[WSMDiscuss] Ecuador: Historic urban vote against large scale mining in referendum

Miriam Lang miriam.lang at uasb.edu.ec
Wed Feb 10 19:59:20 CET 2021

Dear Quincy (and dear all),
Thanks for sharing your doubts about what is going on in Ecuador right now and what its meaning might be.
It motivated me to write a longer piece which hopefully explains some of it.

Ecuador: A victory against mining, and a dispute around meaningful policies of the left
Miriam Lang
On Sunday 7 february 2021, not only presidential elections took place in Ecuador. Cuenca, the third largest city in the South American country, voted against a series of mega-mining projects in the headwaters of five rivers that supply the urban area with water. In the area, which is directly adjacent to a national park that has been declared a Biosphere Reserve by UNESCO, there are over 4,000 large and small bodies of water in the sensitive Páramo ecosystem, which acts as a reservoir in the Andes. Nevertheless, corporations from Canada, Australia, Peru, Chile, etc. had already been granted a total of 43 concessions for the mining of various metals. Fourteen grassroots organizations had launched the referendum, approved by the Constitutional Court in September 2020, via the Cuenca City Council. On Sunday, over 80% of the electorate voted in favor of a ban for industrial mining in this part of the Andean highlands. A clear democratic mandate in line with the 2008 constitution, which stipulates the rights of nature.
Since the result of the referendum is legally binding under the constitution, the next president will have to implement it. Many of the 16 presidential candidates had clearly opted for an expansion of mining in the election campaign in order to lead the country out of the economic crisis. Only one of them has spoken out clearly against mining and an expansion of the oil frontier in the Amazon region: Yaku Perez Guartambel, the candidate of the indigenous movement and its political organization Pachakutik.
The presidential election will not be finally decided until a final ballot on April 11th. The political heir to ex-president Rafael Correa, Andrés Arauz, who received 32.2% of the votes in the first round, will certainly take part in April. But who will be his opponent is still fought over: after 99,31 % of the votes had been counted, Perez Guartambel (20,10%) was just ahead of the neoliberal banker Guillermo Lasso (19,50%) with 0,6 % of the votes – a tight scenario which still can bring surprises.
For the first time in the country's history, an indigenous candidate who comes from grassroots organizations has a chance of winning the election. This is already an enormous symbolic success for the indigenous movement of Ecuador, which last made headlines in October 2019 with an uprising against the liberalization of gasoline and diesel prices and the current Moreno government’s neoliberal policies. If Perez actually makes it to the final ballot, the election campaign will confront two different interpretations of what is defined as left in Latin America: one, a populist and authoritarian left in the wake of Rafael Correa who was in power from 2007 to 2017 and relied on an expansion of extractivism to finance infrastructure modernization and social programs. These programs promised more equality, but at the price of the destruction of nature and a de facto restriction of democratic rights. And two, an intercultural, plural and ecological left that primarily appeals to the younger generations, puts issues such as climate change and the preservation of the rainforests at the forefront, and refers to the great indigenous movement of the 90s and their communitarian form of politics. In this sense the surge of Perez, ex-prefect of Cuenca, brings a breath of fresh air into the stale polarization between the old progressive left (represented by Arauz) and the most reactionary right (represented by Lasso) in a region in much need of political innovation.
But a broad international defamation campaign against Yaku Perez has started right away on election night, using media and international structures installed in previous years around the vision of a ‘socialism of the 21st century’. Especially Venezuela, Bolivia and Ecuador hat officially proclaimed to engage in a renewed socialist path during progressive governments in the first one and a half decades of the 21st century. This new variant of socialism, unfortunately, showed to have inherited some of the less desirable features of the 20th century socialism, like a top-down and rather authoritarian approach to transformation with a central role for the governing party, a centralization of state power overriding necessary checks and balances, and intolerance toward dissent which was often criminalized and judicially persecuted. This led to a climate of polarization which suffocated all the transformative energy which had grown in organized society during the plural anti-neoliberal struggles of the 90s and early 2000s, and allowed for a silent return to free trade agreements and elite-friendly economic politics. Especially the expansion of extractivist and mega-project oriented modernization politics met increasing resistance from indigenous and peasant organizations, as well as affected communities. But also students, workers and feminist organizations opposed them for manifold reasons. As some Ecuadorian organizations of this other, plural left express it in a recent open letter:
