ECUADOR: PROTESTS OUST PRESIDENT; CONGRESS, JUDICIARY PURGED
from Weekly News Update on the Americas
PUBLIC OUSTS PRESIDENT GUTIERREZ
On April 19, some 50,000 Ecuadorans--including entire families with children--marched peacefully through the capital, Quito, from La Carolina park to Carondelet, the government palace. They carried Ecuadoran flags, sang the national anthem and chanted "Everyone out"--a demand for the removal of all the politicians and government officials, including President Lucio Gutierrez Borbua. (Servicio Informativo "Alai-amlatina," April 20; ALTERCOM, April 20)
Gutierrez had fired the entire Supreme Court on April 15; on April 18, the 100-member Congress voted 89-0 to ratify the court's dismissal and declare a "judicial vacancy" until agreement can be reached on a non-partisan mechanism for electing judges. Congress declined to invalidate the Supreme Court's April 1 decision to annul corruption trials against ex-presidents Abdala Bucaram (1996-1997) and Gustavo Noboa (2000-2003), and ex-vice president Alberto Dahik (1992-1995). The annulling of the trials, and the three fugitives' subsequent return to Ecuador, were the sparks that set off the current round of protests in Quito. (Prensa Ecumenica/Inter Press Service, April 19)
The government responded to the April 19 march, the largest so far, by ordering repression, sending 4,000 police agents into the streets with armored cars, rotweiler dogs, horses, high-pressure water hoses and hundreds of canisters of toxic gases. Pro-government snipers also fired at the crowd from the Ministry of Social Welfare building. The protests, and the repression, lasted through the night; at least 130 people were treated for asphyxiation from the gases, another 44 suffered other injuries, and dozens of people were arrested.
Photographer Julio Augusto Garcia Romero suffered respiratory failure from tear gas inhalation during the April 19 march; television cameras showed him yelling at police to stop the repression before he collapsed. He died later at the hospital. Garcia was originally from Chile, and had fled to Ecuador during Chile's dictatorship; he had worked for 30 years as a progressive journalist in Ecuador on popular education and communication projects. Another protester, a woman who was not identified in news reports, died after being run over by a military vehicle.
The police repression--in which the armed forces apparently did not participate--only caused the protests to radicalize. An April 20 day of protest for high school and university students was joined by thousands of others angered by the repression. After Gutierrez dismissed the protesters as "outlaws" (forajidos), the movement took up the label, calling itself the "revolution of the outlaws." (Asamblea Permanente de Derechos Humanos--APDH, Ecuador, April 19, 20; Alai-amlatina, April 20; ALTERCOM, April 20/05; Servicio Paz y Justicia del Ecuador, April 21; El Telegrafo, Guayaquil, April 20; Washington Post, April 20; Prensa Ecumenica/IPS, April 19; La Republica, Uruguay, April 21 from AFP)
Early on April 20, someone fired shots at Radio La Luna, the radio station which served as a media center for the protests. On April 19, the station received telephoned threats. (Organizacion Mundial Contra la Tortura--OMCT, April 20) On April 18, the station's signal was cut for several hours in the evening. The station's director, Paco Velasco, said he had to move his family out of Quito after they received death threats. Radio La Luna is part of a nongovernmental organization called the Popular Education Center, which maintains offices above the studio. (WP, April 20)
Progressive sources blame some of the violence on gangs of hired thugs organized by ex-social welfare minister Antonio Vargas--a former secretary general of Confederation of Indigenous Nationalities of Ecuador (CONAIE) who was expelled by that organization as a traitor--and his deputy, Bolivar Gonzalez. An arrest order has been issued for Gonzalez for allegedly ordering snipers to shoot at protesters from the social welfare building. (ALTERCOM, April 24)
CONAIE, which backed Gutierrez for the 2002 elections but broke with his government in May 2003, joined the Quito-based movement demanding his ouster and also organized protests in several provinces. CONAIE president Luis Macas said his organization would not negotiate compromises, and if Gutierrez is replaced, would continue to press its demands: for withdrawal from talks over a free trade treaty with the US; closure of the US military base in Manta; and rejection of "Plan Colombia," the US-backed military project in that neighboring country. (Prensa Ecumenica/IPS, April 19)
