Ecuador: Coup attempt encouraged by Washington
Huge numbers of people took to the streets of Quito, demanding the liberation of their president.
By Mark Weisbrot
October 1, 2010 -- the Guardian -- In June of last year, when the Honduran military overthrew the social-democratic government of Manuel Zelaya, President Rafael Correa of Ecuador took it personally. "We have intelligence reports that say that after Zelaya, I'm next," said Correa.
On September 30, it turned out to be true. Some analysts are still insisting that what happened was just a police protest over possible benefit cuts that got out of hand. But to anyone who watched the prolonged, pitched gun-battle on TV last night, when the armed forces finally rescued President Correa from the hospital where he was trapped by the police, this did not look like a protest. It was an attempt to overthrow the government.
The co-ordinated actions in various cities, the takeover of Quito's airport by a section of the armed forces – all this indicated a planned coup attempt. And although it failed, at various points during the day it was not so clear what the outcome would be.
The government pointed a finger at a former president and army colonel, Lucio Gutierrez, and he was on television yesterday calling for the ousting of Correa. He accused the president of everything from supporting the Farc (the guerilla group fighting Colombia's government), to wrecking the economy.
The coup might have had a chance if Correa were not so popular. Despite his enemies in high places, the president's approval rating was 67% in Quito a couple of weeks ago. His government has doubled spending on healthcare (pdf), significantly increased other social spending, and successfully defaulted on $3.2bn of foreign debt that was found to be illegitimately contracted. Ecuador's economy managed to squeak through 2009 without a recession, and is projected to grow about 2.5% this year. Correa, an economist, has had to use heterodox and creative methods to keep the economy growing in the face of external shocks because the country does not have its own currency. (Ecuador adopted the dollar in 2000, which means that it can do little in the way of monetary policy and has no control over its exchange rate.)
Correa had warned that he might try to temporarily dissolve the congress in order to break an impasse in the legislature, something that he has the right to request under the new constitution – though it would have to be approved by the constitutional court. This probably gave the pro-coup forces something they saw as a pretext. It is reminiscent of the coup in Honduras, when Zelaya's support for a non-binding referendum on a constituent assembly was falsely reported by the media – both Honduran and international – as a bid to extend his presidency.
Media manipulation has a big role in Ecuador, too, with most of the media controlled by rightwing interests opposed to the government. This has helped build a base of people – analogous to those who get all of their information from Fox News in the United States, but proportionately larger – who believe that Correa is a dictator trying to turn his country into a clone of communist Cuba.
The US state department issued a two-sentence statement from secretary of state Hillary Clinton, who late Thursday urged "all Ecuadoreans to come together and to work within the framework of Ecuador's democratic institutions to reach a rapid and peaceful restoration of order." Unlike the White House statement in response to the Honduran coup last year, it also expressed "full support" for the elected president. This is an improvement, although it is unlikely that it reflects a change in Washington's policy toward Latin America.
The Obama administration did everything it could to support the coup government in Honduras last year, and, in fact, is still trying to convince the South American governments – including Ecuador, Brazil, Argentina and the collective organisation of UNASUR – to recognise the government there. South America refuses to recognise the Lobo government because it was elected under a dictatorship that did not allow for a free or fair contest. The rest of the hemisphere also wants some guarantees that would stop the killing of journalists and political activists there, which has continued and even got worse under the "elected" government.
As the South American governments feared, Washington's support for the coup government in Honduras over the last year has encouraged and increased the likelihood of rightwing coups against democratic left governments in the region. This attempt in Ecuador has failed, but there will be likely be more threats in the months and years ahead.
By Eva Golinger, translation by Machetera
October 1, 2010 -- Postcards from the Revolution -- The latest coup attempt against one of the countries in the Bolivarian Alliance For The People of Our America (ALBA) is attempt to impede Latin American integration and the advance of revolutionary democratic processes. The right wing is on the attack in Latin America. Its success in 2009 in Honduras against the government of Manuel Zelaya energised it and gave it the strength and confidence to strike again against the people and revolutionary governments in Latin America.
The National Assembly election in Venezuela, on September 26, while victorious for the Venezuelan United Socialist Party (PSUV), also ceded space to the most reactionary and dangerous destabilising forces at the service of imperial interests. The United States managed to situate key elements in the Venezuelan National Assembly, giving them a platform to move forward with their conspiratorial schemes to undermine Venezuelan democracy.
The day after the election in Venezuela, the main advocate for peace in Colombia, Piedad Córdoba, was dismissed as a senator in the Republic of Colombia, by Colombia’s inspector general, on the basis of falsified evidence and accusations. But the attack against Senator Córdoba is a symbol of the attack against progressive forces in Colombia who seek true and peaceful solutions to the war in which they have been living for more than 60 years.
And now, on September 30, was the dawn of a coup d’etat in Ecuador. Insubordinate police took over a number of facilities in the capital of Quito, creating chaos and panic in the country. Supposedly, they were protesting against a new law approved by the National Assembly on September 29, which according to them reduced labour benefits.
In an attempt to resolve the situation, President Rafael Correa went to meet with the rebellious police but was attacked with heavy objects and tear gas, causing a wound on his leg and tear-gas asphyxiation. He was taken to a military hospital in Quito, where he was later kidnapped and held against his will, prevented from leaving.
Meanwhile, popular movements took to the streets of Quito, demanding the liberation of their president, democratically re-elected the previous year by a huge majority. Thousands of Ecuadorans raised their voices in support of President Correa, trying to rescue their democracy from the hands of coup plotters who were looking to provoke the forced resignation of the national government.
