FacebookTwitterRedditEmail

Trial by Fire for Ecuador’s President Correa

Multi-colored ponchos, lime green government banners, and gray and olive police armor have filled the streets of Quito and other cities in Ecuador this month.  Ecuadorian president Rafael Correa and opposition protestors have been engaged in a war of words and displays of physical presence in public spaces since the major nonviolent challengers, the Confederation of Indigenous Nationalities of Ecuador (CONAIE), and its allies launched a nationwide strike and march on August 13.  Correa is one of the cohort of presidents challenging U.S. hegemony in Latin America, and he has taken over the leading role in promoting regional integration and denouncing U.S. intervention after Hugo Chavez’s death.  For this reason the protests, and Correa’s increasingly repressive response to them, will be carefully watched by those in other countries wishing to gauge whether the ‘Bolivarian moment’ has peaked.

The widespread dissatisfaction with the Ecuadorian government masks several distinct factions within the opposition coalition.  Indigenous groups and environmentalists, which initially supported Correa’s ‘Citizen Revolution’, are critical of his pursuit of mining and petroleum projects, and of the government’s heavy-handed treatment of protestors. Unions oppose labor code changes. Bankers and the urban middle class have rejected proposed legislation to increase inheritance taxes and capital gains taxes for wealthier citizens.  A growing chorus of dissenters has denounced the government’s proposed constitutional amendments, especially the elimination of presidential term limits without a popular referendum.  This last grievance represents the closest thing to a unifying complaint, since each faction, regardless of why it is upset, is worried about the prospect of Correa’s administration continuing indefinitely.

Since coming to office in 2007, President Correa has sought to diversify the economy beyond oil and agriculture, investing heavily in mining and hydroelectricity.  He has funded major infrastructure projects and investments in education by renegotiating petroleum contracts during a time of high oil prices, increasing state capacity to collect taxes  in a country where tax evasion was historically a practiced art, and by taking on debt from China in exchange for future oil supplies and profits.  As state revenues have plummeted in the face of declining oil prices, however, cost-cutting measures and proposals for new revenue streams (i.e. taxes and extractive industry contracts) have eroded Correa’s remarkably durable high approval ratings to a low of 45%.  The country’s political stability is more at risk than at any time in Correa’s eight-year time in office, with the possible exception of theabortive 2010 coup attempt by police.

Despite passing a unique Constitution that gave legal standing and rights to nature and recognized indigenous rights to sumak kawsay, or good living, the government has jailed indigenous protestors, and has sent armed police to facilitate mining extraction.  CONAIE says it is the combination of the government’s turnaround on extractive industries and anti-democratic repression of free speech and protest that are the most important driving forces behind the national strike and march.

Protest leaders have tried to maintain a consistent message that they are targeting the government’s policies, and are not trying to topple the regime itself: CONAIE president Jorge Herrera said, “The goal is not to remove President Correa, but to change the political structure of the country.”  As the violence and chaos have escalated, however, dozens of indigenous activists as well as police have been injured and hospitalized, with more than 30 protesters arrested. Street chants of Out Correa, out! have become increasingly common. The government has labeled the opposition movement “coup plotters” and accused them of being manipulated by his right-wing political opponents, often resorting to racist portrayals of indigenous protestors as misguided pawns of traditional politicians.

The indigenous uprising, and the broader political dissention surrounding it, represents a watermark political test for Correa. His ability to overcome his personal shortcomings is likely to be the biggest factor determining if he can weather the storm.  If he drops his bid to eliminate term limits without a referendum, and shows clearly by holding violators accountable that his government will not engage in arbitrary arrests or repression of peaceful protesters, the opposition is unlikely to be able to maintain a cohesive coalition given the fractured and competing interests in play.  Correa still has a (quickly diminishing) chance to solidify his legacy as a progressive technocratic reformer who has improved Ecuador’s stability and reduced inequality.  If he continues his past record of bullying and intolerance of dissent, and persists with the violent repression that is sending his legitimacy into a tailspin, however, he will further strengthen the elements of the opposition that want him to join so many Ecuadorian presidents before him who have been toppled through mass street protests.  International pressure is needed to convince him that the stakes of trampling democracy to repress protest are more serious than just a damaged ego.