Nearly 1,500 indigenous people, members of the Federation of Evangelical Indigenous People of Ecuador (FEINE), arrived in Quito on April19 from various provinces of the country and gathered near the National Congress in support of Gutierrez, and to demand that the legislature come up with a solution to the crisis. (ET, April 20) Renan Borbua Espinel, a cousin of the president and head of the ruling Patriotic Society party in the important coastal city of Guayaquil, said he was sending thousands of pro-Gutierrez supporters by bus to the capital to "defend democracy and the Constitution." Quito Mayor Paco Moncayo, who backed the protests and called for Gutierrez to resign, sent city buses and dump trucks with sand to block entrances to the capital to keep out the Gutierrez supporters. (AP, April 20)
Around 10:30 AM on April 20, national police commander Jorge Poveda resigned. "I regret what happened yesterday," said Poveda, referring to the April 19 repression of demonstrators. "I cannot continue to be a witness to the confrontation with the Ecuadoran people. I am not a violent man," he said. (AP, April 20; Alai-amlatina, April 20)
Around 1 PM on April 20, Ecuador's Congress held a special session in the auditorium of the International Center for Higher Studies in Communication for Latin America (CIESPAL). The legislators voted to remove Congress president Omar Quintana, a member of the Ecuadoran Roldosista Party and ally of ex-president Bucaram. Then 60 of the 62 legislators present voted to remove Gutierrez from office--based on a constitutional clause that allows removal of the president for "abandonment of the position." Around 2PM, new Congress president Cynthia Viteri swore in Vice President Alfredo Palacio Gonzalez as Ecuador's new president. Palacio had broken ranks with Gutierrez shortly after the two were elected in November 2002. (AP, April 20; Alai-amlatina, April 20; ET, April 21)
Crowds of protesters quickly surrounded the CIESPAL building pressing demands that Palacio resign, Congress be dissolved, a Constitutional Assembly be convened; that there be no free trade treaty and no dollarization; and a new political model be created. Palacio told the crowd the political situation must be resolved via the existing electoral laws; he also promised that all the corrupt politicians would be jailed. (ET, April 21)
Right after the vote, soldiers abandoned the protective perimeter they had set up around Carondelet, while Adm. Victor Hugo Rosero, head of the armed forces joint chiefs of staff, announced at a news conference that the military had withdrawn its support for Gutierrez. "We cannot remain indifferent before the pronouncements of the Ecuadoran people," said Rosero. (AP, April 20; Alai-amlatina, April 20)
Around 2:30 PM, Gutierrez fled Carondelet palace in an army helicopter for the Quito international airport, which was closed. Demonstrators at the airport prevented him from boarding a small plane there, and forced him to flee again in the helicopter, this time for the La Balbina military base outside Quito. Interim attorney general Cecilia de Armas said an arrest order had been issued against Gutierrez for ordering repression against protesters. (AFP, April 20) Gutierrez finally took refuge in the Brazilian ambassador's residence, where he asked for political asylum. On the morning of April 21, the Brazilian government agreed to grant Gutierrez asylum, and began negotiating with Palacio to allow safe passage for Gutierrez to be flown to Brasilia. (WP , April 22)
Palacio agreed on April 22 to allow Gutierrez to leave for Brazil. Around 4:15 AM on April 24, when a crowd of protesters surrounding the ambassador's residence had finally thinned, Gutierrez managed to slip out through a back entrance of the residence. He and his family left the country on a Brazilian air force Boeing 737 and arrived in Brasilia seven hours later. (AP, April 24)
On April 21, Palacio swore in new cabinet ministers for the ministries of government, foreign relations, economy, foreign trade and defense. (ET, April 22) The new economy and finance minister, Rafael Correa, is reportedly a critic of dollarization, "free trade" pacts and International Monetary Fund (IMF) policies. (NYT, April 22) Apparently on the morning of April 22, new commanders were sworn in to head the armed forces and national police. (ALTERCOM, April 24)
The Organization of American States (OAS) held a special session of its permanent council on April 22 to address the crisis. In a resolution, the 34-member organization agreed to send a high-level diplomatic delegation to investigate whether Gutierrez' removal was constitutional. The resolution avoided any explicit recognition of Palacio's government. (AP, April 24; Miami Herald, April 24)
Weekly News Update on the Americas, April 24
ROOTS OF THE CRISIS
After three consecutive days of creative protests by thousands of Ecuadorans in the capital, on April 15 Gutierrez had declared a state of emergency in the Quito metropolitan area and dissolved the Supreme Court of Justice. The move sparked more and larger protests, with demonstrators calling Gutierrez a dictator and demanding the immediate departure of the government and the entire political class. The next day, April 16, Gutierrez backed down and revoked the state of emergency.
