On Jan. 21, indigenous people and members of the Ecuadoran military took over the government of Ecuador. After days of protest aimed at Ecuador’s failing economy and the government’s recent announcement to declare the U.S. dollar the official currency, indigenous people entered the parliament building in Quito and, marching with a sympathetic escort of mid-level military officers, drove Ecuadoran President Jamil Mahuad from the presidential palace. The protesters met with high-ranking military officers, and a new government was declared. It was to be led by a triumvirate: indigenous leader Antonio Vargas, former president of the Supreme Court Carlos Solarzano, and Chief of the Joint Command, General Carlos Mendoza. But just three hours after the declaration, General Mendoza unilaterally handed over the government to Vice President Gustavo Naboa, Mahuad’s successor. Mendoza caved in to foreign pressure–the U.S. threatened to slap sanctions on Ecuador similar to the current, crippling sanctions against Cuba, and all the other South America nations (with the exception of Venezuela) condemned the coup. In the aftermath, the leaders of the indigenous union went into hiding and vowed to continue the fight to overturn the Ecuadoran government from the outlying provinces. Whether this means the beginning of an armed struggle remains to be seen. Up to this point, the indigenous movement has been peaceful, but has won only a few seats in parliament and almost no concessions from a government bent on implementing IMF structural adjustments. Ninety percent of Ecuador’s population is indigenous, and the per capita income of Ecuador’s Indian population is a shockingly low $250 per year.
On Jan. 15, 95,000 electricity workers went on strike in Uttar Pradesh, India’s most populous state. Four of the northern state’s six power plants were shut down, leaving millions of people in darkness and without heat. The strikers were protesting the government’s plans to privatize electrical utilities. Police immediately arrested four labor organizers in an attempt to stop the strike. However, on Jan. 17, 100,000 dockworkers went out on strike to demand higher wages, effectively shutting down all of India’s major ports in the first major dockworkers strike in over a decade. Bolstered by the port actions, the electricity strike spilled over into neighboring Punjab, Haryana, Himachal Pradesh and Rajasthan states. And finally, on Jan. 21, transport workers in New Delhi went on strike to protest a new tax on vehicles entering the city–just one month after a nationwide transport strike over increases in the price of diesel fuel crippled commerce throughout the country.
In a panic, the government called out the military to replace strikers at the ports and power plants. Sixty engineers were fired for “sabotage” and 4,000 electrical workers were fired for “failing to maintain essential services,” a crime under Indian law. Nevertheless, the strikers held firm, continued to blockade many of the ports and electrical facilities, and large numbers of government workers and teachers walked out in solidarity. Finally, the government relented and said it would study the port workers’ demands; their five-day strike came to a successful end. The government has also begun to negotiate with electrical workers in earnest and released two of the key organizers of the strike. Nevertheless, the Indian government says it will comply with IMF demands to privatize the electrical industry.
On Jan. 26, the all-male Egyptian parliament voted to grant Egyptian women the right to divorce their husbands without first having to prove spousal abuse. Egypt, a strong U.S. ally in the Middle East, has long discriminated against women in its divorce laws. Men are able to divorce their wives by simply uttering “I divorce thee” three times. One conservative member of parliament reacted in horror. “Women have their unique physiological nature, different from any other living being,” said Ahmed Abu Hijji. “At certain times every month, they become short-tempered and changeable and they might try to divorce just because of that. It’s a very dangerous thing.” The bill, which also allows women to travel abroad without the consent of their husbands, has one catch: a woman has to pay back the dowry her husband paid for her at the time of the marriage, and forgo alimony payments. “Poor women will not be able to afford it,” said Hoda Badran, a feminist. “These changes will largely benefit wealthy women who are the only ones likely to travel abroad or be able to buy their way out of a marriage.” Inadvertently pointing out the problem of institutional sexism, which places little value on a woman’s life, one disgruntled male added: “I believe there will be lots of women murdered because a man won’t tolerate a woman leaving him, and might suspect she has been having an affair.” …Which is, of course, an all too common occurrence in Western, so-called “enlightened” nations.