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Political upheaval in Ecuador: much television, no revolution

Political upheaval in Ecuador: much television, no revolution

The political situation in Ecuador is murky at best. Being in the country does not make it much easier to understand, but at least I can go out and get the word from the people that, as you can imagine, is not expressed in the media. With this essay I hope to shed some light on the process that is happening and to discuss possible relationships with and repercussions on the Venezuelan process.

The similarities between Chavez and Gutierrez.

There has been a lot of talk about the similarities between Lucio and Chavez. They are indeed similar, about as similar as a table is to a cow: Both have four legs, a horizontal surface and they may or not have milk. That is about the extend of Gutierrez's resemblance to Chavez.

As is known, Lucio won the elections in Ecuador with a very Chavez-like history and agenda. He was a mid-ranking officer in the military when he lead a fail coup against a corrupt president and went to jail for a while. Later he ran for office on a pro-people agenda and won the elections with a good margin. Up until that point, they resembled each other. However upon taking office, Gutierrez, unlike Chavez, forgot all his promises and turned to neoliberalism. In his acceptance speech, after meeting with the recently appointed George W. Bush, he showed his real colors, and intentions. His actions were clearly against the poor, imposing IMF measures. Betraying the trust that he had received from the majority of poor, he became a servant to the US in just about every aspect.

There was, though, another important similarity between Chavez and Gutierrez that transcends their actions and policies: both were the first non-white presidents in countries predominantly non- white. For decades a minority of wealthier, whiter people (in Latin America white can be quite relative) have been running these countries forming very viscous oligarchies.

Lucio's problems

From the beginning Lucio turned against his left-leaning constituency, the poor majority of the country (henceforth referred to as "the people" since this socio-economic class constitutes the largest demographic). The Ecuadorian people responded with the ancestral patience of the Inca: yet another lying president. They were disappointed but did not see Lucio as being any worse than many others.

The upper and middle classes never felt happy with a half-indigenous president but they bought the trick of lower inflation. After dollarization, inflation dropped in relative terms. It was not the astronomic number that it had been during former governments but, being in dollars, 20 percent inflation was still the highest on the continent in absolute terms.

All the insults to the Ecuadorian people inflicted by Lucio had been well ignored until around December 2004. Then in April 2005 Gutierrez with a rigged supreme court acquitted
former president Abdala Bucaram who had being removed from office for corruption eight years before (an Ecuadorian Carlos Andres if you will). Once acquitted, Bucaram returned to Ecuador talking about running for office again, to add insult to injury. That angered the Ecuadorian people in general and gave grounds for one side of the right to play politics against the president (the other side of the same right).

A strike was called against the president and the supreme court on Wednesday April 13th (of all dates!!). It was a top-down strike without any power of convoking the masses. However, there was a real issue that was hurting the Ecuadorian people. The middle class started to think of demonstrations in a more spontaneous manner and after the first day public gatherings and demonstrations grew rapidly in size. At first it was mostly upper middle class but as the days progressed the country warmed up and then more people from the middle class joined the opposition. On the 19th of April about 30 to 40 thousand people (you might have heard a lot more from the media but it was only that many) marched peacefully towards the congress. When the demonstration neared the presidential palace it was stopped by guards with tear-gas. Completely predictable knowing how these things tend to develop.

It is true that tear-gas at 9000 feet of elevation is a lot more... er...should I say fun than in lower altitudes but I need to make clear that the level of repression thatthe public forces showed was not especially extreme compared with other similar situations. It was no worse than the repression that the US public forces showed in the Democratic or Republican conventions and certainly no worse than the repression showed during the WTO gathering.

The country continued warming up. There was a very heavy media campaign lead by a radio station, Radio La Luna. It was clear that they would not relent until they accomplished something. At first they accomplished the dismissal of the corrupt supreme court, but the anger about Lucio's bringing back Bucaram was too much and by then they wanted Lucio to resign. Now let me make clear that this movement was strictly from the middle class.

Even in the large demonstration of April 19th there wasn't any representation from the lower economic class or ethnic groups. That the movement is from the middle class means two things. One, that it is demographically unimportant. The middle class comprises only some 20% of the Ecuadorian people. If they went into a strike and paralyzed the country economically they could choke the economy and get Lucio to resign but they are limited in what they can do. Two, it is fundamentally, and above all, a peaceful movement. So, there would not be any violent movement to force Lucio out of office.

Straight out of the Handbook

Nobody wants unrest in the country (certainly not the people that are in the business of placing and replacing governments in Latin America). The strategy was taken from the old handbook of the coup de tat that we have seen working so many times and works surprisingly well every time. The president and the vice-president play good cop-bad cop games. Lucio canceled civil rights, and the vice-president, Alfredo Palacios, condemned the action. Lucio repressed the people and sent hordes to produce violence and the vice-president condemned this as well. The media played along to demonize Lucio (which is not hard to do) and the Vice-president used the spotlight of the media to champion the cause of righteousness and civil rights. The president resigned or was removed from office and the Vice-president took the well-deserved job after his performance. He rallied the people against Lucio and when he went uncharged it was win-win for everyone.
The people are now happy because they have accomplished their goal and have gone back home.This formula has been used many times: in Ecuador in 1997 when they removed Abdala

Bucaram and in 2000 when they removed Jamil Mahuad. It was also used in Bolivia in 2002.