More articles by:

Dr. Jeffrey D. Pugh is Assistant Professor of Conflict Resolution at the University of Massachusetts-Boston and Executive Director of the Center for Mediation, Peace, and Resolution of Conflict (CEMPROC), based in Quito-Ecuador.

bernie-the-sandernistas-cover-344x550
August 19, 2019
John Davis
The Isle of White: a Tale of the Have-Lots Versus the Have-Nots
John O'Kane
Supreme Nihilism: the El Paso Shooter’s Manifesto
Robert Fisk
If Chinese Tanks Take Hong Kong, Who’ll be Surprised?
Ipek S. Burnett
White Terror: Toni Morrison on the Construct of Racism
Arshad Khan
India’s Mangled Economy
Howard Lisnoff
The Proud Boys Take Over the Streets of Portland, Oregon
Steven Krichbaum
Put an End to the Endless War Inflicted Upon Our National Forests
Cal Winslow
A Brief History of Harlan County, USA
Jim Goodman
Ag Secretary Sonny Perdue is Just Part of a Loathsome Administration
Brian Horejsi
Bears’ Lives Undervalued
Thomas Knapp
Lung Disease Outbreak: First Casualties of the War on Vaping?
Susie Day
Dear Guys Who Got Arrested for Throwing Water on NYPD Cops
Weekend Edition
August 16, 2019
Friday - Sunday
Paul Street
Uncle Sam was Born Lethal
Jennifer Matsui
La Danse Mossad: Robert Maxwell and Jeffrey Epstein
Rob Urie
Neoliberalism and Environmental Calamity
Stuart A. Newman
The Biotech-Industrial Complex Gets Ready to Define What is Human
Nick Alexandrov
Prevention Through Deterrence: The Strategy Shared by the El Paso Shooter and the U.S. Border Patrol
Jeffrey St. Clair
The First Dambuster: a Coyote Tale
Eric Draitser
“Bernie is Trump” (and other Corporate Media Bullsh*t)
Nick Pemberton
Is White Supremacism a Mental Illness?
Jim Kavanagh
Dead Man’s Hand: The Impeachment Gambit
Andrew Levine
Have They No Decency?
David Yearsley
Kind of Blue at 60
Ramzy Baroud
Manifestos of Hate: What White Terrorists Have in Common
Evaggelos Vallianatos
The War on Nature
Martha Rosenberg
Catch and Hang Live Chickens for Slaughter: $11 an Hour Possible!
Yoav Litvin
Israel Fears a Visit by Ilhan Omar and Rashida Tlaib
Neve Gordon
It’s No Wonder the Military likes Violent Video Games, They Can Help Train Civilians to Become Warriors
Susan Miller
That Debacle at the Border is Genocide
Ralph Nader
With the Boeing 737 MAX Grounded, Top Boeing Bosses Must Testify Before Congress Now
Victor Grossman
Warnings, Ancient and Modern
Meena Miriam Yust - Arshad Khan
The Microplastic Threat
Kavitha Muralidharan
‘Today We Seek Those Fish in Discovery Channel’
Louis Proyect
The Vanity Cinema of Quentin Tarantino
Bob Scofield
Tit For Tat: Baltimore Takes Another Hit, This Time From Uruguay
Nozomi Hayase
The Prosecution of Julian Assange Affects Us All
Ron Jacobs
People’s Music for the Soul
John Feffer
Is America Crazy?
Jonathan Power
Russia and China are Growing Closer Again
John W. Whitehead
Who Inflicts the Most Gun Violence in America? The U.S. Government and Its Police Forces
Justin Vest
ICE: You’re Not Welcome in the South
Jill Richardson
Race is a Social Construct, But It Still Matters
Dean Baker
The NYT Gets the Story on Automation and Inequality Completely Wrong
Nino Pagliccia
Venezuela Retains Political Control After New US Coercive Measures
Gary Leupp
MSNBC and the Next Election: Racism is the Issue (and Don’t Talk about Socialism)
FacebookTwitterRedditEmail