[Editor’s Note: Thankyou Jaime for your snapshot of the crisis unfolding in Ecuador.
Readers might also like to peruse some of the accounts of the coup at Ecuador Rising – Hatarinchej
Good effort, Jaime. I hope we see more from you on this.]
Expecting to replicate the coup d’état in Honduras against President Manuel Zelaya in June last year, with the concealed support and collaboration of the White House, and emboldened by its success, right-wing forces in Latin America plotted last week to overthrow the democratically elected government of Rafael Correa in Ecuador. History repeated itself, but this time it was not in the direction they wanted. To their disappointment, the outcome became almost a replica of that of the right-wing attempt to remove Venezuela’s Hugo Chávez in June 2002, who was restored 47 hours later thanks to the organized resistance of the masses. This time, the people defeated the coup in only 12 hours, forcing the resignation of the Chief of Police.
The attempted coup began on the morning of Thursday 30 September, with a violent rebellion by police and sections of the army taking over key strategic locations in Quito, Ecuador’s capital, allegedly in protest against a new Public Service Law which they claimed will cut their benefits. In reality, they used the law as a pretext to remove President Correa by force. During his administration, their wages increased from $700 to $1200, more than twice the national average. The law is not designed to cut their benefits but rather restructure them.
Correa tried to placate the police at barracks occupied by them, but was physically assaulted, attacked with tear gas and taken prisoner to a police hospital, where he survived an assassination attempt. Foreign Minister Ricardo Patiño called on supporters to go to the hospital to defend the President and prevent his assassination. Thousands of ordinary Ecuadorians marched to hospital and confronted the police, who unsuccessfully responded with tear gas, baton charges and other violent means to curb the protest.
The international reaction to the coup was immediate. Governments throughout the region expressed their support for Correa and their condemnation of the coup. The Organization of American States (OAS) in Washington and UNASUR (Union of South American Nations) in Buenos Aires met in emergency sessions to defend Correa’s government.
Late on that day, the head of the Ecuadorean armed forces, General Ernesto González declared his support for the President and sent special forces to rescue Correa. At around 10:15 PM, the President gave a speech at the Presidential Palace before thousands of supporters who celebrated his rescue.
Although the executioners of the coup claim they were motivated by wage concerns, the coup’s real motivation was political: the rebel officers were acting as agents of the local capitalists, and their allies in Washington, determined to use all means at their disposal to eliminate anyone who represents a threat to their economic and political interests. Correa’s government has made changes to Ecuador’s agreements with international corporations that have reduced their profits, and defaulted some $3.2 billions in foreign debt since 2008.
Despite Washington’s public condemnation of the uprising, there is strong reason to suspect that it lent is hand to the organizers. The US has an appalling record of intervention in the region, often backing military coups. The ousting of Honduras’ President Manuel Zelaya was carried out by military personnel trained in the USA. The Bush administration openly supported the removal of Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez in 2002. In the case of Ecuador, President Correa earned the wrath of the White House by closing the US military base in his country last year, and by being an outspoken critic of the US’ economic model and foreign policy. The police were backed by USAID and the National Endowment for Democracy, two organizations designed by the US government to interfere in the domestic affairs of other nations in order to impose compliant regimes regardless of the wishes of the local populations. Like in Honduras, it is very unlikely that the preparations for the coup were carried out without the White House’s knowledge.
Although the defeat of the coup against Correa is a victory for democracy, there are no guarantees that there will not be further attempts. Correa was restored by the military, whose loyalty cannot be fully assured. Only the organized masses have the power to counter further threats. Whilst Correa has served as a catalyst for mass mobilization against anti-democratic forces, he also represents an obstacle for the fulfilment of their ultimate aspirations. General González “recommended” the President to amend the same law that was used by the police as an excuse to oust him. This means that there is a high likelihood that he will make concessions to his opponents, who in time will become more confident to raise further demands at the expenses of ordinary people. Whilst the failure of the coup may foster his popularity for the time being, his government has introduced some austerity measures, and will probably introduce further measures, that the opposition will seek to exploit later in order to promote popular discontent.
The defeat of the coup shows that the real power lies not in the government but on the collective power of the masses. The reinstatement of Correa also shows the political weaknesses of those who seek social change through the parliamentary road. The constant threat of a new coup will put him under pressure to make concessions to the political right to the disappointment of ordinary Ecuadorians.
Whilst any attempt to overthrow democratically elected governments must be opposed by all left-wing activists in Australia and elsewhere, we must also be aware of the political weaknesses of those governments we seek to defend and the need to build a political party with a clear vision that will lead the popular struggles forward. Ordinary people everywhere are, to a greater or lesser extent, under constant attack by powerful elites who won’t hesitate to use violent and repressive methods to defend their privileges. Therefore, we need a party with an effective strategy that will not only defeat the threat of reactionary forces once and for all but at the same will lead the masses to the creation of truly democratic societies based on social justice and human harmony, where ordinary people can live decent and happy lives free from oppression, poverty, exploitation and war.