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Rafael Correa’s Push to Incense the Oligarchy

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Ecuador, after Bolivia and Venezuela, is perhaps the most visible member of the left-leaning, anti-capitalist partnership known as ALBA (Latin American Bolivarian Alternative). The President, Rafael Correa, is an US-educated economist by training, but has spent all of his years in office bitterly opposing US-led incursions into the country and Latin America in general. Tremendously popular, the Citizen’s Revolution (la revolucion ciudadana) boasts numerous infrastructure projects, redistribution programs, modernization of social services, and so forth. Poverty reduction has been drastic, perhaps not as comparable as that of Venezuela, but definitely at a level of “progress” of which the US working classes should be jealous. For the US, and particularly for its oligarchical media, Correa is an international pariah, someone who constantly speaks against their neoimperialist designs in the region. The other thing Americans might know of Ecuador and its president is that the government represses the private press—of course we already know this is selective reporting utilized to portray Correa as some totalitarian dictator, which is patently unfounded. The right-wing dominated press, particularly the newspapers, make FOX News look like school children, except in the level of absurdities that can be conjured by their imagination, which deserves both admiration and scorn. There is certainly a level of artistic genius involved in fabricating the outrageous constructs that pass as news in Ecuador, perhaps a product of the baroque aesthetic traditions still prevalent in Latin American cultures.

Over the past few months, perhaps, the American audience came to know Correa through the funny but ignorant portrayal by HBO’s John Oliver. Correa, who regularly receives death threats from the ardent opposition (not to mention a suspicious police-led protest that had “coup attempt” written all over it), has decided not to let anonymous bullying on social media outlets to persist, and has devised a means by which to expose the people who regularly use social media to spout hatred and murder without any consequences whatsoever. The US has no use for such actions, they can spy on you wherever you may be. Yet this case turned out to be blip rather than a ping, because the oppositional right-wing—the most organized among them—are certainly smart enough not to post death threats on Twitter, even if in “polite” conversation with “panas,” sipping endless glasses of 12 year scotch diluted with mineral water, they certainly fantasize about the idea of disposing of their president. The history of 20th century Ecuador provides numerous examples of how deadly the right-wing can be, how uncompromising their tactics and strategies are, which certainly have to have made an impact on Rafael Correa’s own actions and approaches.

But what began as a political “revolution,” in the sense of opening and deepening the political process to the millions of people who live on the fringes of Ecuadorian society (those in the invasiones, the informal working classes, the Afro-ecuadorian population, and the highly visible and highly exploitable indigenous population), has recently taken a more revolutionary tenor. Currently under debate is the Law to Redistribute the Wealth. Its most controversial element, at least from the perspective of the ruling classes, is an inheritance tax that seeks to break up intergenerational wealth transfers, by which the elite tend to maintain their power all over Latin America. This law has provoked a steady stream of misinformation, but also of outrage and protests, even from people who will not be affected by it. The law essentially applies a progressive tax to inheritances above $35,400 (a 2.5% tax), with the president reiterating that only 3 out of 100,000 Ecuadorians can be expected to receive inheritances of $50,000 or more. The highest rate, for sums above $849,600, would be 47.5% for children and 77.5% for others who benefit from said inheritance. Accompanying such “madness” would also be tax deductions for people leaving inheritances for employees (shares of the company, for example). The point, obviously, is to break apart the large concentrations of wealth that get passed on from generation to generation, or at least to redistribute some of these excesses—certainly nothing any Western Social Democracy or Welfare state hasn’t tried to do. The other stated goal, however, is to create more social enterprises, collectives and cooperatives. In this way, the Correa government is stepping forward, albeit cautiously and with trepidation, into more “revolutionary” territory. We may be seeing a Keynesian social democratic experiment start taking on more decidedly socialist overtones. Anyone who visits this country would, at present, have a hard time pointing out “socialist” interjections, and the “public” culture required for a revolution in social relations seems to be a long way off. However, sometimes it is moments and issues that can galvanize the masses, and they must certainly begin to ponder such movement because the opposition will not waste its opportunities.

And so it is, in Ecuador, that the right-wing seems to have struck gold with this campaign to demonize the inheritance tax, much like they have in the US (the so-called “death tax”). The Middle Classes, which certainly won’t have much to leave as far as inheritances go, are up in arms about supposed government overreach. The slogans of “I work for my children” have caught on with many in this sector. Memes abound, personalizing the tax as a direct transference of wealth from the person to the President, trending on Facebook and Twitter. Of course they are absurd, but absurdity can be an effective political mechanism in shifting public opinion, as any US American of left-leanings knows. But even more salacious than the absurdities of the right is the truth of the working classes. Their numbers and their unleashed political presence have certainly kept the counterrevolution in check, though not permanently. Yet, in this case, they may need another strategy. Perhaps the poor and working classes of Ecuador should revisit the theory of exploitation proffered by Marx long ago, and reconfigure the right’s phrase into their own rallying cry: YO TRABAJO PARA TUS HIJOS! (I WORK FOR YOUR KIDS!). Time will tell how this development shakes out, but for now the class war deepens and intensifies in Ecuador, as it does in all of the ALBA affiliated countries (and Europe and the USA along other lines). Geopolitical shifts, particularly the rise of China and the decline of US hegemony, will probably tip the scales to one side or the other in the long run, but battles can be won or lost, and right now the battle boils beneath the surface, at any point it could erupt into the streets.

(It should be noted that the government is aware of this possibility, as anti-political violence campaigns are underway in all major news outlets.)

Robert Fenton is a doctoral candidate in Sociology at George Mason University. He currently lives in Ecuador conducting research on urban issues and transportation.

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