Ecuador: US-backed coup is crushed by the people
Defeat of the coup
On Thursday 30th September news broke of a coup attempt in Ecuador’s capital city Quito against the country’s president, Rafael Correa. On the back of a protest sparked by a new law on civil service pay and promotion, police across the country had been encouraged by opposition forces to stay in their barracks, neglecting their duty to maintain social order. Intervening personally, the president went to the main police barracks in Quito to reason with the police and explain the legal reforms in person. There he met with a violent reaction: Correa was jostled, shots were fired, he was sprayed with tear gas and a number of combat grenades exploded nearby. In short, he narrowly escaped assassination.
Under these circumstances the president exhibited remarkable courage and presence of mind, standing in full public view at a window in the barracks to face down the mutiny. He told the police, “If you want to kill the president here I am, kill me! Kill me if you’re not happy. Kill me if you are brave. But we will continue with one policy, one justice, dignity, and we will not take one step backwards.” Finding the mutineers deaf to reason, Correa donned a gas mask and, with his bodyguards, took refuge in a military hospital. The streets around the hospital were then sealed off by rebel police, assisted by thugs in plain clothes armed by the opposition.
However, the mutineers besieging the president in turn rapidly found themselves besieged by tens of thousands of angry Quito citizens who took to the streets to defend the Presidential palace and do battle with the rebels, braving tear gas grenades and other missiles in their efforts to save their president and prevent the subversion of Ecuador’s democracy. Finally, patriotic military forces arrived to escort Correa to the presidential palace and end the coup attempt, which had resulted in the reported loss of five lives.
Coup, what coup?
The imperialist response to these events was curious. Had the coup proved successful, as was tragically the case in Honduras last year with the US-sanctioned ousting of the democratically elected president Zelaya, then we can be sure that, after a ritual murmur of concern about the irregularity of the proceedings, the new facts on the ground would rapidly be portrayed as ‘inevitable and probably for the best’. With a nod and a wink from Hillary Clinton to Lucio Gutierrez, the waters could be left to close quietly over democracy in Ecuador.
In confirmation of this we need only glance at Honduras, now enduring the shame of living under a US-backed government. Honduras is now a crisis-ridden society in which the assassination of journalists and political activists is a regular occurrence. Its comprador government has failed to win recognition from either Ecuador, Brazil, Argentina or the collective organisation of UNASUR (Union of South American nations), despite all of Washington’s threats and cajolery. Such is the fate which US imperialism and its creatures desire for the people of Ecuador.
However, a coup that is successfully resisted is a different kettle of fish, as Washington discovered to its cost in Venezuela, where the struggle for national independence and democracy grew stronger after the failure to topple Hugo Chavez in 2002. Instead of slinking back into the shadows, the imperialist puppet-masters found themselves caught in the full glare of political exposure, thanks to the timely defeat of the coup they had so sedulously cultivated. The political lessons thereby learned by the people of Venezuela were of immeasurable benefit to the national democratic struggle.
Washington is now reliving the nightmare humiliation it suffered back then in Venezuela, and is doing its best to escape the consequences of its actions by smoothing things over and pretending that nothing much has really happened. A week after the coup failed, US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton felt obliged to offer belated formal support for the obvious legitimacy of Correa’s presidency, whilst offering some unsolicited and “even-handed” advice urging “all Ecuadoreans to come together and to work … to reach a rapid and peaceful restoration of order.”
Meanwhile the bourgeois press has been doing everything in its power to bury the story as fast as possible, even casting doubt on there having been a coup at all in the first place! On 1st October the BBC’s Ecuador correspondent Irene Caselli offered the opinion that “talking about a traditional coup in Ecuador, or even a coup at all, might be going too far”, and other reports suggest that nothing more serious had occurred than some “spontaneous” protests by aggrieved public servants culminating in some minor “roughing up” of the president. Given the contrast with the media outcry which greeted the symbolic protest by the Iraqi journalist who lobbed a shoe at George Bush’s head, for which this patriot suffered incarceration and torture, it seems that a US president who commits war crimes is more deserving of respect than the president of a Latin American country who stands up for the dignity and independence of his country.
