Sunday, October 03, 2010

Uprising in Ecuador

Sources: Correa acusó a un ex presidente de tramar el golpe de Estado en su contra A Strike Agaisnt Democracy ¿Sabe por qué se desató la crisis en Ecuador? Entérese aquí Hija y primo de Lucio fueron parte del comando de rescate Ecuador President, Hostage of Mutinous Police Freed by Elite Army Forces Unasur Emergency Summit in Buenos Aires in Support of Correa and Democracy Ecuador's Correa Asserts Control as Police Chief Quits Ecuador's political instability: 8 presidents in 13 years Ecuador’s President Injured in ‘Coup’

Last Thursday, September 30, Ecuadorian President Rafael Correa spent 12 hours in a hospital in the capital city, Quito. He claims this was a result of a failed coup attempt, while others claim it was nothing more than a consequence of popular protests escalating too far. Tracing the exact cause of the event is as difficult as characterizing the event. The protests were staged by police and military members as a direct response to the promulgation of a new law that the police believe will cut their benefits packages dramatically.

The national assembly recently passed the Ley Orgánica del Servicio Público, but it was partially vetoed by the president. The law sought to change the standards for receiving promotions and retirement benefits. The complaints arise from a section of the law that would have eliminated many benefits for those serving the government for 15-38 years, including changes to social security payments, the elimination of many Christmas bonuses, and a new rule allowing the government to pay a portion of workers’ pensions with government bonds instead of hard currency. The law offset those losses by increasing salaries, so that someone currently earning $1,907/month will earn $2,448/month under the new law. The national assembly tried to overcome the veto, but the veto received the support of 20 members—a sufficient number to block an override by the 124-member assembly. This was a victory for the president who is thought to be considering dissolving the national assembly because of its occasionally uncooperative nature (although his party controls a plurality of the body and a majority of the votes through party alliances)—a power he holds under the two-year-old Ecuadorian Constitution which only requires him to receive the approval of the Constitutional Court.

Those wishing to delve deeper into the crisis cite Correa’s decision to default on $3.2 billion worth of global bonds as the cause of the country’s current unrest. That decision has scared off foreign investment, which, combined with the global economic downturn and its depressing effect on global oil prices, has destabilized Ecuador’s economy. Ecuador is an OPEC member exporting nearly half of its oil to the U.S., making the country strapped for cash. It is precisely because of this position that the government now has to take measures to cut public spending like the law at issue here attempts to do.

President Correa’s troubles began when he left the presidential palace to confront some of the protesting police officers to negotiate the law at a police headquarters. From this point forward there is no definitive account of the events. At some point violence broke out during the negotiations that sent President Correa to the hospital next door for treatment. He claims he was a hostage in the hospital as it was surrounded by an angry mob, but doctors inside the hospital claim that the situation was much less tense and that Correa is exaggerating the events for political purposes.

Correa immediately denounced the event as a failed coup attempt and went on to blame former coup leader and president (who was ousted in a coup), Colonel Lucio Gutiérrez for the coup, though he is currently in Brazil to observe the October 3 presidential elections. Gutiérrez’s brother, a national assembly member rejected the claim saying that Correa’s rescue team included Gutiérrez’s cousin and daughter and demanded proof that Gutiérrez and his party were behind the event. Gutiérrez himself rejected the accusation, saying that it was true that he wanted to depose Correa, though only through the democratic process. The chief of police resigned because of the incident and Correa has declared a state of emergency.

Nearly all the continent’s leaders rushed to Buenos Aires, Argentina for an emergency meeting of the Union of South American Nations (UNASUR) where they unanimously condemned the event as a coup and promised to prevent a repeat of the situation that occurred in Honduras following the coup in June of last year. Ecuador’s historical and current political rival Peru offered some of the strongest denunciations of the event while vowing to protect democracy in the region.

For now Correa still holds power, although tenuously. The event may push him towards dissolving the national assembly, allowing him to rule by decree until a new assembly is voted in, but the president himself would face a recall election through that process as well. It is also possible that the event could strengthen his power as the country comes to the support of its president so as to show its support for democracy. More likely is that the country that has seen eight presidents in the last thirteen years will remain uneasy with tensions remaining high for the foreseeable future. Only time will tell.

1) How do you think the situation in Ecuador will play out in the foreseeable future?
2) Latin America nearly unanimously denounced the coup in Honduras last year while the U.S. mostly stood on the sidelines and did little to reverse the effects of that coup (most Latin American governments wanted to do whatever was necessary to reinstate the deposed president). The U.S. government did not hesitate in expressing its support for President Correa and Ecuador’s democracy, though Correa is rather antagonistic towards the U.S. What does this say about the U.S.’s policy towards Latin America?

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