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Home About Us Equipo Sur South-North Encuentro Ecuador - 2010 Encuentro Country Updates
Ecuador - 2010 Encuentro Country Updates PDF Print E-mail

2010 Encuentro Country Updates

ECUADOR

By LUIS ANGEL SAAVEDRA
INREDH Fundación Regional de Asesoría en Derechos Humanos


The Manta base and militarization in Ecuador

In November 1999 an agreement allowing the installation of the United States' Forward Operating Location (FOL) was signed.  This name was used to disguise the military base.  The National Congress never knew about the agreement, as it should have according to Ecuador's constitution.  It was only the Commission on International Affairs, led by the right-wing Heinz Moeler, which allowed U.S. aircraft to operate from the Eloy Alfaro Aerial Base, in the coastal city of Manta.

Neoliberalism was implemented with full force in Ecuador, the dollar was adopted as the national currency, and right-wing political parties had control of all power and democratic institutions.  The United States took advantage of these circumstances in order to install itself in Manta.

The installation of the base was seen as a hope for economic growth, and this was the argument that the United States embassy in Ecuador used to justify their presence.  On the Web, they explain: "The FOL injects more than $6.5 million USD annually into the local economy of Manta.  This investment includes an important component of operational costs of the airport, such as more than $2 million for the operation of the Fire Department of the FOL of Manta, and approximately $200,000 in maintenance costs for the airport." Nevertheless, according to Miguel Morán, leader of the Tohallí Movement of Manta, the United States embassy's claims are a lie, given that the United States soldiers did not consume local products and the little money that they did spend went to a reduced group of proprietors owning luxury bars and other locales reserved for U.S. soldiers.

The initial ideas about the base have changed.  It is now seen by fishermen, small businessmen, and social organizations as an unwanted neighbor; its presence is seen through a wider regional lens, where the implementation of neoliberalism and the control of resources is important, beyond the supposed objective of fighting against drugs.

Criticism of the United States presence include condemnations, like the one related to the disappearance of the fishing boat, the Jorge IV, on June 15, 2002, precisely at the time that the Americans started their operations against Ecuadoran boats carrying migrants or suspected of transporting drugs.

In spite of the agreement signed between Ecuador and the United States, establishing in its article 3 that "Interdiction in Ecuadoran territory is the exclusive responsibility of the Republic of Ecuador," the United States carried out maritime interdictions in Ecuador's territorial waters, during which at least fourteen ships sunk, six others were damaged, and fishermen and migrants were subjected to unjustified acts of torture and repression.  An example is the case of the ship, Ochossi, whose captain denounced: "In 2005, American soldiers boarded our ship, a plane flew over us for eight hours, they cornered us in a shallow area, they threatened us with arms, they photographed us with first and last name as if we were drug traffickers, they destroyed our ferries, when they didn't find anything, they left.  When we asked who would pay the damages, they gave us a paper and told us to go to the embassy.  They left us adrift and went on their way."

Using testimony from the captains and owners of the ships, it was proven that they never received support from any Ecuadoran authority in demanding that the United States be responsible for damages caused, and the United States Embassy didn't even receive the captains and owners to negotiate compensation.

The United States Embassy has highlighted the success of the antidrug fight, assuring that they have captured more than 1800 tons of cocaine.  Nevertheless they have not shown evidence, nor have they shown who they have detained or how many trials have resulted from these drug seizures, and they have only stated that this quantity of drugs seized is connected to the operations of the three FOLs in Latin America and combined operation in 11 countries.  This means that the effectiveness of the FOL in the antidrug fight is about 15 tons of cocaine captured each year in each participating country.  This effectiveness is null, even ridiculous, if you consider the number of aerial missions, personnel dispatched and investments made.  Then, if the control of drugs is not very effective, why has there been a U.S. presence at Manta for the last ten years?

The United States abandoned Manta in July 2009, four months before the agreement signed in 1999 was over and the current Ecuadoran government refused to renew it. Nevertheless, the process of United States militarization has not finished.

The School of the Jungle and Ground Force Counterinsurgence

In 2004 we first began to learn about a "School of Counterinsurgence" in Ecuador, located in the city El Coca, in the Brigada de Selva Number 19 - Napo. (19-BS).

A brief communiqué from the Department of Social Communication of the Ministry of Defense states, "34 second lieutenants of the Ecuadoran army and two lieutenants of the foreign legion, finished the thirty-first course of Tigres, and the tenth international specialty course, at the School of the Jungle and Ground Force Counterinsurgence, located in the province Orellana.  The course took 12 weeks.  The objective is for the soldiers to prepare for counterguerrilla missions in jungle environments.

This information motivated the International Observatory for Peace (Observatorio Internacional de la Paz - OIPAZ), a coalition of NGOs that investigated the process of militarization on the Ecuadoran border, which participates in INREDH, to begin monitoring the activities of this School of the Jungle, finding that it had existed since at least 2001 and that they taught at least three courses each year.  Over a three-year period, the school trained 500 foreign soldiers, from Chile, Brazil, France, Peru, and Panama.  There was no mention of the United States.

In 2004 the School of the Jungle began to have ties to the United States, in terms of military assistance provided by the Manta Base Agreement, and in terms of it serving to support the actions that were being implemented with Plan Colombia.  It is the United States Ambassador who spoke about this School and stated plans to train 3,000 Ecuadoran and foreign soldiers annually, in a course specializing in military training and specific missions in the jungle.  For the Ministry of Defence, "military training in this specialty is one of the priorities of the Ecuadorian State to preserve its sovereignty, considering the armed raids on the northern border."

During the government of Lucio Gutierrez the School of the Jungle was institutionalized as a school specializing in counterinsurgency, with courses of three months being attended by Latin American and U.S. soldiers. The three-month courses include systems of patrolling the northern border and knowledge of indigenous systems of mobility and field reconnaissance, for which it has recruited young people from indigenous communities in Sucumbios and Orellana, particularly the Shuar, because this group was considered important in the conflict between Ecuador and Peru in 1995 and it is believed the Shuar may be once again important if the war in Colombia spreads to Ecuador.

The main tasks are training in shooting, grenade launching, inland navigation, patrolling techniques, gymnastics, forest development, survival, field reconnaissance, infiltration and coordination systems with counter-narcotics actions, which are coordinated with the Anti-Narcotics Field Task Force, which was trained by U.S. advisers and has its headquarters in Baeza, an hour and a half from Quito.

Before 2000, courses in counterinsurgency were taught in Panama, which brought about the idea of establishing a similar school in Ecuador, beginning in 2001, and coinciding with the expansion and diversification in U.S. military aid, in forms such as military bases and schools.

Since 2008, the INREDH's team has been doing investigations in El Coca, and were able to detect the presence of U.S., Panamanian, Chilean, Colombian, Honduran and Peruvian troops; all of whom attend three-month courses and obtain diplomatic passports to enter Ecuador. Right now, the main focus of analysis is the "terrorist threat" and "narco-terrorism", which shows that the discourse of American military policy is embedded in those attending training courses. In military jargon, little by little, the name of the school has been changing from School of the Jungle to School of Antiterrorism, even though the public still calls it by its formal name.

The existence of this school contradicts constitutional principles, in particular Article 5, which states: "Ecuador is a land of peace. The establishment of foreign military bases or foreign installations with military aims, is not permitted. It is prohibited to cede national military bases to foreign military or security forces."

The School of the Jungle and the Tigres de la Selva courses contradict this constitutional principle, a reason for which it should become a new target for the organizations that managed the closure of the U.S. military base at Manta.

 

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