The current crisis erupted on Dec. 8, when a majority in Congress voted for a measure backed by Gutierrez which removed all the Supreme Court's judges and named new ones. The new court was supposed to be temporary; Gutierrez said he was forced to dissolve it again because Congress had failed to take the necessary measures to resolve the issue. But Gutierrez' communication secretary, Ivan Ona, said the Court was planning to issue some resolutions which would have "disturbed the country." Several opposition politicians said that Supreme Court president Guillermo Castro Dager was preparing to release some rulings favoring former bankers Roberto and William Isaias, who were charged with corruption.
The latest round of protests followed the April 4 decision of the interim Supreme Court to invoke a technicality in annulling corruption trials against ex-presidents Abdala Bucaram and Gustavo Noboa and ex-vice president Alberto Dahik, all three of whom had fled the country after being charged. Within days, all three had returned to Ecuador.
The mobilizations in Quito picked up steam on April 13 with a "cacerolazo," in which demonstrators banged on pots and pans, followed by a "reventon"--bursting of balloons--on April 14 and a "tablazo" on April 15, in which protesters made noise with pieces of wood. On April 16, protesters hurled streams of toilet paper at the main government building in a "rollazo," suggesting the need to wipe clean the excrement of corruption. Scheduled for April 17 was a "basurazo," in which demonstrators planned to dump garbage at the Congress building. Meanwhile, the city council of Cuenca announced an "escobazo" (loosely translated, a broom attack) for April 17 to "clean up the country." A local radio station in Quito, Radio La Luna, played a key role by spreading word of the mobilizations and opening up the airwaves to citizens who want to express their anger at the government.
CONAIE held campesino protests throughout the country; CONAIE leader Humberto Cholango said the protests could lead to a nationwide indigenous uprising. (El Mundo, Spain, April 16, 17; EFE, April 16; Ecuador Indymedia, April 16; Servicio Informativo "Alai-amlatina." April 5, 16)
Weekly News Update on the Americas, April 17
CONGRESS EXPELS 11 MEMBERS
On April 26, Ecuador's Congress expelled 11 of its 100 deputies for having betrayed their parties by backing ousted president Gutierrez Borbua's April 15 move to dismantle the Supreme Court. The expulsion was the result of a shifting of forces in the Congress and the formation of a new majority, an alliance of the Social Christian Party, the Democratic Left (ID) party, the indigenous Pachakutik party and others. The primary beneficiary of the expulsion is Pachakutik, which regains five deputy seats it had lost to "sellouts" who broke party ranks to back Gutierrez. The Social Christian Party regains two seats, and the ID gets one; the rest of the expelled deputies--plus several who resigned before they could be expelled--were from minor parties. The new majority then voted in ID deputy William Lucero as the new president of Congress.
The same day, April 26, it was reported that ousted ex-president Abdala Bucaram was back in Panama, where he lived for eight years before returning to Ecuador in April, after Ecuador's Congress declined to interfere with an April 1 Supreme Court ruling throwing out the corruption case against him.
Meanwhile, new president Alfredo Palacio had breakfast with the US ambassador on April 25 and told her that Ecuador will respect the agreement that allows the US to use the Manta air base for drug trafficking operations. The US will be able to keep its 400 troops at the base until 2009, said Palacio. An end to the US presence at the Manta base was one of the demands made by the protesters against Gutierrez. (La Jornada, Mexico, April 27)
Weekly News Update on the Americas, May 1
Weekly News Update on the Americas
See also WW4 REPORT #99
Reprinted by WORLD WAR 4 REPORT, May 10, 2005
Reprinting permissible with attribution