Tag Archive | "ecuador"

Ecuador Signs Free Trade Agreement with European Union


Ecuador's bananas are excluded from the deal

Ecuador’s bananas are excluded from the deal

After four years of negotiations, Ecuador has joined the Free Trade Agreement between the European Union, Colombia, and Peru. The accord means that Ecuadorian exports will enter the EU without duties, providing the Andean nation with a new market of 500m inhabitants.

Ecuador’s foreign trade minister, Francisco Rivadeneira, called the agreement “ambitious”.

He said: “After nearly four years of work, today we finally closed a balanced accord with the European Union, which maximises opportunities, minimises costs, respects the country’s development model, and protects our sensitive sectors.”

President Rafael Correa announced on Monday that an agreement could be signed this week, underscoring that the country had negotiated “higher thresholds” than its neighbours, and adding that the most difficult negotiations had been over agricultural produce. Bananas, one of the country’s biggest exports, are excluded from the deal.

The latest deal means Ecuador now enjoys free trade with 28 more nations, adding to the country’s previous agreements with China, India, Russia, and most of its South American neighbours.

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Ecuador: Ex-President Mahuad Sentenced to 12 Years


Former Ecuadorian president Jamil Mahuad (photo: Wikipedia)

Former Ecuadorian president Jamil Mahuad (photo: Wikipedia)

Former president of Ecuador, Jamil Mahuad, was sentenced to 12 years in prison after being found guilty of embezzlement.

The case looked into Mahuad’s responsibility in the 1999 baking crisis in Ecuador, as he was accused of ordering the closure of banks for several days and freezing the accounts of ordinary citizens in order to protect bankers. The judge in charge of the case, Ximena Vintimilla, pointed out that embezzlement does not always involve a direct appropriation of funds, but can also mean the use of mechanisms for funds to be used in a fraudulent manner.

Earlier this week, Interpol had issued a red notice for Mahuad, who was tried in absentia, as he moved to the US after being deposed in 2000.

The first instance ruling, published on Thursday, may still be appealed by Mahuad’s defence. The former president claimed the case against him was politically motivated and blamed president Rafael Correa of interfering with the country’s judiciary.

 

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Ecuador: Correa Backs Constitutional Reform, Indefinite Re-election


President Correa expresses joy over his victory (Photo: fotospresidencia5 on Flickr)

President Correa after his 2013 victory (Photo: fotospresidencia5 on Flickr)

On Saturday, Ecuadorian president Rafael Correa announced his support for a plan to reform the country’s constitution, allowing for indefinite re-election for all elected public posts.

“I have decided to ask our bloc of parliamentarians with this overwhelming majority that the Ecuadorian people gave us, to reform the Constitution of the Republic to establish indefinite re-election for all elected public posts, so that it is the Ecuadorian people who freely decide the continuity or alternation of their leaders,” he announced to a standing ovation in the National Assembly.

The announcement comes just days after the government’s Alianza PAIS joined with the Socialist Party in backing the idea of constitutional reform. Together the bloc has 100 of the 123 seats in the National Assembly, far more than the two-thirds needed for the measure to pass. The constitution requires there be two debates on the issue, the second held one year and one month after the first, which is likely to take place before October of this year.

If the measure is passed, it will come into effect before the 2017 elections, paving the way for Correa to stand for a third term. So far, he has not announced plans to stand for re-election.

It is the first time such a measure will be passed in the Andean nation, which has seen 20 different constitutions since independence. The current, 2008 version of the constitution differed from its 1998 predecessor in allowing for re-election, so that officials could hold their posts for two simultaneous terms.

 

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Ecuador: Government Gives Go Ahead to Oil Exploration in Yasuní


Yasuní National Park (photo: Joshua Bousel on Flickr)

Yasuní National Park (photo: Joshua Bousel on Flickr)

Ecuador’s environment minister yesterday signed the environmental licence to permit oil exploration in two fields in the Amazon. The national oil company now has the green light to begin exploration in Tiputini and Tambococha fields, the latter of which is located within Yasuní national park.

