Coup d'etat underway in Ecuador?
Ecuador's President Rafael Correa declared a state of emergency Sept. 30 as the National Police launched a rebellion over austerity measures that cut their benefits, erecting roadblocks with burning tires on the highways, occupying their barracks in all the major cities, and seizing the landing strips at the Quito airport. When Correa approached a police barracks to attempt to negotiate, officers shoved him and fired tear gas at him. Video footage showed men, including uniformed officers, manhandling the president and attempting to yank a gas-mask from his face. Correa, who recently underwent knee surgery, was still walking with a crutch. "This is a coup attempt," Correa said in a TV phone interview from a hospital, where he was taken for the effects of gas inhalation. "They're trying to get into my room, maybe to attack me. I don't know. But, forget it. I won't relent. If something happens to me, remember my infinite love for my country, and to my family I say that I will love them anywhere I end up." Correa later appeared at an upper floor window, shouting to a crowd of supporters who had gathered below, "I'm not taking one step back!" Ripping his necktie loose to reveal his chest, he added, "Gentlemen, if you want to kill the president, here he is—kill him if you have the guts!"
As Correa supporters converged at the hospital, many threw rocks at police officers stationed outside, who responded with tear gas. Responding to a summons by Foreign Minister Ricardo Patiño to "rescue" the president, Correa supporters also gathered outside the presidential palace. "[He] has said that there are people trying to get in from the roof and attack him," Patiño told the crowd. "I want to invite the brave people here below to go with us to rescue the president." At the palace, the pro-Correa crowd again faced off against police, who chanted, "The troops united will never be defeated!"
Patiño played down the populist element of the rebellion in comments to reporters. "This is not a popular mobilization, it is not a popular uprising, it is an uprising by the police who are ill-informed," Patiño told the TV network Telesur.
The state of emergency puts the military in charge of public order, suspending civil liberties and allowing soldiers to carry out searches without a warrant. Gen. Ernesto González, the army chief, pledged that the military remained loyal to Correa: "We are in a state of law. We are loyal to the maximum authority, which is the president." He also said that the officers involved in the rebellion "would have their rights respected" if they turn themselves in. But some 150 Ecuadoran Air Force troops were said to be involved in the occupation of Quito's airport.
Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez said that Correa's "life was in danger" and also called the rebellion an attempted coup. On Twitter, Chávez said, "They are trying to topple President Correa. Be on alert people of the Bolivarian Alliance!"
Members of Correa's own left-wing Alianza Pais, which holds a majority in congress, are blocking presidential bills aimed at cutting government costs. This has prompted Correa to weigh disbanding congress, a move that would let him rule by decree until new elections. Ecuador's new constitution, drafted by Correa's administration two years ago, allows the president to take this move, with approval of the Constitutional Court, following a declaration of political impasse. (The Guardian, AlJazeera, CNN, LAT, 26Noticias, Argentina, Sept. 30)
Ecuador's indigenous alliance, CONAIE, called a press conference to issue a statement opposing the police rebellion, but also harshly criticizing Correa: "A process of change, as weak as it may be, runs the risk of being overturned or overtaken by the right, old or new, if it does not establish alliances with organized social and popular sectors... While the government has dedicated itself exclusively to attacking and delegitimizing organized sectors like the indigenous movement, workers' unions, etc., it hasn't weakened in the least the power structures of the right, nor those within the state apparatus..." (Media Coop, Canada; El Espetcador, Ecuador, Sept. 30)
See our last post on Ecuador.