In a dramatic development, President Correa was rescued in an operation by special forces from the Ecuadoran military in the late evening hours. Correa denounced his kidnapping by the coup-plotting police and laid responsibility for the coup d’etat directly upon former president Lucio Gutiérrez. Gutiérrez was a presidential candidate in 2009 against Correa, and lost in a landslide when more than 55% voted for Correa.
During today’s events, Lucio Gutiérrez declared in an interview, “The end of Correa’s tyranny is at hand”, also asking for the “dissolution of parliament and a call for early presidential elections”.
But beyond the key role played by Gutiérrez, there are external factors involved in this attempted coup d’etat that are moving their pieces once again.
Infiltration of the police
According to journalist Jean-Guy Allard, an official report from Ecuador’s defense minister Javier Ponce, distributed in October of 2008, revealed “how US diplomats dedicated themselves to corrupting the police and the Armed Forces”.
The report confirmed that police units “maintain an informal economic dependence on the United States, for the payment of informants, training, equipment and operations”.
In response to the report, US ambassador in Ecuador Heather Hodges justified the collaboration, saying “We work with the government of Ecuador, with the military and with the police, on objectives that are very important for security.”
According to Hodges, the work with Ecuador’s security forces is related to the “fight against drug trafficking”.
Ambassador Hodges was sent to Ecuador in 2008 by then-president George W. Bush. Previously she headed the embassy in Moldova, a formerly part of the Soviet Union. She left Moldova sowing the seeds for a “coloured revolution” that took place, unsuccessfully, in April of 2009 against the majority Communist Party elected to parliament.
Hodges headed the Office of Cuban Affairs within the US State Department in 1991, as its deputy director. The department was dedicated to the promotion of destabilisation in Cuba. Two years later she was sent to Nicaragua in order to consolidate the administration of Violeta Chamorro, the president selected by the United States following the dirty war against the Sandinista government, which led to its exit from power in 1989.
When Bush sent her to Ecuador, it was with the intention of sowing destabilisation against Correa, in case the Ecuadoran president refused to subordinate himself to Washington’s agenda. Hodges managed to increase the budget for USAID and the National Endowment for Democracy (NED) directed toward social organisations and political groups that promote US interests, including within the indigenous sector.
In the face of President Correa’s re-election in 2009, based on a new constitution approved in 2008 by a resounding majority of men and women in Ecuador, the ambassador began to foment destabilisation.
Certain progressive social groups have expressed their discontent with the policies of the Correa government. There is no doubt that legitimate complaints and grievances against his government exist. Not all groups and organisations in opposition to Correa’s policies are imperial agents. But a sector among them does exist which receives financing and guidelines in order to provoke destabilising situations in the country that go beyond the natural expressions of criticism and opposition to a government.
In 2010, the US State Department increased USAID’s budget in Ecuador to more than $38 million. In the most recent years, a total of $5,640,000 was invested in the work of “decentralisation” in the country. One of the main executors of USAID’s programs in Ecuador is the same enterprise that operates with the right wing in Bolivia: Chemonics Inc. At the same time, NED issued a grant of $125,806 to the Center for Private Enterprise (CIPE) to promote free-trade treaties, globalisation and regional autonomy through Ecuadoran radio, television and newspapers, along with the Ecuadoran Institute of Economic Policy.
Organisations in Ecuador such as Participación Ciudadana and Pro-justicia (Citizen Participation and Pro-Justice), as well as members and sectors of CODEMPE, Pachakutik, CONAIE, the Corporación Empresarial Indígena del Ecuador [Indigenous Enterprise Corporation of Ecuador] and Fundación Qellkaj [Qellkaj Foundation] have had USAID and NED funds at their disposal.
During the events of September 30 in Ecuador, one of the groups receiving USAID and NED financing, Pachakutik, sent out a press release backing the coup-plotting police and demanding the resignation of President Correa, holding him responsible for what was taking place. The group even went so far as to accuse him of a “dictatorial attitude”. Pachakutik entered into a political alliance with Lucio Gutiérrez in 2002 and its links with the former president are well known.
“PACHAKUTIK ASKS PRESIDENT CORREA TO RESIGN AND CALLS FOR THE FORMING OF A SINGLE NATIONAL FRONT
Press Release 141
In the face of the serious political turmoil and internal crisis generated by the dictatorial attitude of President Rafael Correa, who has violated the rights of public servants as well as society, the head of the Pachakutik Movement, Cléver Jiménez, called on the indigenous movement, social movements and democratic political organizations to form a single national front to demand the exit of President Correa, under the guidelines established by Article 130, Number 2 of the Constitution, which says: “The National Assembly will dismiss the President of the Republic in the following cases: 2) For serious political crisis and domestic turmoil.”
Jiménez backed the struggle of the country’s public servants, including the police troops who have mobilized against the regime’s authoritarian policies which are an attempt to eliminate acquired labor rights. The situation of the police and members of the Armed Forces should be understood as a just action by public servants, whose rights have been made vulnerable.
This afternoon, Pachakutik is calling on all organizations within the indigenous movement, workers, democratic men and women to build unity and prepare new actions to reject Correa’s authoritarianism, in defense of the rights and guarantees of all Ecuadorans.
The script used in Venezuela and Honduras repeats itself. They try to hold the president and the government responsible for the “coup”, later forcing their exit from power. The coup against Ecuador is the next phase in the permanent aggression against ALBA and revolutionary movements in the region.
The Ecuadoran people remain mobilized in their rejection of the coup attempt, while progressive forces in the region have come together to express their solidarity and support of President Correa and his government.
[This article first appeared at Eva Golinger's website, Postcards from the Revolution.]