Once the document is endorsed, Petroamazonas EP will be able to start clearing access routes and setting up the exploration camps. It is predicated that the first barrels of oil will be extracted in March 2016.

The move has sparked outrage from groups who have been challenging exploration in Yasuní, saying it goes against the national constitution. Last month, the group Yasunidos presented a petition with 750,000 signatures, enough to call for a national referendum on oil exploration in the Amazon. However, in a controversial decision, that campaigners have called fraudulent, the National Electoral Council invalidated a third of the signatures, leaving Yasunidos short of the 583,000 needed to force a ballot on the issue.

The national park was at the centre of the Yasuní-ITT initiative, a proposal spearheaded in 2007 by the Ecuadorian government to refrain indefinitely from extracting the nearly 850m barrels worth of oil reserves in the Yasuní National Park, in exchange for 50% of the value of the reserves, or US$3.6bn. But in August last year President Rafael Correa said the initiative has only raised US$13.3 million, less than 1% of the target, and as a result the government was reluctantly approving oil exploration.

However, the sincerity of the government’s intentions was called into question in February, when it was revealed that, while publicly persuing the initiative, the government was secretly negotiating a US$1bn deal with the Chinese to drill for oil.

As well as being a national park of 9,823km2, Yasuní is a Unesco biosphere reserve, containing pristine Amazon rainforests and home to two uncontacted tribes.

 

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Anti-Chevron Day Marked by Protests


Yesterday saw protests against oil giant Chevron take place in Buenos Aires and Neuquén. The demonstrations were part of International Anti-Chevron Day, a global movement against the corporation organised by a coalition of campaigners from Argentina, Ecuador, the US, Nigeria, and Romania.

Under the slogan “We intend for the whole world to take a stand against corporate abuse and illegality”, protests took place in more than 30 cities in Latin America, Europe, Africa, the US, and Canada. Public figures called for boycotts of the corporation, and #antichevron became a top trending topic on Twitter throughout the day.

Anti-Chevron protesters braved the rain in Buenos Aires (photo by Hera Chan)

Anti-Chevron protesters braved the rain in Buenos Aires (photo by Hera Chan)

The movement was spearheaded by the Mapuche Confederation of Neuquén (CMN), made up of 63 communities from around the province. The CMN led yesterday’s protests in Neuquén, where it denounced last year’s agreement between Chevron, YPF, and the province to exploit the Vaca Muerta oil and gas reserves, where the controversial technique of fracking will be used. The CMN also reported violations of the collective rights of the communities near the Vaca Muerta field. Yesterday’s Neuquén demonstration was accompanied by a smaller protest outside Chevron’s headquarters in Buenos Aires.

Large demonstrations also took place in Ecuador, led by the Union of Texaco’s Oil Operation’s Victims (UDAPT), and with the backing of various members of government. On Tuesday, President Rafael Correa welcomed the international participation in Anti-Chevron Day.

In yestereday’s protest, the UDAPT demanded the clean-up of Texaco-Chevron’s contamination in the Amazon, and for the reparations which have been granted to be paid. Ecuadorian authorities affirm that, for the almost 30 years it operated in the Ecuadorian Amazon, Texaco spilled 16.8m gallons of oil into the ecosystem, as well as 18.5bn gallons of toxic water into the land and rivers.

One of more than 880 pits dug by Texaco in the Amazon to store crude oil waste in the open (photo courtesy of Chevron Tóxico)

One of more than 880 pits dug by Texaco in the Amazon to store crude oil waste in the open (photo courtesy of Chevron Tóxico)

The oil company has refused to comply with a 2011 ruling that ordered it to pay US$9.5bn compensation to the more than 30,000 Amazonian inhabitants affected by negligent oil extraction by its Texaco subsidiary from 1960 to 1990. Controversially, the corporation then retaliated to the ruling by obtaining an injunction from a US judge, and successfully suing the plaintiffs for using “corrupt means” to obtain the ruling in Ecuador, including bribery. The plaintiffs are currently appealing the ruling, pointing out close ties between the oil giant and the US judge.

