Ecuador Removes Controversial Foriegn Minister
Tellingly, Palacio confirmed the switch to the media just as he headed off for his visit as president to the United States. The move is a blow to the Ecuadorian social movements, who had come to count on Parra as one of their few trusted allies in the government. The biggest effect will be likely be on Ecuadors relationship with neighboring Colombia, especially in terms of one of the most controversial issues of the drug war in that country For some time now, the Ecuadorian social movements have strongly opposed Plan Colombia as a strategy to further U.S. military and economic power over all of South America. Most specifically, indigenous and other peasant farmers have complained of the effects of Colombias U.S.-funded and supervised fumigation programs. The Colombian department (state) of Putumayo has been one of the major targets of aerial crop spraying due to the large volume of coca cultivated there, but it also shares a long border with northeast Ecuador.
Two weeks ago, I attended a press conference in Bogotá with Alexis Ponce, one of the leading representatives of the Ecuadorian social movements, and who is considered to be rather close to Parra Gil. Ponce had come to Bogotá for the second of a series of three meetings Parra was scheduled to have with his Colombian counterpart regarding the fumigations and other issues. Ponce spoke of the damage that he said fumigations were causing to the many small farmers near the border; sickness, damage to the environment, and a total disruption of the regions economy. Colombian military and private U.S. aircraft, he said, were not limiting themselves to fumigating outside the ten-kilometer buffer zone that the two countries had agreed upon. (See my October 2003 report on Ecuadorian indigenous opposition to Plan Colombia.)
Little progress was made in the meeting between the two ministers. Colombias government insisted that the fumigations were perfectly safe and that Ecuador needed to do more to help in the regional fight against drug trafficking and terrorism. (This may be another source of tension: in the last few weeks both Parra and Defense Minister Oswaldo Jarrín have greatly angered Colombian President Alvaro Uribe by refusing to call the rebel fighters of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia terrorists.) The Ecuadorian government had made known that if no common ground could be found, it would sue Colombia for damages before the Organization of American States.
Since the uprising this winter that forced out hated president Lucio Gutierrez, said Ponce, the social movements had enjoyed significantly more say in certain aspects of government, especially the foreign ministry. Indeed, over the last week many groups registered complaints with the president over the growing rumors, one statement signed by various organizations telling him that if true the move would confirm for us your weakness before the impositions of the great empire of the North.
Lucio Gutierrezs downhill slide began with his first visit to Washington (see Luis Gómezs August, 2003 report). Well have to see if with this visit Palacio is going the same way. Last month the first signs of serious discontent among the countrys unions and social movements began to be seen, especially (in struggles recalling current battles in Bolivia) over issues of national control of oil resources.
In the meantime, well see if we cant get some more information on the forces behind Parras removal