The people had rallied to the streets to protest against the privatization of the natural gas and water. The president Sanchez Lozada repressed the demonstration and the vice-President condemned it. There was a stand off for about a week during which the people fought in the streets against the public forces. Then the president resigned and Carlos Mesa (the vice-president) took office as the hero of the country. The people went back home only to see the new president continue with the privatization of the natural gas and water just as the former president was doing; but the people were demobilized already.

Was it a coup or constitutional succession?

We know Lucio was removed from office and by now most everybody knows the answer: It was a coup. The congress gathered on the 20th in the afternoon and voted to remove Lucio for "abandono del cargo" (abandonment of his job). After that announcement, Lucio went on national media reading his last decree as president where he appointed a new head of police among other changes. In other words Lucio was removed from office for abandoning his post while he was still doing it!!! A phony reason. Furthermore, the constitution dictates that the congress needs 2/3 of the votes to remove the president. In a congress of 100 members that is 66 votes. The emergency congress that joined had only 62 members, only 60 of which voted to remove Lucio from office. In other words they were 6 votes short of the constitutional requirement to remove a president. The removal of Lucio, as the military retired their support, is, thus, unconstitutional: a coup de tat.

The plot

Why was Lucio removed from power if there was not a real popular uprising against him? Why did he relinquish power at 14:28 on the 20th after saying on the night of the 19th that he would not resign and played tough? The answer might be in the fact that early on the 20th he was visited by the ambassador of the US!! Why would the US want anything to do with it? Lucio counted on the support of the US from the beginning and Condoleeza Rice backed him up so long as the country was in calm. Once unrest set in, Lucio was no longer the person the US wanted here.

For starters Ecuador is a critical back up for Plan Colombia and other US plans in South America. Should Ecuador turn toward a really sovereign state it would isolate US operations in Colombia. Second, the US has a gigantic military base in the city of Manta at the pacific shore (as well as five other smaller military bases scattered around the country). This base not only helps Plan Colombia in Colombia but also helps keep a military presence in all of southern Central America (recall that Central America bends south in Panama). Third, Ecuador has a large and undeveloped oil potential in the Ecuadorian Amazon and we know how Washington feels about oil. Fourth, Ecuador is, as I type this, negotiating the Tratado de Libre Comercio (Free Trade Agreement, TLC) with all the Andean countries (Ecuador being one of the most stable of them) and every problem here could reflect into problems in negotiation. And last but not least, Ecuador was one of the 17 votes at the OAS opposing the US candidate Derbez for director that resulted in a tie with the Chilean candidate.

The trick of replacing the president with the Vice-president (or castling as you would say if you were playing chess) worked like a charm to demobilize the middle class. They are happy as happy can be for the success of the removal of Lucio. With a good media campaign chasing Lucio and friends the media claims success and the victory of democracy over authoritarism. Even though the people that demonstrated was the middle class of Quito exclusively, and Lucio was elected by the mandate of the majority of the Ecuadorian people.

The people of Ecuador

The lower classes and indigenous movements did not say a word on April the 19th on behalf or against Lucio and they are the meaningful demographic in the country. The truth is that most of the Ecuadorian people were disappointed, to say the least, with Lucio and he is not about to be brought back by a popular uprising. However, the way Lucio was deposed, with the corrupt congress and the military ganging up against him, and his running mate, the Vice-president, stabbing him on the back, has produced some sympathy from that lower class that brought him to office.

The descendant of ancient Incas, the poor people of Ecuador, know that they are not going to get any better treatment from this new government composed exclusively of white people from the same old schemes of power and old political parties. They also feel

that, although Lucio betrayed them, he was still one of them and they see the unfair plot against him as, yet, another attack to their people. There is a growing movement of solidarity with Lucio. By the third day after the removal of Lucio (on the 23rd) there were demonstrations with signs saying: "OEA, los pobres de Ecuador no sacamos a Lucio, fueron los Ricos" (OAS, the poor people of Ecuador did not depose Lucio, it was the rich ones). The demonstrations around the presidential palace are surrounded by a massive
military presence but some of those soldiers giving concealed thumbs up to the demonstrators!!

Similarities between Caracas, April 11th 2002 and Quito April 19th 2005.

Having had the dubious fortune of being in both events, I have to say that the similarities were astonishing, and for me, frankly they were sickening. Both were strongly supported by some influential media operation. In Caracas 2002 all media was locked up on the agenda for the coup. That did not happen in Quito 2005 but several radio operations did the job that the major TV networks did in Venezuela of convoking the people to rally against the president; in what was presented to be "a spontaneous movement of the people".

