official Website
Global Economy Project, Institute for Policy Studies
Latin American Solidarity Coalition
Minga Social por un Mundo Mejor
People’s Consultation on the FTAA
Stop the FTAA
U.S. FTAA Policy, U.S. Trade Representative
World Social Forum

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