“The left is not a subject, a party, a movement, a government; It is a permanent human mobilization that reinvents and transforms society in search of the defense of life, affirming and expanding human dignity, justice and freedom without attacking other species and damaging the planet. (…) Ecuadorian progressivism was left when back in 2006, it expressed a social mobilization that sought to build a destiny different from that marked by the patriarchal and colonial capitalism prevailing in Ecuador and Latin America. However, at the moment that, contrary to expressing this social mobilization, it sabotaged it, suffocated it, persecuted it, silenced it, it ceased to be left. When the left is conservative, it ceases to be mobilization and social desire and becomes a party (Alianza País) with an ideological letterhead (Citizen Revolution) and a caudillo (Rafael Correa) that contains and destroys resistance and social mobilization, and stops history in its reinvention of more pleasant human worlds.”
Lately, former Ecuadorian president Rafael Correa, correista presidential candidate Andres Arauz and former bolivian vice-president Alvaro García Linera played a role in the creation of a Progressive International, a plural global coordination space thriving toward systemic transformation, which unfortunately has taken sides in the ongoing harsh dispute about the definition of what is left in Latin America. Now, adding a new chapter to this same dispute on all sort of platforms, a wide range of arguments is deployed against Yaku Perez describing him as a coup-supporting, CIA-backed, imperialistic, oligarchic and right-wing ecofascist or, alternatively, a greenwasher, if they do not dive into plainly racist arguments to delegitimize him. The campaign clearly triggers all the classical topoi which had helped the traditional left to construct a black and white, simplistic worldview during the Cold War. This strategy of aggressive polarization not only makes it impossible to engage seriously with Perez’s proposals for a future government, leaving Arauz with the monopoly of being “the leftist candidate” for the second electoral round by all means. It also avoids any critical engagement with or learning from the failure of progressive politics during its hegemony in recent Latin American history. But most importantly, it distracts from the really important themes that are at stake today, regarding new political strategies to face a multidimensional crisis (which includes political representation and liberal electoral democracy). It curtails any impulse to collectively co-create new societies in an open political space that allows trial and error and plural deliberation. The sterile you-are-either-with-me-or-against-me rhetoric closes the political space of creativity and spreads fear instead. It totally avoids to engage in a profound discussion about what a meaningful leftist politics means today. The future we need will not be built on one candidate, anyway, regardless of his or her political orientation, but in a fertile interaction between strong social organizations and governments who learn to listen to their bases. In this sense, the open letter from Ecuador states:
“It is not Yaku Peréz, not even the Pachakutik-CONAIE (indigenous) movement that we defend in this electoral process, it is our social mobilization for the defense of human and non-human life, for the defense of the community, care, territories and above all, of the rights of women to decide their lives. There is a path which differs from the conservative, patriarchal, colonial and extractivist progressivism of Arauz, Ortega and Maduro and the conservative, patriarchal, colonial and extractivist liberalism of Lasso, Macri, Guaidó or Añez. We are not only black and white, we are of all colors in a beautiful spectrum, in the whipala. It is the path of the mobilization of indigenous and popular peoples and nationalities that supports what Pachakutik expresses in this very difficult moment in Ecuadorian history.”
The vote for Yaku Perez and the result of the Cuenca referendum shows that a significant share of Ecuadorian society shares these concerns. A new politics of the left both in Ecuador and Latin America must reconnect with the social effervescence of the 90s and early 2000s. It cannot be based on a triumphalist return of Socialism of the 21st Century, but must acknowledge and learn from what has gone wrong during these years – a necessary auto-critical discussion which could also inspire many other transformative processes in the world. It must refocus on the rights of nature, which the policies of this ‘conservative progressive’ left have undermined when they were in government. Ecuador is one of the countries with the greatest biodiversity in the world. In times of massive species extinction, an economic policy course that relies on more mining and oil production could have incalculable consequences far beyond the small country. The pandemic has led to an expansion and acceleration of nature-destroying activities in a legal gray area throughout Latin America, as environmental controls have been largely suspended. At the same time, Covid-19 has made it very clear that the advance of capitalist overexploitation into fragile ecosystems harbors great dangers for humanity. In Cuenca, an entire urban population, and not just a rural community directly affected, has spoken out against mining. This popular decision paves the way to finally discuss the urgently needed fundamental change in economic policy, which puts life-sustaining aspects such as food sovereignty and clean water above the imperatives of the world market.