The people mobilized were strictly middle class in both movements (North Quito= East of Caracas and The tribune of Shyris Av = Plaza Altamira). Even the nature of the protest was taken in a similar manner: Escualido= Forajido, the media over-represented the size of the crowd, and in both places the supporters of the president were presented as a violent crowd that came to assault the peaceful middle class people (who in turn was being manipulated by the system to assault the democracy in the country). The militaries of both events decided "to remove the support from the president" supposedly due to the atrocities that the president ordered. Now, these were military commanders that have been on their post for more than 20 some years of service. During their service in the Ecuadorian army they no doubt both ordered and committed worse or, at least, comparable actions against weaponless demonstrators many times in the past. To see them using the standard level of repression used on the 19th as a reason to remove the support from a constitutional president simply felt like a prepared manipulation way too similar to April 11th 2002.

Please do not get me wrong.

I am not supporting Lucio. Had these military (or the congress for that matter) decided to remove Lucio from office after he appointed a rigged supreme court in December 2004, I would have nothing to say and I would not be questioning their motives, in fact I would be happy about it. But after allowing all those atrocities and constitutional violations to happen and then pretend that "the people" of Quito had requested Lucio to be removed by popular mandate, is more than I can accept. The military, as well as the congress, knew, as well as I do, that the bulk of the people of Quito, and certainly the bulk of Ecuadorian population, did not raise their voice that night. Yet they chose to play that charade for the removal of the president. This is a complicity that can only be compared with the performance of the high-ranking militaries of Venezuela on the night of April 11th 2002.

Amending the handbook

The de facto president Palacio, addressed the nation with a strong and opinionated speech about the human rights patriotism and freedoms. In the last four days he has shown a remarkable performance of strong will, good intentions, and nationalistic interest. He has said he would ask the Manta base to be returned to Ecuador, stop payment of the debt to use the money in social programs in the country, and even when Condoleeza Rice asked him to call elections as soon as possible, he stopped short of telling her to shove it. Nice try Mr. president.

While Palacio talks about all the moves and actions he will take for the Ecuadorian people to fortify the nation's future, there is a very important move that needs action right now and he is doing nothing about. The TLC is being discussed in Peru among all the Andean countries and the US. Ecuador has a delegate there that is STILL working his assignment!!! While Palacio talks about opposing the neoliberal agenda for the crowds, he is signing up to it right now! He has every excuse needed not to. Granted, to turn
away from the TLC has to be backed up by a comprehensive alternative strategy (like the ALBA, Alternative Bolivariana para las Americas), and coming to power so recently he might not have it worked out just yet. But he has the perfect reason to pull out, at least, temporarily due to political unrest in the country and the fact that he is just newly in power. Yet, he is going along with it committing the country into a treaty that the country can only regret in the future, only to say tomorrow: sorry we have an international commitment!

There is no doubt Palacio was campaigning against his former running mate for weeks before the coup. It is also clear that the downfall of Lucio was linked to the mysterious visit of the ambassador of the US in the morning of the 20th, which would make Palacio nothing short of a US appointee. Who would buy his anti-US performance
that is not backed up with actions? It is a clear consequence that the lower classes are upset and a bit mobilized about the unfair removal of Lucio, one of their kind. When Chavez was deposed the US and their servants (Aznar, Uribe, etc) were quick to accept the coup and went public to say that. Now they are being a lot more careful.

This is the reason that no government at all has acknowledged the legitimacy of Palacio's government as there are clear, and dare I say, well founded suspicions that Palacio might be a US-appointed puppet. Sure, even the CIA can learn a lesson.

After the coup of April 2002 in Caracas Carmona Estanga went off on a rampage against human rights, Venezuelan nationalism and even common sense. He turned back the constitution, order the arrest of all elected officials, posted PDVSA for a cheap sale to the US, and even cancelled all the social programs that the Chávez administration had going. This sent a clear message to any body that was listening that the only hope of a decent life, the only hope for a future was to bring Chávez back. If anybody had any doubt, they knew then that there was no other future than to get Carmona out and Cháves back to power. That was in part what brought the crowds to the streets. While the Ecuadorian poor are not about to rally to the streets the way we did on the 12 and 13th of April, the moves of Palacio seem to me to aimed at avoiding any replay of Caracas, April the 13th.

After the total defeat by the Venezuela people, there is no wonder that the CIA might have updated their handbook for a Coup de tat to avoid it in the future. They have instructed their appointee to be tough, nationalist, anti-US and so on. In short everything that Carmona was not. However, the truth comes out when the times comes to sign, or not, international agreements to mortgage out the country to international lenders, such as the TLC.

The Ecuadorian people and the Venezuelan people are joined at the hip with a common array of culture, idiosyncrasy, and traditions. Not to mention long history of similar political and social telluric phenomena. Gutierrez is no Chávez and the people did not react the same way. We saw the same people reacting to two different phenomena. The people of Ecuador deserve a free and sovereign government. Will they have it? The story of Ecuador is tightly linked to that of Venezuela. Simon Bolívar knew that Venezuela (or then Caracas) would never be free so long as Ecuador was a colony of Spain and thus it was imperative for him to liberate it as well, if he wanted freedom for Venezuela. Can the Bolivarian Revolution succeed without the freedom of Ecuador? Now more than ever we need to remember the glorious lyric of our national Anthem:

Unida con lazos que el cielo formó
La America toda existe en nación
Y si el despotismo levanta la voz

Seguid el ejemplo que Caracas dió
 
 


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