In launching the International Anti-Chevron Day earlier this month in Neuquén, the CMN published a Global Declaration of the Victims of Chevron’s Practices, signed by over 75 organisations from around the world. The declaration, which was read at all of the protests yesterday, demands that Chevron acknowledges its responsibility for all the damage it has procured to the environment and human rights.

The international day of protests was timed to take place a week before the oil giant’s annual shareholders’ meeting, set for 28th May.

 

 

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Ecuador: Cargo Ship Runs Aground in Galapagos


There are fears the wreck could contaminate the islands' pristine waters (photo courtesy of Wikipedia)

There are fears the wreck could contaminate the islands’ pristine waters (photo courtesy of Wikipedia)

Local authorities have asked the Ecuadorian government to declare a state of emergency after a cargo ship ran aground in the Galapagos Islands on Friday.

Galapaface I was stranded after leaving Wreck Bay, near the entrance to the harbour of the archipelago’s capital of Puerto Baquerizo Moreno on the island of San Cristobal in the early hours of Friday morning. The ship was carrying 10 tonnes of cargo and 16,000 gallons of diesel fuel, and there are fears of the environmental consequences of it running aground on the islands, which lie 900km west of Ecuador and are a biological marine reserve and UNESCO World Heritage site.

San Cristobal’s Emergency Operations Committee — which is made up of representatives from the Ministry of Environment through the Galapagos National Park Directorate, Ecuadorian Navy, Galapagos Governing Council, police and fire departments, and more — quickly developed an Action Plan to prevent and mitigate any environmental damage and free the ship from the rocks where it was stranded.

Technicians have placed preventive spill containment booms and absorbent pads around the ship and are working to extract the fuel onto a local fuel transport barge.

A coordinated effort is also taking place to unload the cargo and reduce the ship’s weight to help free it from the rocks, and several National Park boats are stationed around the Galapaface I to assist as needed and to monitor potential impacts. The Emergency Operations Committee has requested extra support from mainland Ecuador to help salvage the ship.

 

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Latin America News Roundup: 9th May 2014


Protest against the World Cup in January (photo: Agencia Brasil/Télam/ddc)

Protest against the World Cup in January (photo: Agencia Brasil/Télam/ddc)

Brazil – World Cup Worker Dies on Same Day Stadium Unveiled: Brazilian authorities have confirmed that another has died in an accident during the construction of a World Cup stadium. Mohammed Ali Maciel Afonso, 32, was hit by an electrical discharge and suffered a cardiac arrest while installing communications equipment in the Pantanal Arena, located in Cuiabá, Mato Grosso. He is the ninth worker to be killed in an accident while constructing the 12 new stadiums that are being built for the tournament. The incident took place on the same day that president Dilma Rousseff unveiled the Itaquerão Stadium in São Paolo, which will host the tournament’s opening ceremony on 12th June. The inauguration was marred the first in a series of protests due to take place by the Urban Resistence coalition, under their anti-World Cup campaign “Copa sem povo, tô na rua de novo’ (Cup without the people, to the streets again). The coalition includes the Homeless Workers Movement (MTST) and Landless Workers Movement (MST), among other organisations. Before entering the stadium, Rousseff addressed leaders of the MTST, who earlier this week occupied a terrain just 3km from the stadium demanding the speedier construction of social houses. 

Brazil – Evictions Due to Hydroelectric Projects in Amazon up 76%: The number of families who were evicted from the Amazon due to the construction of dams and hydroelectric projects rose 76% during 2013. According to Land Conflict report, released yesterday by the Pastoral Land Commission, in 2012, 1,700 people were evicted, compared to 3,100 the following year. “In contrast to the rest of Brazil, where the number of evictions of families has dropped in comparison to 2012, in the Amazon the opposite has happened. The number of forced evicted grew 11% and the number who were displaced 76%”. The report went on to highlight that in the Amazonian state of Arce, the number grew 1,038%. The majority of the evictions took place in the north and north-east. The report’s release comes days after Peruvian NGO Dar released a report warning of the environmental consequences of the hydroelectric projects functioning, and planned, in the Amazon, which total 412, the majority of which are in Brazil.