Made in the USA
Despite all these efforts to pretend that the coup never happened, or that it did happen but should not be taken seriously, or that it should be taken seriously but imperialism had nothing to do with it, the humiliating truth crawled out of the wreckage: the coup had been deadly serious and it had Washington’s fingerprints all over it. As Mark Weisbrot posted on the Huffington Post on 7th October (‘Attempted Coup in Ecuador Fails, But Threat Remains’), “to anyone who watched the prolonged, pitched gun battle on TV last night, when the armed forces finally rescued President Correa from the hospital where he was trapped by the police, this did not look like a protest. It was an attempt to overthrow the government. The coordinated actions in various cities, the takeover of Quito’s airport by a section of the armed forces – all of this indicated a planned coup attempt. And although it failed, at various points during the day it was not so clear what the outcome would be”.
Radio Havana joined up some of the dots of the plot to foist regime change on Ecuador (‘Sinister long arms behind the coup in Ecuador’). They noted that just a week before the coup, the opposition leader Lucio Gutierrez – a disgraced former president brought down by popular protests in 2005 – paid a visit to Florida to address the “American Institute for Liberty and Democracy”. This outfit is run by the Cuban renegade and terrorist Carlos Alberto Montaner, a man who does services for the CIA, is lionised by the Miami Mafia and stays in close contact with the Republican party. He was one of the most vocal supporters for the coup against President Zelaya in Honduras whose kidnapping and deportation he publicly supported. Clearly at home in this nest of vipers, Gutierrez “pointed to the need to oust President Correa to resolve what he called a ‘crisis’… there were sections of the army that were unhappy with what he called the proximity of the Armed Forces with Colombian rebel groups. Sitting close to him at the time of his speech was Colonel Mario Pazmiño, former head of military intelligence. Pazmiño has been accused of having links with the CIA and was discharged after the Colombian incursion into Ecuador in March 2008, when Colombian rebel leader Raul Reyes was killed. Among the audience who carefully listened to ex-President Gutierrez’s lecture were notorious Republican leaders, closely linked to the U.S. extreme-right, plus the usual counterrevolutionary fauna that always rants and raves against Cuba and Venezuela. When Montaner introduced the speaker, calling him ‘a true democrat’, he said that Gutierrez was the only one who could take Ecuador out of the crisis into which, according to him, 21st century socialism has plunged the nation.”
Further light on the CIA’s machinations is provided by Nil Nikandrov in an article posted on Global Research on 5th October (‘Ecuador Coup Attempt Engineered by the CIA’). He reports that “The subversive activity targeting president Correa is coordinated by Heather Hodges who was appointed as the US ambassador to Ecuador in August, 2008. She did a job in Guatemala during the reign of its bloody dictator Rios Montt and served as deputy director of the US State Department’s Cuban division which is known to be tightly interwoven with the CIA. Mrs. Hodges also worked with USAID [United States Agency for International Development] in several countries and served as the US ambassador to Moldova where her mission was to alienate the country’s leadership from Russia and to organize a colour revolution with the help of pro-western NGOs and the energetic youths from the US Peace Corps. At the moment her trainees are employed by the CIA stations in Venezuela, Bolivia, and Ecuador… Hodges was instructed to launch the operation aimed at weakening Correa’s positions and – in the longer run – toppling him. USAID alone made a $40m financial infusion into the cause, former president Lucio being the key figure in the plot. Gutierrez’s disastrous presidency ended with his escape from the country. Following an amnesty, he challenged Correa in the 2009 presidential race which he explainably lost… According to the coup blueprint drafted by the CIA, Gutierrez was to announce the removal of ‘dictator’ Correa and the transfer of authority to a provisional government in a televised address. The plan additionally included the disbandment of Ecuadorean parliament and the organization of snap elections. The conspirators, however, were dispersed by the defenders of the legitimate president and failed to clear Gutierrez’s access to TV.”
It is clear from such facts that it is the friends of imperialism who seek to precipitate crisis, not the guardians of the country’s democracy and sovereignty.
What is it about the present government and presidency that excites such wrath in certain sections of Ecuadorean society? A brief retrospect of Correa’s record in office should help to explain the line of demarcation between his allies and his opponents. Correa was first elected at the end of 2006, winning a large popular vote for his left-wing platform. That initial support has held up well, judging from the 67% approval rating the president registered in Quito shortly before the abortive coup.
