The Citizens’ Revolution advances in Ecuador
The radical social and economic reforms of President Rafael Correa, known as the Citizens’ Revolution, received an overwhelming stamp of approval by the Ecuadorian people when he won more than 60% of the votes cast in Ecuador’s recent presidential elections. When Correa first came to office in 2007, Ecuador was in the midst of a deep crisis. As the third poorest country in Latin America, income had declined by a third due a banking collapse; unemployment had skyrocketed and a tenth of the population had fled the crisis by emigrating. Yet today poverty has fallen from 36.0% to 28.6%. Urban poverty has declined from 25.5% to 17.4%. Unemployment has fallen from 9.1% to 4.9% – almost half – and is now at its lowest-ever levels. The minimum wage has doubled. Policies like the following account for the success of the Citizens’ Revolution:
- The Ecuadorian government implemented fiscal stimulus by extending widespread housing assistance programmes to low-income households, nearly doubling the amount of housing finance in three years.
- It kept interest rates low and expanded liquidity by requiring banks to keep at least 45% of their reserves in Ecuador.
- Huge increases in social spending are guaranteeing free education, including at university level, free healthcare, and better public services for all. Ecuador tripled social investment in just five years, lifting a million households out of poverty and bringing 450,000 children out of child labour.
- Outsourcing has been made illegal.
- Sovereignty over the country’s oil and other natural resources has been recovered from the hands of multinationals.
- Ecuador has repudiated the debt owed to international financial institutions, which meant three times as much was being spent on debt repayment as on social services.
- Tax collection from the very wealthy has increased in order to fund social projects.
No wonder the Ecuadorian people re-elected President Rafael Correa!
Neoliberalism comes knocking on Egypt’s door
As Egypt’s economy struggles under the post-Mubarak regime, the US and the International Monetary Fund (IMF) are promising to come to the rescue. But theirs is a policy of demands and threats, as newly installed US Secretary of State John Kerry made clear during his March visit to Cairo. His basic message was, ‘If you want us to help you, do what the IMF tells you to do’. And what the IMF wants is for Egypt to fall in line behind a neoliberal agenda. The economic situation in Egypt is dire. Its foreign currency reserves have dropped dramatically, the budget deficit is soaring, imports of wheat are sharply down and recently the government announced a 50% rise in the price of subsidised fuel oil for customers outside priority industries. Unemployment is at about 13%. An earlier version of an IMF loan proposal was put on hold due to violent protests over its planned tax hikes. But in February, the Morsi government invited the IMF to come to Cairo to restart negotiations, this time over a possible $4.8-billion loan to Egypt. The proposed plan calls for a levy on stock market transactions and a flat 25% tax on Egypt’s companies. It will likely demand cuts in subsidy spending, which in turn will raise the cost of living in an already impoverished country. The Morsi government wants to move quickly on this: Egypt’s investment minister has said that he hopes a deal with the IMF will be done by the end of April. Meanwhile, with senior US officials demanding that Egypt increase taxes and cut energy subsidies, the loan agreement will no doubt call for austerity measures and result in a massive debt that will harness Egypt to interest payments for decades to come. In a song that has spread like wildfire on Egyptian radio, ‘poison in the honey’ is how cultural activist El Manawahly characterises the IMF’s role in Egypt. Poison in the honey indeed.
Greek workers show what’s possible
If you read the mainstream media, you would think that all the economic news from Greece is bad news. Unemployment in Greece is at least 27% and as a result of the financial crisis, nearly a third of the population lives in poverty. The austerity measures imposed by the European Union have caused misery for the people and done nothing to solve the economic problems. But workers recently took control of Vio.Me, a small factory in Greece’s second largest city, Thessaloniki. The factory was abandoned by its owners two years ago, after they went bankrupt. The workers then held a series of assemblies and decided to occupy the factory in order to run it themselves. They instituted a process of democratic control resulting in the takeover of the factory. This is the first experiment in industrial self-management in Greece, but there are over 300 workplaces run by workers around the world. These include schools, newspapers, health clinics, as well as factories and others.. Their track record shows that workers can not only run their workplaces, but that they can do it more effectively than their previous bosses. The workers in Greece are providing an alternative to unemployment that can be a model for other crisis-ridden countries.
AGANG or A-Gang
The launch of AGANG by Mamphele Ramphele has drawn much media attention. The fourth estate is eager to identify and boost a possible political opponent to the ANC. Parts of the wealthy elites are worried about the ANC’s commitment to conservative economic policies and fear the potential for populist currents, like Malema’s ANCYL, to lead Mugabe-like land and corporate grabs. In AGANG they see the possibility of a responsible black-led political party making inroads into the ANC’s support.
But does AGANG have the power of succeeding where COPE failed? There is nothing to suggest that AGANG has real roots among black voters. While Ramphele has stature, especially amongst the middle-class intelligentsia, she does not have the credibility of a former struggle or trade union leader, in spite of her links to black consciousness leader Steve Biko. Her role in community development, as Vice Chancellor of the University of Cape Town and as managing director of the World Bank, are not going to emblaze her with working class appeal. She is no Zwelinzima Vavi. At any rate, the liberal section of the black middle class is already over-subscribed politically. The nationalist-oriented middle classes are increasingly taking control of the ANC led by the likes of Zuma and Ramaphosa. The rest are divided among the other opposition parties, such as COPE and the DA.
AGANG and Ramphele’s only real strength lies in serving as an honest broker to unite the different opposition parties into a united electoral front to challenge the ANC. She, as opposed to Zille, will have sufficient credibility with COPE’s Lekotha or UDM’s Holomisa to draw them into a coalition that would include the DA but without the DA as the leader. A DA-led coalition just does not have sufficient purchase among black voters to make the necessary inroads into the ANC’s support base.
The launch of AGANG has been expressed as a platform. Its only real electoral hope is to the extent it can unite the opposition into an electoral front. AGANG can be the opposition gang. As a party competing for the black middle-class vote its main prospect will be in winning support from existing opposition parties.
Death at the hands of South Africa’s police
Public outrage greeted the death of 27-year-old Mido Macia, the Mozambican driver of a minibus taxi. On the 26 February, police officers handcuffed Macia to the back of a police van and dragged him along a street in Daveyton on the East Rand. A crowd witnessed the incident and one onlooker filmed it; the horrifying footage has now been seen around the world. Macia died in a police cell shortly afterwards.
Macia’s crime? Parking in the wrong place, allegedly obstructing traffic, and resisting arrest. The police officers involved face murder charges. But the question is whether they will escape judgment, like those involved in Andries Tatane’s death.
Macia’s death has shocked the nation and the world. The annual report of the Independent Police Investigative Directorate records that ‘about 932’ people died in police custody in the year 2011–2012 and that the number of deaths in police custody has increased significantly over the past decade. Noel Kututwa, the Southern African director of Amnesty International, says, ‘This appalling incident…is the latest in an increasingly disturbing pattern of brutal police conduct in South Africa.’ Amnesty notes that the murder of Mido Macia is not the first instance of police brutality targeting non-South African nationals. In Nyanga township in October 2011, police allegedly used excessive force in mass arrests of ‘suspected illegal foreign nationals,’ including those who presented documentation of their refugee status. The annual police report came out shortly before the verdict in the trial on 30 March of the seven officers present when Andries Tatane was shot and murdered. Justice was again grossly denied: they were acquitted.