News today of a police revolt against Ecuadorian president Rafael Correa is unsettling. National police are upset over cuts to their salary and benefits, and a protest against Correa seems to have erupted into something much more serious.
The Christian Science Monitor (linked above) is reporting that Correa was roughed up and tear gassed, and had to take refuge in a nearby hospital. As word spread, police across the country apparently took over their stations, and were joined by conservative elements in the Army.
Correa straight up is calling the events a coup attempt. The last twenty years in Ecuador have witnessed a succession of never-finishing-full-term presidents. And this moment is as dramatic as any of those. The Guardian reported the events thusly:
The drama was sparked by a vote in congress on Wednesday which cut the benefits of police and members of the armed forces. The response was swift and underlined Ecuador’s reputation as South America’s most volatile country.
On Thursday morning about 150 men in uniform, thought to be air force members, overran the landing strip at Quito’s main airport, forcing flights to be cancelled.
Hundreds of soldiers and police took over barracks in Quito, Guayaquil and other cities. They also set up roadblocks out of burning tyres that cut off access to the capital. Others occupied the congress, shouting “respect our rights!” and “long civil war!” Smoke wafted over Quito and sporadic looting was reported. At least two banks and several supermarkets were reportedly ransacked.
Correa went to a regimental barracks to try to negotiate with protesters but was surrounded and jostled and forced to flee after a tear gas canister was fired at him. Some of those who shoved him were police in full uniform. TV pictures showed a man in a tan suit punching the president and trying to yank a gas mask off his face.
Correa was then led away, still wearing the mask. The 47-year-old leftist leader, who recently underwent knee surgery, leaned on a crutch and was later put on a stretcher. A government helicopter tried to evacuate him but was unable to land. Spirited to the hospital, he denounced the mutiny. “They fired gas on us – on the president of the republic. This is treason to the country, treason to their president.”
I’m struck by the last line in the first quoted paragraph, portraying Ecuador as South America’s most volatile republic. In the very early 1990s, when I first started going to Ecuador, there was always a sense of, almost, national pride that the country had never indulged in the political excesses that the 1970s and 1980s witnessed in the rest of the continent. Though there is plenty of evidence of state terror, on the whole the country never fully embraced the national security state model of its continental neighbors, and still has never had the levels of social and political violence that Colombia experiences to this day.
But, Correa is not seen as a friend and ally to the economic interests of New York and London, so I guess that somehow makes Ecuador the region’s most volatile country?
The 1990s and the 2000s were not kind to the popular sectors in Ecuador. A robust indigenous movement made its presence known in 1990, and has existed in rough tension with the various political forces of the country ever since. But, the damage of the Washington Consensus, continued dependence on the petroleum, high prices after dollarization combined with suppressed wages, political instability caused by a truly corrupt political class, etc. combined to keep the country on a constant knife edge.
It’s hard to imagine a case where tear gassing the president of one’s country can’t be considered a coup. Let’s just hope that things stabilize quickly, and the suspension of civil rights and martial law (declared today by Correa) will be rescinded quickly.