Under his presidency spending on health care has doubled and other areas of social spending have also seen substantial increases. $3.2 billion of foreign debt was successfully repudiated on the grounds that the debts had been fraudulently contracted. Despite the global crisis, Ecuador is expected to show growth of around 2.5% in 2010 – hardly grounds for the “crisis” scaremongering indulged in by Gutierrez and his pals in Miami.
On the international front, Correa won warm popular support for his closure of the US airbase in Mante, his espousal of close relations with Nicaragua and Venezuela, and his opposition to US efforts to turn Colombia into a centre for counter-revolution in Latin America.
Mark Weisbrot, from whose Huffington Post article the above figures are taken, notes that not all is plain sailing however. For one thing, Ecuador adopted the dollar back in 2000, which means there is no governmental control over the exchange rate. This consideration, says Weisbrot, means that Correa “has had to use heterodox and creative methods to keep the economy growing in the face of external shocks”. Clearly, maintaining Ecuador’s independence cannot be divorced from keeping her solvent, so decisions have to be taken which do not suit all sections of society. It looks like featherbedding of the police department is one thing that had to go.
In actual fact, in the course of Correa’s presidency police salaries have gone from $700 a month to $1,200 a month, bringing their pay up to more than double the average wage. For some in the higher reaches of the police service, however, such a relatively privileged status within society cannot compensate for the determined manner in which the government has severed the corrupt connections with the US Embassy which previously compromised the integrity of the service. Elsewhere in his Global Research piece, Nil Nikandrov notes that, “Over the past several years the police of Ecuador was courted by the US Embassy which no doubt had its own interests in mind. Money from funds run by the FBI, the CIA, the DEA, and other US agencies was routinely poured into bonuses for the police top brass and operatives, equipment for various police divisions, etc. The cooperation became so cordial that occasionally the US intelligence community used Ecuador’s police and army intelligence service to keep under surveillance the country’s politicians, journalists, and others regarded as potential opponents of the US. Ecuador’s intelligence services rushed information to their US partners during the crisis that hit the country’s relations with Columbia after the latter bombed FARC camps in the territory of the former, leaving their own government blind to details of the situation. The January, 2007 advent of Correa’s patriotic administration largely put an end to the abnormal arrangement.”
The indigenous question
Sadly however it is not alone from such quarters as the police, local oligarchs and disgruntled elites that opposition to some of the government’s policies has come. From the outset the government has sought to unify Ecuador, paying a good deal of attention to the question of the rights and responsibilities of her indigenous peoples. Across Latin America it was the spontaneous struggle of Amerindian tribes against the wholesale privatisation and plunder of natural resources by multi-national companies which helped create the conditions favouring the current wave of left-leaning governments standing for democracy and independence. In recognition of this Correa oversaw the drafting of a new constitution in 2007/8 which established Ecuador as a “plurinational” state, guaranteed indigenous rights and pledged to protect the environment.
Yet the anti-Correa quote that was most eagerly picked up by the BBC and others and relayed all over the world was that from Lourdes Tiban, leader of the Confederation of Indigenous Nationalities of Ecuador (CONAIE) and an erstwhile supporter of the president. At the precise moment when the coup was disintegrating under the pressure of popular support for Correa, setting off alarm bells all the way back to Miami and Washington, the hapless Tiban threw the reactionaries a lifeline. She told the BBC that the violence was “the result of months of protests all of the social sectors that have been trampled on by the government,” adding that “Correa can’t act as a victim right now and say there’s been a coup attempt. There’s been no coup attempt whatsoever. What’s happening now is his responsibility, he’s calling for a confrontation.” As the elected representative of the Ecuadorean people was narrowly escaping with his life, Tiban was to be heard blurting: “If all the president needs is to go home and rest his leg – we’ve never asked for the president to resign but if the government falls, it will be Correa’s own fault out of his ignorance for not having wanted to listen to the Ecuadorean people.”
