Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
November 1, 1999
Ecuador kidnappings a sign of oppression
Ecuador has become the focus of special attention for Edmontonians in recent weeks since seven employees of United Pipeline Systems were kidnapped there by what are described as guerrilla forces.
A Montreal woman who was kidnapped along with the men has since been released and has assured the families that their relatives are safe and are not mistreated.
David Kilgour, secretary of state for Africa and Latin America, has flown to Ecuador to speak with government officials to ensure every precaution is taken to bring this unfortunate incident to a happy ending.
As far as can be established the hostage taking has not been motivated by a demand for ransom. The issue is simpler and at the same time more complex than that.
A large percentage of the Ecuadorian population is indigenous. The indigenous areas are among the poorest in the country. They are also areas where oil exploration is taking place.
The native people claim foreign oil companies are polluting their traditional lands and waterways. This has been confirmed by Canadians who have lived and worked in the area.
The hostage taking is a last resort of Ecuador's first people to draw international attention.
Should innocent Canadians be used for this? The answer is: Have we ever considered whether innocent Ecuadorians may be used for our purposes?
Now that they have our attention, we should ask ourselves what we know about Ecuador aside from the banana sticker.
We might not know for instance that social unrest in Ecuador has intensified in the last few months as President Jamil Mahaud tried to legislate unpopular economic reforms in an effort to qualify for a $400 million International Monetary Fund loan which would release another $1 billion in development bank loans.
Loans, in spite of world wide protestations by Jubilee 2000 supporters, are still tied to structural adjustment programs.
By now it should be common knowledge that the IMF's structural adjustment demands exacerbate poverty and environmental destruction.
Protests against structural adjustment in early August elicited a harsh response from the Ecuador security forces. Hundreds of people were arrested and many people were shot before the government cancelled further increases in fuel prices.
Taxi drivers were the first to demonstrate by blocking the roads and bringing the cities to a standstill. Indigenous groups throughout the central mountain regions soon joined them by setting up their own barricades. They also occupied state electricity offices and took control of communication towers.
The native population which has been badly affected by privatization and the globalization imposed by the international financial institutions, has called the action a fight for life and against hunger.
Again, the question is: "Whose life counts for more in this struggle for justice?" Are native Ecuadorians not people?
This year the dollar has risen 100 per cent against the local currency. Food prices have gone up 70 per cent. Fuel and water costs have risen substantially. Teachers and medical workers have not been paid for months.
Banana workers, bus drivers and street vendors all joined the general strike. Even the police, charged with repressing the demonstrations, have not been paid because of the nation's huge service charges on the debt.
The IMF recipe of exploitive foreign investment is bad medicine for a sick and failing economy. It is our hope that when the Edmontonians return safely to their homes that they can be witnesses to what is happening in Ecuador. That would truly be a happy ending.
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