Chevron's toxic legacy in Ecuador (photo: Rainforest Action Network)

Chevron’s toxic legacy in Ecuador (photo: Rainforest Action Network)

Ecuador – Law Firm Withdraws from Amazon Pollution Case Against Chevron: Patton Boggs, the Washington law firm representing Ecuadorian indigenous communities seeking damages from Chevron for pollution in the Amazon, has withdrawn from the case and agreed to pay the oil giant US$15m in compensation. In the settlement reached on Wednesday, the law firm also said it “regrets its involvement in this matter”, though rejected all accusations of wrongdoing. The surprising decision comes after a four-year legal battle in New York courts, in which several key decisions have favoured Chevron. On 4th March, a New York federal judge ruled that the US$9.5bn lawsuit against Chevron for massive oil spills in the Ecuadorian Amazon was marred by fraud and corruption, and therefore not enforceable in the US. Later that month, Judge Lewis Kaplan also accepted Chevron’s counterclaims against Patton Boggs for its role in the litigation. Yesterday’s settlement releases the law firm and its partners of these claims. “We are pleased that Patton Boggs is ending its association with the fraudulent and extortionate Ecuador litigation scheme,” said Chevron’s vice president, Hewitt Pate, in a statement. On the same day as the ruling, the Union of Peoples Affected by Texaco-Chevron released a statement claiming Judge Kaplan had financial links with Chevron. The document, based on cross-referenced investment report, said that Kaplan had shares in at least three JP Morgan funds that hold positions in Chevron shares and bonds. By not revealing these interests, the group said Kaplan had violated laws of impartiality and denied them a fair and balanced trial.

 

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Latin America News Roundup: 6th May 2014


Yasuní National Park (photo: Joshua Bousel on Flickr)

Yasuní National Park (photo: Joshua Bousel on Flickr)

Ecuador: No Referendum Over Yasuní After Petition Invalidated: The National Electoral Council (CNE) has announced that it had invalidated almost 240,000 signatures gathered by campaigners against oil drilling in the Yasuní National Park. The decision puts the number of valid votes collected at 359,761, short of the 583,323 required to force a national referendum on the matter. “We found signatures repeated up to nine times,” said CNE President Domingo Paredes in a press conference today. “We asked them to read the regulations, and they have not done so.” The CNE also claimed that it had found fake names and false ID numbers. The ‘Yasunidos’ group behind the petition responded to the decision on Twitter, saying “The CNE talks about irregularities, we talk about fraud.” Last week, Yasunidos claimed that the CNE illegally opened the sealed box containing the identification documents for some of the 1,000 volunteers who collected the signatures. The group added that two thirds of the signatures collected had been rejected by the CNE, as it claims to have handed in over 750,000.

Bolivia – Military Protest Comes to an End: After two weeks of strikes and demonstrations over alleged discrimination in the armed forces, low-ranking military personnel in Bolivia have ended their protest. The decision comes as military chiefs confirmed that at least 660 of the 715 soldiers that we dismissed for taking part in the protests have been reinstated. Commander-in-chief of the armed forces, Víctor Baldivieso, said that 99% of those protesting have been re-incorporated into their units, adding that “now there is no motive, nor reason, to keep protesting”. Negotiations will continue over potential modifications to the Organic Armed Forces Law to eliminate discrimination throughout the military hierarchy and to promote equal treatment and professionalisation for non-commissioned officers. Low-ranking soldiers in the Bolivian Armed Forces are mostly of indigenous background, unlike the majority of officers.