Clearly, Ecuador faces a real dilemma over how best to manage her natural wealth. Back in 2007 when Tiban still supported the government, she proposed at the UN that the international community, in accord with its professed concern for the environment, should make funds available to preserve certain areas like the Yasuni national park. Such places were the site of rich bio-diversity and were also the tribal homelands of many people. They were also the site of vast natural wealth in the form of unexploited oil resources. In exchange for preserving this natural heritage on behalf of the world (and also the livelihoods of its inhabitants), Tiban proposed that the international community should compensate Ecuador for the potential oil revenues she must needs forgo in order to preserve these sites intact.
Given that imperialism does not give a damn about the livelihood of indigenous peoples, has no interest in assisting the economic independence of Ecuador and regards the resources of the entire planet as fair game for imperialist plunder, it is not surprising that the response to Tiban’s proposal was less than lukewarm. This left Ecuador with two possible roads to travel. The road chosen by the elected leadership is to try and balance the material needs of the country as a whole with the livelihood of indigenous areas. The road followed at present by CONAIE is to demand an embargo on all oil extraction in the tribal zones, even in the absence of the international compensation denied by the international community. This is what is meant by CONAIE’s repudiation of what it calls the “extractive model”.
This latter approach blurs the distinction between unfettered imperialist plunder of Ecuador’s resources on the one hand and the regulated development of these resources that ties in with Ecuador’s overall economic progress as a single – albeit “plurinational” – sovereign country. A good proportion of the increase in social spending has been funded by revenues from Ecuador’s own resources, to the benefit of Ecuador as a whole, and whilst curbs must be put upon the relative influence of multi-nationals in the economy, this complex struggle is not assisted by those who simply reject the “extractive model” out of hand and cultivate the illusion that salvation lies in reversion to more primitive modes of existence and abstention from all industrial development. Whilst such fantasies may comfort some green reformists and “noble savage” fans in the West, they are of no practical help to those countries trying to get out from under the Anglo-American imperialist net and take control of their own resources and development. Rest assured that the rights of indigenous people will be so much chaff in the wind should a breach in the unity of the democratic forces allow Uncle Sam yet again to trash the sovereign rights of these countries.
Of far greater assistance to the struggle are the relations of mutual support now being established between those democratic Latin American countries which have signed up to the ALBA alliance (Bolivarian alternative for the Americas). The presidents of eight of these countries came together in Ecuador last June. Such meetings are not like the big imperialist jamborees organised by the G8 or the World Bank, well-deserving of the mass popular protests which greet them at every turn. On the contrary, each of these democratically elected presidents spoke for the progressive forces of his own country in a common endeavour to improve life for all the people of the region. Yet CONAIE took offence that no special seat had been reserved for them at the table, pretending that this omission was a grave attack upon “plurinationality”. On this pretext three thousand protestors were mobilised to march through the city which was hosting the event. Protestors broke through the police barrier which was protecting the visiting presidents, and in one incident a policeman was robbed of his handcuffs.
The government’s response (some leaders were detained on public order charges) was condemned by CONAIE as heavy-handed and authoritarian. Yet whilst no doubt these massed ranks of protestors – in many cases probably the same people who took part in the important struggles which cleared the way for today’s democratic government – believed themselves to be acting in the interests of grass roots democracy, the irresponsibility of their leaders in compromising the security of the ALBA meeting – attended as it was by the eight men who Washington would most like to see swept away from its “backyard” – is glaring. The rights of the Amerindian tribes, just as the rights of all citizens of Ecuador, can be secured and advanced only through uniting the country, acting in concert with fellow countries in the region, and jealously guarding the right of Ecuador to carve its own path without seeking the approbation of the West.
Least of all will the indigenous cause be served by the meddling of reformist busy-bodies in the West, incapable of fighting imperialism at home but only too willing to hand out duff advice to those engaged in genuine revolutionary struggle across the planet. Correa was weighing his words carefully when he spoke of the mischief which can be done by those in the West who dabble in Ecuador’s affairs. In his national radio address, he had a timely word to say about some of the NGOs. “These little gringos come here with their bellies full to convince the indigenous that they shouldn’t extract oil, nor operate mines. They give them money, achieve their goal and then go, leaving the indigenous more poor than ever before.”
Long live the unity of the Ecuadorean people!
Down with the coup-makers and their imperialist masters!
Solidarity with Ecuador!