The Ecuadorean people came into the streets by the thousands to confront the national police and prevent a coup and possible assassination of President Rafael Correa on Sept. 30. A section of about 800 of these police had kept the president captive for 14 hours at the Police Hospital in Quito before military units brought him back to the presidential palace.
Like the rightist coup that kidnapped and overthrew legitimate Honduran President Manuel Zelaya in June 2009, this latest coup attempt targets a country that chose to join the Bolivarian Alliance of Our Americas (ALBA). It was a blow directed at the progressive political developments taking place in Latin America that challenge U.S. imperialist interests.
U.S. ambassador to Ecuador, Heather Hodges, is a notorious right-wing anti-Cuban diplomat once closely associated with the genocidal Ríos Montt dictatorship in Guatemala. In 2008 she defended the U.S. role when Ecuador’s Defense Minister Javier Ponce revealed that U.S. diplomats were involved in corrupting the police and officers from the armed forces.
Most progressive analysts attribute the Sept. 30 coup’s defeat to three factors: first, the mass response in Ecuador; second, the immediate international support for constitutional rule from the progressive governments in Venezuela, Bolivia and Cuba followed by all others in Latin America along with mass mobilizations throughout South America; and third, Correa’s courageous refusal to bow to the police threats.
Since details of this outrageous act have been broadly publicized, this article will try to present the most important developments that will help put the attempted coup in the context of political developments in Ecuador and Latin America. Vice president of the Ecuadorean Workers Confederation (CTE), Edgar Sarango, gave Workers World some of that context in an Oct. 4 interview.
“The CTE has been firm about the latest developments,” said Sarango. “The CTE follows the political position of the Communist Party, and as you saw, we were on the streets responding against those opportunist sectors that wanted to take power through a coup.
“We are very clear about the position, the character of the Citizens’ Revolution and President Correa; we understand it is not a truly leftist government, but a reformist government with clear intentions to go forward to the left. It is up to us, the social movements, the left parties, to support and above all, organize so that the real conditions are set so that the government does not go to the right, because it is a government that although not left, has not closed the doors to the sectors from the left.
“In that sense, we, the left, must do the political-organizational work. We are very clear about that.”
It was an assassination attempt
Now for the events of Sept. 30.
Using the excuse that a new law changed some of their salaries and benefits, a sector of the national police rebelled against Correa’s government on Sept. 30. Correa went to the Police Regiment building in an attempt to negotiate with these disaffected police. Police then rioted, shouting insults at Correa. They called for his resignation and praised former President Lucio Gutiérrez.
Many Ecuadoreans consider Gutiérrez a traitor, because he had run on a progressive platform opposing neoliberal policies, but almost immediately reversed himself, embracing a free trade agreement with George Bush. A mass uprising ejected Gutiérrez in 2005.
An angry police mob surrounded Correa and his small team of bodyguards as they left the building, throwing tear gas canisters at his head and attempting to suffocate him by removing his gas mask. While the president was walking with a cane because of a recent knee surgery, they also tried to hit his knees. Correa’s bodyguards were able to rush him to the hospital, where he was surrounded by rioting police who threatened to kill him.
When people learned what had happened, thousands began gathering in front of the Carondelet Presidential Palace, hoping to liberate him. Many also defied pepper and tear gas to surround the rioting police at the hospital.
The army was slower to respond. Correa had said he wanted the army to hold off to prevent a bloodbath, but that the generals stood silently for so long while their President was in real danger indicates ambivalence. Correa’s personal guard and hospital personnel prevented any attack on him.
Only as night fell, did some 600 elite troops storm into the hospital while the police fired at them. Police continued shooting at an armored van removing Correa, hitting it with five bullets and killing one of his guards when a powerful shell perforated his bulletproof vest. As of Oct. 4 CNNE reported 10 deaths, including a young Correa supporter.