Marijuana (Photo: Courtesy of Wikepedia)

Marijuana (Photo: Courtesy of Wikepedia)

Uruguay – New Details as Marijuana Law Comes Into Force: The legalisation of marijuana will come into force in Uruguay today as President José Mujica approves the detailed regulation for the law approved by Congress last year. The marijuana market will be regulated by the state, with only registered permanent residents of Uruguay over the age of 18 able to purchase a maximum of 10 grammes a week from pharmacies. The price of the drug will also be fixed by the state, with an initial cost of around US$1 per gram. Each household can cultivate up to six cannabis plants, to be used for personal consumption, while ‘cannabis clubs’ of up to 45 members can own 99 plants. However, consumers must register and choose only one method of accessing the drug (at pharmacies, at home, or at cannabis clubs). Police will have the authority to test drivers for marijuana use, as well as arrest those in possession of marijuana that does not have the genetic makeup of the state-approved varieties.The Institute of Regulation and Control of Cannabis (IRCCA) is expected to issue licenses in the next few weeks to companies bidding to produce an estimated 18-22 tonnes of cannabis. Plantations will be guarded by the military, and their exact location will not be revealed for security purposes. The first harvest is expected to be ready for sale by December this year.

“They’ll label us elderly reactionaries,” said Mujica in an interview with Associated Press last week. “But this isn’t a policy that seeks to expand marijuana consumption. What it aims to do is keep it all within reason, and not allow it to become an illness.” Mujica also told local reporters this weekend that the main aim of the bill is to “combat drug trafficking.”

 

 

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Latin America News Roundup: 30th April 2014


President Evo Morales (photo courtesy of Bolivian government)

President Evo Morales (photo courtesy of Bolivian government)

Bolivia – Presidential Elections Set for 12th October: The Supreme Electoral Tribunal (TSE) of Bolivia announced today that the presidential elections scheduled for this year will be held on 12th October. If required, a second round run off will be held on 7th December, while the new government term will begin on 22nd January 2015. Incumbent Evo Morales is widely expected to announce his candidature for a third term, after saying in February that he had “the strength to continue for another five years”. According to a court ruling last year, Morales is eligible to run despite a constitutional limit of two consecutive terms because his first term began before the constitution was reformed, in 2009. A recent opinion poll published in several local papers showed Morales with 38% support. This puts the president comfortably ahead of rival candidates, including Santa Cruz governor Rubén Costas. To win in the first round of voting, a candidate must either receive 50% of the vote, or win by a margin of 10%.

Concern Over New Areas of Deforestation in Colombia: The Environment and Sustainable Development Ministry of Colombia issued a report yesterday showing eight new hubs of deforestation in various parts of the country. The study, compiled by the Hydrological Institute (Ideam), was based on information gathered from satellite images during the second half of 2013. The images showed a high concentration of deforestation alerts in eight zones, especially in the South-West of the country, that did not exist in earlier in the year. Environment Minister Luz Helena Sarmiento said the country should declare a “frontal assault” on the activities leading to deforestation, including illegal logging, mining, and the clearing of forests for agricultural expansion. The Ideam will continue to monitor the state of the country’s forests every six months. Approximately 55% of Colombian territory is covered by forest. Earlier in April, the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) said the country needed to take urgent to protect “some of the world’s richest forests and ecosystems”.

Yasuní National Park (photo: Joshua Bousel on Flickr)

Yasuní National Park (photo: Joshua Bousel on Flickr)

Ecuador – Yasuní Activists Say Referendum Petition ‘Manipulated’: Campaigners seeking to prevent oil drilling in the Yasuní National Park claim the National Electoral Council (CNE) has tampered with the results of a petition to force a referendum on the issue. The group ‘Yasunidos’ said earlier in April that it had gathered over 700,000 signatures, more than the constitutional threshold needed to force a referendum on whether oil exploration should be carried out in the park. The campaign group said the CNE had illegally opened the sealed box containing the identification documents for some of the 1,000 volunteers who collected the signatures. Without ID verification, large numbers of signatures could be invalidated. President Rafael Correa, who has repeatedly said that the income from oil drilling was essential to tackle poverty in Ecuador, said in a press conference yesterday that it was “not in his government’s plan” to call a referendum on the issue. He added that the issue had become heavily politicised and rejected the accusations against the CNE, saying he was “not afraid” to face a referendum on any issue. The Yasunidos group has called for a protest march on 1st May in the city of Guayaquil.

