Ecuador: Interview with Marcelo Roman, historic leader of the oil workers' trade union

Ecuador is a country were no less than 7 presidents have been in office in the past 9 years. Time and again the Ecuadorian masses have risen against the policies of imperialism. We met Marcelo Roman to ask him about these developments and comment on the present situation in Ecuador.

Ecuador is a country were no less than 7 presidents have been in office in the past 9 years. Time and again the Ecuadorian masses have risen against the policies of imperialism. We met Marcelo Roman to ask him about these developments and comment on the present situation in Ecuador.

PL: Could you tell us a bit about yourself and your political background?

MR: My name is Marcelo Roman, and I am at present one of the activists behind the “Gente Común” (Common People), a new political party that some sectors of the left have decided to set up. I began my political activity as a youngster in the Communist Youth of Ecuador. Later on I got involved in workers´ struggles, and played a key part in a big strike movement of the oil workers in 1982. Some sectors of the bureaucracy in the big state-owned company, PetroEcuador, wanted to sack a number of workers. In the heat of this struggle, the big trade union confederation of the oil workers was created. I was elected as the first president of the federation.

PL: What was the political environment like in the 1990s? What were the events leading up to the big uprising in 2000?

MR: To understand what happened in 2000, it is necessary to look at the contradictions in Ecuadorian society that had accumulated over quite a long time.

In the 1990s the IMF and the World Bank intensified their pressure on the Ecuadorian government. They tried to privatise a number of sectors in the economy. At the same time they began to promote the idea that the employed workers were a privileged minority. Due to the total failure of capitalism in Ecuador, the majority of people are not employed workers, but unemployed, under-employed or small shop-keepers, street peddlers living in complete misery.

Thus, imperialism, backed by the local ruling class, tried to present the employed workers as a group of people living in luxury that had to “help” the other sectors of society. In reality, this was a campaign that they used as an excuse to attack the living standards of the workers, lowering wages, etc. Unemployment has always, to a certain extent, been a source of profit for the capitalists.

At the beginning of the 1990s, the workers movement and the Indigenous movement united in order to form a common front against these attacks. A party was formed called Pachakutik. At the beginning this was a party that sought to unite all the exploited layers against the ruling class. But slowly it began to enter into a process of degeneration, ending up with a petit-bourgeois perspective on the National Question, only favouring the demands of the Indigenous minority but without any class perspective whatsoever.

What really unleashed the movement was   added to all these attacks on their living standards   the fact that the dollarisation of the Economy was put on the agenda by the then president Mahuad. This meant that inflation would rise enormously and furthermore it was seen as a concession to Imperialism. Throughout 1999, Ecuador was dominated by a political and moral crisis, where none of the people had any confidence in the political institutions whatsoever.

Finally in January 2000, this sparked off a profound revolutionary movement that lasted some weeks. The oil workers played a key part in this insurrectionary movement, together with the indigenous movement and the social block. They stopped many of the oil installations in the provinces and marched towards the capital.

In Quito, the movement reached its highest level. The movement actually stormed the parliament on January 21st, kicking out the discredited government. For some hours power was in our hands. The movement issued some decrees from the parliament, rejecting the cuts in social spending and the dollarisation of the economy. But the movement did not really know what to do. The executive responsibility, that is the power, was entrusted to one of the officers in the military who declared that a “constitutional solution” was needed. In fact this was the work of the US Embassy, the local agents of imperialism, who in this way succeeded in handing power back to the ruling class.

In this way a historic opportunity was lost. What was lacking, was in fact a party with a clear plan, a party that could constitute the instrument necessary to consolidate power and carry out a revolutionary transformation of society.

PL: And in all this, how did Lucio Gutierrez appear?

MR: Lucio was one of the officers who refused to shoot on the demonstrations and actively supported the movement. This gave him a certain credibility among the masses. He went to prison for a while, but upon his release he began to actively appear as a candidate for the presidential elections in 2003. In the lead up to those elections he made some connections with the left both inside Ecuador and internationally. For example he visited Chavez in Venezuela, the FARC and ELN in Colombia, the PT in Brazil, and so on.

All this gave him certain support among the masses, many seeing him as a “second Chavez”, a man from the military coming and striving to implement an anti-imperialist policy. But he was not at all like that, and this became clear once he got into the presidential office. In fact he completely betrayed the movement and all the aspirations of the masses, lining up with Bush and carrying out the dictates of the IMF. What many confused people, especially on the left, were unable to see was that Lucio was actually a reflection of a part of the oligarchy.

In the end he had to leave when a popular movement, especially based on the middle classes, but also with some other sectors, rebelled against him in April 2005.

PL: So what does the future hold for Ecuador?

MR: One of the lessons that many on the left have learned in the past years is, that it is completely impossible to place any kind of confidence in the bourgeoisie. The need for a party was clearly shown in the uprising in 2000. That is also why myself and other comrades recently have launched the “Gente Común” a political party of the exploited layers, that will stand in the October presidential elections.

What we understand is that we need our own candidate, someone from within the social movement, someone who will be subject to the will of the people and capable of carrying out profound revolutionary transformations. For us it is impossible to change anything in Ecuador without changing the fundamental structures. What we need is not a new bourgeois constitution, nor parliament. Look at how many different versions of “democracy” we have witnessed in the past! And what have been the results? Absolutely nothing has changed! On the contrary, the bourgeois parliament must be removed and substituted by a revolutionary peoples’ assembly where the delegates will be representatives elected in each neighbourhood, workplace and university.

Finally, I would like to stress, that the revolutionary process in Venezuela is really a source of inspiration for all the activists on the left here in Ecuador. It fills us with hope for the future. We can see that it is possible to reject the policies of imperialism and fight to radically change society. This is the same path that we will follow.

Quito, February 22, 2006

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