The abortive military-police coup in Ecuador,
which took place on September 30, has raised numerous questions about the
role of the US and its allies among the traditional oligarchy and the
leftist social movements, Indian organizations and their political parties.
Spoke persons for Goldman Sachs and the Council of Foreign Relations referred to the police and military power grab against the democratically elected government as a self-induced “political crises” of the President.
While the coup was underway the “Indian” movement
launched a manifesto condemning the government, while the
“Indian” party Pachakutik supported the ouster of the President and backed the police coup
as a “just act of public servants”.
The factual question of
whether their was a coup or not, is central to deciding whether the
government was justified in repressing the police uprising and whether in
fact the democratic system was endangered.
The air force - or at least those sectors collaborating with the police - seized the airport in Quito, concerted actions seizing and blocked strategic transport networks. President Correa was assaulted and seized and kept hostage under police guard by scores of heavily armed police, who violently resisted the Special Forces who eventually freed the president resulting in scores of wounded and ten deaths.
Clearly the leaders of the
police uprising had more in mind that a simple “protest” over cancelled
bonuses - they sought to overthrow the president and were willing to use
their firepower to carry it off. The initial economic demands of public
sector employees were used by the coup leaders as a springboard to oust the
The only exception was Washington - whose first response was not to join in the condemnation but to wait and see what would be the outcome or as presidential spokesperson Philip Crowley announced “we are monitoring events”, referring to the uprising as a “protest” challenging the government.
When Washington realized that the coup was actively opposed by
the Ecuadorian public, all the Latin American governments, the bulk of the
armed forces and doomed to failure, Secretary of State Clinton called Correa
to announce US “backing” for his government, referring to the coup as merely
an “interruption of the democratic order”.
The response of top military officials in the army were by and large opposed to the coup, except perhaps in the air force which seized the principle airport in Quito, before handing it over to anti-drug units of the police force.
The anti narcotic police were in the forefront of
the coup and not surprisingly were under intense US training and
indoctrination for the past five years.
Latin American regimes unanimously rejected the coup fearing a coup multiplier effect in the region, in which other successful coups (after last year’s in Honduras) would encourage the military and police to act in their countries. The memories of the recent past in which the military dismantled all representative institutions and jailed, tortured, killed and exiled political leaders was a key factor in shaping Latin America’s resounding rejection.
Secondly, the existing political order benefits the capitalist
class, in almost all of Latin America and provides the bases for political
stability and elite prosperity. No powerful mass movements threaten
capitalist socio-economic hegemony, which might require the economic elite
to back a coup.
mainly party loyalists. Others supported his “anti-imperialist” measures
(expelling the US military base from Manta) or were defending democratic
institutions even as they have become critical of his recent policies.
From 2006-2008, Ecuadorian military and police trainees numbered 931, 526 of whom were incorporated in the “counter-drugs programs”.
It was precisely the anti-drug sector of the police which played a major role in seizing the airports in Quito during the abortive coup. The US certainly had plenty of motives for the coup. Correa came to power by ousting pro-US client Lucio Gutierrez and decimating the oligarchical parties who were responsible for dollarizing the economy and embracing Washington’s free market doctrine. Correa called into question the foreign debt, declining to pay debts incurred under fraudulent circumstances.
Most of all Correa was an ally of Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, a member of ALBA and a strong opponent of Colombia, Washington’s main ally in the region. Ecuador’s policy weakened Washington’s strategy of “encircling Venezuela” with hostile regimes. Having already backed the successful coup against Honduras President Zelaya, an ally of Chavez, Washington had everything to gain from a military coup which ousted another member of ALBA.
Washington is pursuing a “triple strategy” of,
The leadership of the Indian movement varied in its response to the coup.
The most extreme position adopted by the near moribund electoral party Pachacutik (US aid recipient) actually endorsed the police coup and call on the masses to form a “united front”, a call which fell on deaf ears.
bulk of the Indian movement (CONAIE) adopted a complex position of denying
that a coup was taking place, yet rejecting the police violence and setting
forth a series of demands and criticisms of Correa’s policies and methods of
governance. No effort was made to either oppose the coup or to support it.
In other words, in contrast to its militant anti dictatorial past, CONAIE
was virtually a marginal actor.
Once elected President, he put in practice some of his major electoral promises: evicting the US from its military base in Manta; rejecting foreign debt payments based on illicit accounts; raising salaries, the minimum wage, providing low interest loans and credit to small business. He also promised to consult with and take account of the urban social and Indian movements, in the lead up to the election of a constitutional assembly to write up a new constitution. In 2007 Correa’s list running with his new party Alianza Pais (the country alliance) won a two thirds majority in the legislature.