The Yasuní-ITT initiative proposed the country refrain indefinitely from exploiting reserves in the national park, in exchange for 50% of the value of the income it would be forgoing from the world community. However, last August Correa announced that the plans had failed, after receiving less than 1% of the US$3.6bn target, and soon after the government approved plans to explore for oil. Controversy arose in February, when The Guardian newspaper revealed that the Ecuadorian government had been negotiating a secret US$1bn deal with a Chinese bank to drill for oil under the Yasuní national park as early as 2009, while publicly pursuing the Yasuní-ITT initiative.

 

 

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Latin America News Roundup: 11th April 2014


Government and opposition engage in 'dialogue for peace' (photo: Francisco Batista, courtesy of Venezuelan government)

Government and opposition engage in ‘dialogue for peace’ (photo: Francisco Batista, courtesy of Venezuelan government)

Venezuela: Government and Opposition Begin Talks: Representatives from the government and the opposition Mesa de Unión Democrática (MUD) held yesterday the first of a series of formal talks. The first of the ‘dialogues for peace’ called by the government went on for almost five hours and was broadcast to the country by radio and television. The debate was opened by president Nicolás Maduro, who gave a one-hour speech, and followed by 11 MUD and eight government representatives, who spoke for around ten minutes each. Talking about the debates, President Maduro said: “There are no negotiations or pacts here, what we want to find through this path is a model of mutual tolerance.” During their interventions, government representatives criticised the opposition for their role in the violent protests held around the country over the past two months: “We’re sitting here with the same opposition of years ago, experts in saying ‘I didn’t do it’. I feel no one who is here has condemned the violence,” said National Assembly President Diosdado Cabello. The opposition, in turn, criticised the government for the state of the country. Miranda state governor Henrique Capriles justified his attendance at the debate “because our country is doing really badly; Venezuela is in a very critical situation,” and added that the political crisis, which, in his opinion, dates back to last year’s tight presidential election, “may end up in either of two results that neither the opposition or Venezuelans want: a coup d’êtat or a social outburst.” A new meeting was agreed upon for Tuesday, the agenda for which will be defined by a special committee.

Ecuador: Environmentalists Closer to Referendum on Yasuní: Ecuadorian environmental group Yasunidos announced that it has collected over 700,000 signatures, more than enough to force a referendum on whether oil exploration should be authorised in the Yasuní National Park, in the country’s Amazon. The signatures still have to be verified, but if they are, the government will be obliged to put the matter to a popular vote. The park is one of the most bio-diverse regions in the world and has hit the headlines numerous times in recent years, after President Rafael Correa launched the Yasuní-ITT initiative. The measure proposed the country refrain indefinitely from exploiting reserves in the Ishpingo-Tambococha-Tiputini block, three oil fields within the Yasuní National Park, in exchange for 50% of the value of the income it would be forgoing from the world community. However, last August Correa announced that the plans had failed, after receiving less than 1% of the US$3.6bn target. Controversy arose in February, when The Guardian newspaper revealed that the Ecuadorian government had been negotiating a secret US$1bn deal with a Chinese bank to drill for oil under the Yasuní national park as early as 2009, while publicly pursuing the Yasuní-ITT initiative. Correa has said that any profit from oil extraction should be used in the country’s fight against poverty.

Paraguay: Indigenous Children Rescued in Trafficking Bust: Twenty-one indigenous children who were sexually exploited and had been forced to beg were rescued by prosecution agents in Ciudad del Este, on Paraguay’s Brazilian border. The 19 girls and two boys, who are believed to have been brought from Repatriación, a town between Ciudad del Este and the capital Asunción, are now in a state-run safe house. One man was arrested in the operation, which took place last Friday, but was only made public today for security purposes. Ciudad del Este, and the tri-border area with Argentina and Brazil, is notorious for child sex trafficking, with “continuous reports” of cases, according to the UNHCR.

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