As the police were rioting in Quito, rightist political and social groups around the country were calling for a revolt against the government. They closed Quito’s international airport and the main highways to the capital. Privately owned media misreported the events. One of Lucio Gutiérrez’s lawyers tried to silence the government’s national TV, storming into TV Ecuador’s offices and breaking their glass doors.
Gutiérrez, who has opposed Correa since the latter won the 2006 presidential elections, called for the dissolution of the National Assembly and the holding of immediate presidential elections. Correa was re-elected in 2009.
But in spite of this climate of chaos, the people around the country rallied in support of their president, passionately defending the Constitution and their Revolución Ciudadana (Citizens’ Revolution).
Popular and international response
The governments in Latin America quickly condemned the coup attempt. UNASUR called an emergency meeting for Oct. 1. The Organization of American States met urgently in Washington. Condemning the coup were not only Cuba, Venezuela and Bolivia, but even the rightist regimes in Peru and Colombia were constrained to criticize the police revolt. Washington, albeit lukewarmly, was also forced to condemn the actions against Correa.
Throughout Latin America people held immediate demonstrations in many countries, including a massive one in Venezuela. Organizations in many countries sent messages of support to Correa, including one from the International Action Center.
At a press conference at the United Nations Ecuadorean Mission a day later on Oct. 1, attended by members of the Spanish language media, some 85 members of the New York metropolitan area Ecuadorean and Latin American communities and four Ecuadorean consuls from New York, Connecticut and New Jersey condemned the police actions, calling them a coup attempt. Members of the International Action Center’s Latin America and Caribbean Solidarity Committee participated.
The Ecuadoreans distributed copies of their Constitution, which guarantees the right of Ecuadoreans to control their own land, as well as guaranteeing the rights of the Indigenous peoples. The Ecuadorean Constitution is a small booklet imprinted with the statement, “from the Citizens’ Revolution with infinite love.”
After the press conference, 100 people marched to the United Nations, where they stood in front of the General Assembly building waving Ecuadorean flags and chanting, “¡El pueblo unido, jamás será vencido!” (The people united will never be defeated!) and “¡Correa, amigo, el pueblo está contigo!” (Correa, friend, the people are with you!)
Back at the Ecuadorean Mission to the United Nations, Ambassador Francisco Carrión told some of those invited, “History was made today in Ecuador. The people were unafraid. They demonstrated their love for their president and their nation. A coup cannot happen again in Ecuador,” he said.
“Democracy and constitutional law have prevailed, and the Ecuadorean people were vigilant in the face of this threat to their sovereignty. Those who are responsible will be punished.”
Why the coup attempt?
The current government of Ecuador is on imperialism’s hit list. Just like ALBA members Bolivia in 2008, Venezuela in 2003 and Honduras in 2009, the pro-U.S. oligarchy in Ecuador wants no part of a participatory democracy where the government aids the most dispossessed sectors of society. They want a regime working directly for the oligarchy’s or transnational corporations’ interests.
Since Correa took office, there have been important and progressive changes in Ecuador. The government cancelled the Pentagon’s contract for the use of a military base in Manta. It enacted a new very progressive pro-people constitution. And Correa has refused to accept a “free trade” agreement with the U.S. Ecuador even joined the ALBA.
U.S. imperialism still holds much power in Ecuador as the country’s main trading partner and financer and trainer of Ecuador’s police force. Washington’s CIA-related organizations like USAID have given millions of dollars to so-called “pro-Democracy” organizations in Ecuador that seek the ouster of Correa. The Voice of America has many affiliated stations throughout Ecuador that feed disinformation about the government to the poor and the Indigenous masses, trying to turn them against President Correa.
Whether or not Washington was “actively” involved in this attempt, its support for the Honduran coup and the current government of illegitimate Porfirio Lobo has encouraged the oligarchy and right-wing forces in Ecuador and in the rest of the region.
NYC WW correspondent Heather Cottin contributed to this article.
Next: U.S. role in Ecuador.
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