Miriam Lang is a Professor of Environmental and Sustainability Studies at the Universidad Andina Simon Bolivar, Quito

[Firma---Miriam-Lang correo 2020]

De: quincysaul [mailto:quincysaul at protonmail.com]
Enviado el: martes, 9 de febrero de 2021 3:07
Para: Jai Sen <jai.sen at cacim.net>
CC: Martin Mantxo <Aplaneta at protonmail.com>; Miriam Lang <miriam.lang at uasb.edu.ec>; Post WSMDiscuss <wsm-discuss at lists.openspaceforum.net>; Post Debate <Debate-list at fahamu.org>; Post Social Movements Riseup <social-movements at lists.riseup.net>; Post RED <radical_ecological_democracy at googlegroups.com>
Asunto: Re: [WSMDiscuss] Ecuador: Historic urban vote against large scale mining in referendum

Dear Jai and other friends,
I look forward to the details about what exactly happened in Cuenca; is a vote for Yaku considered a referendum against mining, or was there something on the ballot for the presidential election which specifically addresses a referendum on mining?

I think it is important for a few other perspectives on this election be shared with this list, which until now has only posted articles in english supporting the campaign of Yaku. At the least it should be acknolwedged that there is considerable debate and controversy about his character and campaign from every sector, including his own party, and there are many outspoken indigenous, urban and international voices which we should at least be aware of. Here are a few links in spanish and english:
Revolutionary Reflections | Anti-extractivism and radical politics in Ecuador

How Ecuador’s US-backed, coup-supporting ‘ecosocialist’ candidate Yaku Pérez aids the right-wing

Pérez y Lasso: las derechas del greenwashing y la oligarquía

Yaku es Lasso: las dos caras de la derecha para mantenerse en el poder

Ecuador: la derecha radicalizada

Ecuador: El brazo indígena de la fórmula Arauz-Rabascall

The Left Can Take Back Power in Ecuador

Disparan sobre Arauz

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‐‐‐‐‐‐‐ Original Message ‐‐‐‐‐‐‐
On Monday, February 8, 2021 11:08 PM, Jai Sen <jai.sen at cacim.net<mailto:jai.sen at cacim.net>> wrote:

Monday, February 8, 2021

Saludos Miriam !

            Great news indeed !  Thanks so much for this post, with all its news.  My apologies therefore (to you and to all those on this list), for sort of doing a ‘duplicate’ post – though on the elections in Ecuador alone, and not on the wonderful news of the Cuenca referendum – earlier today; I had then not seen yours, that came in last night, along with a whole lot of other posts and mail !

            We now all look forward to more posts from you, on the outcome of the elections !  And, in time, on implementation of the outcome of the Cuenca Referendum.

            In solidarity, and in hope –


On Feb 8, 2021, at 6:47 AM, Aplaneta at protonmail.com<mailto:Aplaneta at protonmail.com> wrote:

great news!!
and so quick!!! I cant even find the information in Spanish!!!!
a pity is just Cuenca, but great as it is one of the regions with  most mining projetc - but I wish i was for the entire country - hope it is the first move and that the whole mining madness stops. I know that the late Gloria Chicaza will be very happy. Hope Mirador is stopped too, and Intag, where i have so many friends.
Keep on the struggle!!!

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‐‐‐‐‐‐‐ Original Message ‐‐‐‐‐‐‐
On Monday, 8 de February de 2021 5:12, Miriam Lang via WSM-Discuss <wsm-discuss at lists.openspaceforum.net<mailto:wsm-discuss at lists.openspaceforum.net>> wrote:

Ecuador: Historic urban vote against large scale mining in referendum

Ecuador’s third largest city Cuenca, of more than 600.000 inhabitants, has voted clearly against large-scale mining on February 7th, 2021. According to estimates published on Sunday night, 80% of voters have expressed themselves for water and life, and against mining and extractivism. This referendum has been approved by the Constitutional Court in September 2020, what makes its results binding. While the results of the simultaneous presidential election were still being counted, pointing at a second round in April, the referendum organizers made clear on election night that any new president will have to respect the will of the people of Cuenca. It is the first time in Latin American history that a binding referendum against large-scale mining is won in a big city, and not in a directly affected rural community, according to Argentinian sociologist Maristella Svampa.
In September 2020, the Constitutional Court had given way to the referendum for the protection of the Cuenca water recharge zone with 4200 water bodies in the Andean Highlands, where the five rivers which guarantee the city’s water supply arise. The referendum had been promoted by an alliance of 14 social organizations, the Cabildo del Agua, who first won the approval of the Cuenca City Council and then the Mayor. Corporations from Canada, Australia, Peru, Chile, and other countries hold large or mid-scale mining concessions in this sensitive ecological area, whose exploitation will now be forbidden. For this reason, Ecuador’s mining chamber had argued that the referendum would affect foreign investor’s legal security. According to the mining cadastre, there are 73 concessions in Cuenca county, 43 of which being for metal mining. Two of the mining projects categorized as “strategic” by former governments also fall into the now forbidden zone.
While Ecuador is struck by a severe economic recession in the midst of the pandemic, many presidential candidates have promised large-scale mining would mark the path out of this crisis, alongside with further expanding the oil frontier. Nevertheless, many Ecuadorians are aware that engaging into large-scale industrial mining in one of the Earth’s mega-biodiverse countries in the midst of this era of accelerated biodiversity loss leads into the wrong direction. The overwhelmingly clear result of the Cuenca referendum opens the path to discuss socioecological alternatives which evolve around the preservation of life and the conditions for its reproduction instead of prioritizing the profits of transnational companies and the both socially and environmentally unsustainable export of raw-materials.
In the meantime, with 50% of the records from the presidential election processed, it seems likely that the second round in April will confront Andres Arauz, a close ally of former president Rafael Correa, and Yaku Pérez, the candidate of the indigenous movement party Pachakutik anf former prefect of Cuenca. The right-wing, neoliberal banker Guillermo Lasso would just be in third place. Yet much is still uncertain in this count.



Jai Sen

Independent researcher, editor; Senior Fellow at the School of International Development and Globalisation Studies at the University of Ottawa

jai.sen at cacim.net<mailto:jai.sen at cacim.net> & jsen at uottawa.ca<mailto:jsen at uottawa.ca>

Now based in Ottawa, Canada, on unsurrendered Anishinaabe territory (+1-613-282 2900) and in New Delhi, India (+91-98189 11325)

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