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Ecuador: Unions Plan Big Protest

March 7th, 2000

QUITO, Ecuador - Ecuador's largest union confederation said Tuesday it would stage protests in the capital Quito on March 21 against government plans to adopt the U.S. dollar as official currency. The Coordinator of Social Movements, which groups agricultural, oil, power, telecom and other unions, said it would bring Quito to a halt to protest Ecuador's ''dollarization'', which was approved by Congress last week.

''On March 21 there will be a great march on Quito,'' Coordinator spokesman Fernando Villavicencio told Reuters.

Together with native Indians and rebel soldiers, the Coordinator staged massive protests against dollarization that led to the overthrow of democratically elected President Jamil Mahuad after a brief coup. Congress later appointed his deputy, Gustavo Noboa, to succeed Mahuad, but he pushed on with the dollar plan despite wide popular opposition.

A major strike against dollarization is planned for June, but unions have still not decided how long it will last.

Oil workers at state-owned Petroecuador, which provides more than 50 percent of government revenue, said last week they would strike on March 21. Ecuador's government hopes the stable greenback will give its battered economy something better to grab hold of than the sucre, which lost two-thirds of its value last year, feeding an inflation rate that surged 91 percent in the 12 months ending in February.

Ecuador's economy, reeling from El Nino damage and a period of low oil prices, contracted by 7.5 percent in 1999 and the government horrified investors by defaulting on foreign debt payments.

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