However facing declining revenues due to the world recession, Correa made a sharp turn to right. He signed lucrative contracts with multi-national mining companies granting them exploitation rights on lands claimed by indigenous communities without consulting the latter, despite a past history of catastrophic contamination of Indian lands, water and habitat.
When local communities acted to block
the agreements, Correa sent in the army and harshly repressed the
protestors. In subsequent efforts to negotiate, Correa only heard his own
voice and dismissed the Indian leaders as a “bunch of bandits”, and
“backward elements” who were blocking the “modernization of the country”.
In the same
way Correa imposed new laws on university governance, which alienated the
professoriate, administration and students. Equally damaging to Correa’s
popularity among the organized sectors of the wage and middle classes, was
his authoritarian style in pushing his agenda, the pejorative language he
used to label his interlocutors and his insistence that negotiations were
only a means to discredit his counterparts.
As a result Correa fell between two chairs:
As a result, Correa so alienated the unions and the Indian and social movements that he was only able to secure very limited amount of “street power” in closing down the economy to thwart the coup.
Equally important, the US and its collaborators saw in his declining organized support and the growth of social protest, an opportunity to test the waters for a possible coup, via their most dependable collaborators in the police and to a lesser degree in the air force.
The police uprising was a test run, encouraged to proceed, without any overt, commitment, pending its success or failure. If the police coup secured sufficient military support, Washington and its civilian political oligarchs could intervene, call for a “negotiated outcome” which would either oust Correa or “turn him” into a “pragmatic” client.
In other words, a “successful” coup would eliminate another Chavez
ally, but even a failed coup would put Correa on notice for the future.
They stood alone without glory or success.
Lacking national leaders, or even a coherent strategy, they were put down in
a matter of hours. They misjudged the willingness of the US to commit, once
it became clear that the coup makers lacked any resonance among the military
elite and were totally inept. What may have started as a coup ended as a
comic opera with a brief shoot-out with the military at a police hospital.
One who started with immense popular backing, promising
to finally fulfill the demand of the campesinos for land reform, the Indians
demand for sovereignty to negotiate over mineral riches and urban labors’
demands for just remuneration, and ended returning to the Presidential
Palace protected by military armored carriers.
The entire success of the center-left regimes has been based on their ability to subsidize and promote agro-mineral foreign and domestic capital while increasing employment, wages and subsistence payments (anti-poverty programs).
This ‘political formula’ has been underwritten by the boom in demand from Asia and other world markets and by historically high commodity prices.
When the crises of 2008 broke, Ecuador was the weakest link in Latin America, as it was tied to the dollar and was unable to ‘stimulate’ growth or cushion the economy. Under conditions of crises, Correa resorted to repression of the social movements and trade unions and greater efforts to secure support from petro-mining multi-nationals.
Moreover, Ecuador’s police and military was much more vulnerable to infiltration by US agencies because of large scale funding and training programs unlike Bolivia and Venezuela which had expelled these agencies of subversion. Unlike Argentina and Brazil, Correa lacked a capacity to “conciliate” diverse sectors of social movements through negotiations and concessions.
Of course, the penetration of the Indian
communities by imperial funded NGO’s promoting “separatism” and identity’
politics did not make conciliation easy.
Even the Chavez regime in Venezuela has lost a great deal of popular support because of neglect of essential services (public safety, garbage collection, delivery of water, electrical power and food delivery) because of corruption and incompetence. Over time, the center-left can no longer depend on “charismatic” leaders to compensate for the lack of structural changes.
The regimes must sustain the improvement of wages and salaries and delivery of basic services in an ambience of ‘social dialogue’.
The absence of continuous social reforms, while agro-mining elites prosper,
opens the door for the return of the right and provokes divisions in the
social coalitions supporting the center-left regimes. Most important the
implosion of the center-left provides an opportunity for Washington to
subvert and overthrow the regimes, reverse their relatively independent
foreign policy and reassert its hegemony.
The center-left regimes - except Venezuela - have continued to participate in all joint military programs. The center-left has not transformed the state. Equally important it has promoted the economic bases of the pro-US Right via its agro-mineral export strategy.
It has ignored the fact that political stability is temporary and based on a balance of social power resulting from the popular rebellions of the 2000-2005 period.
center-left ignores the reality that as the capitalist class prospers, as a
result of center-left agro-mineral export strategies, so does the political
right. And as the wealth and political power of the export elites increase
and as the center-left turns to the Right, as has been the case with Correa,
there will be greater social conflict and a new cycle of political
upheavals, if not by the ballot box then via the bullet - via coups or via
The absence of a socialist alternative, the fragmentation of the social movements, the embrace of “identity politics”, have severely weakened an effective organized alternative when and if the center-left regimes go into crises.
For the moment most “critical intellectuals” cling to the center-left in hopes of a “left turn”, of a political rectification, rather than taking the difficult but necessary road of rebuilding an independent class based socialist movement.