QUITO – Ecuadorian police have detained almost 50 people for their alleged role in last week’s violent uprising by disgruntled cops, the first large-scale arrests in the wake of what President Rafael Correa labeled an attempted coup.
Interior Minister Gustavo Jalkh told Efe that most of the detainees are police who are being held in 24-hour preventive detention.
Also detained was a close ally of former President Lucio Gutierrez, Fidel Araujo, who can be seen in television footage of the start of the mutiny at Quito Regiment Number One.
“It’s a savage persecution. All due-process rights have been trampled upon,” the attorney for the detainees, Patricio Armijos, told reporters.
The government is trying to identify what it considers the focal point of the insurrection, a group of police “with no limits or scruples, with clear political ties, that doesn’t hesitate to kill, kidnap or torture,” the leftist president said Wednesday in a session with foreign correspondents at the presidential palace.
“We won’t allow these types of far-right paramilitary groups to be created in Ecuador,” he added.
Indeed, a main concern of the government is that a mass purge of the police will drive rogue officers to form illegal armed groups, a senior government official, who requested his name be withheld, told Efe.
Correa has denounced the existence of the so-called Police Armed Group, or GAP, which he said sent messages and posters to officers in the days prior to the revolt to stir up discontent.
The government did not detect this “disinformation campaign” prior to the uprising, the president acknowledged.
“The intelligence services failed,” said Correa, who added that he went in person to Regiment Number One because he believed the officers who had occupied those installations on the capital’s north side were merely staging a protest.
“We didn’t gauge the magnitude of the problem,” said Correa, who was roughed up while trying to reason with the rebellious police before being effectively held hostage at a nearby hospital for more than 12 hours until loyal police and troops rescued him amid a hail of gunfire from the mutinous cops.
He said Ecuador’s intelligence services had previously depended financially on the U.S. embassy and that his administration is acting autonomously in reconstructing those agencies.
He also linked Washington to a subversive core of police that he said is upset over investigations into human rights abuses and angered about the cutting off of some units’ ties with the U.S. embassy, adding that “those people received a lot of funds unofficially.”
However, Correa made it clear that the revolt “had nothing to do with the government of (Barack) Obama,” who, a U.S. official told Efe, telephoned the Ecuadorian leader Wednesday to express support.
Obama “reiterated the United States’ support for President Correa and the Ecuadorian democratic institutions,” the official said on condition of anonymity.
A state of emergency remained in effect Wednesday in Ecuador and soldiers were in charge of protecting the National Assembly and other institutions.
The police unit assigned to the legislature has been relieved of its duties because of suspicion it collaborated with the mutinous police.
The ostensible cause of last week’s rebellion was the National Assembly’s failure to override Correa’s veto of a measure exempting police and the military from an overhaul of public-employee pay.
While the plan, which became law Monday, eliminates various annual bonuses automatically paid to police, soldiers and other civil servants once they achieve specified levels of seniority, the government points out that cops have seen their base pay doubled since Correa took office in 2007.
One soldier and a civilian supporter of the president were killed by gunfire from the police rebels during the operation to rescue Correa from the hospital.
Nationwide, eight people died and 274 others were wounded in incidents related to the mutiny.
Correa has publicly blamed the Sociedad Patriotica party, founded by former President Gutierrez, for the rebellion, though the erstwhile head of state – living in exile in Brazil – denies any involvement. EFE