In a country which, before the start of Rafael Correa’s Revolución Ciudadana, had had seven presidents in 10 years, on average one every 18 months, Equador’s current president, Lenin Moreno, has everything to fear from the popular uprising which broke out all over the country on Oct. 3. The people are protesting the paquetazo, a package of anti-social measures demanded by the International Monetary Fund, which calls, among other things, for the elimination of state subsidies for fuel and the liberalization of the price of gasoline and diesel.
It was already clear by Monday that Moreno truly feared these protests, especially after the powerful Confederation of the Indigenous Nationalities of Ecuador (CONAIE) decided to participate. Moreno announced that the seat of government was being moved to Guayaquil, just as thousands of indigenous people and peasants from rural areas throughout the Sierra Andina were converging on the presidential palace in Quito, travelling on foot, on buses and on trucks. The demonstrators then proceeded to the National Assembly, occupying the building in a symbolic gesture.
The response by the police and the military was brutal: violent interventions against the protesters lasted until late evening, with tear gas canisters fired indiscriminately near the hospital where the wounded were being treated, as well as against the House of Culture building, where groups of indigenous people had taken refuge, including the elderly and children.
The official figures count at least three dead—according to the protesters, the body count could be much higher—with nearly 100 wounded or missing, and more than 600 protesters “arbitrarily detained for exercising their constitutional right to resistance,” said Jaime Vargas, the president of CONAIE.
In perfect ‘90s neoliberal government style, Moreno is trying to stop the rebellion by any means necessary. On Oct. 3, he decreed a state of emergency for a period of 60 days, later reduced to 30 days by the Constitutional Court. Then, he declared a curfew starting on Oct. 8, banning all movement from 8 p.m. to 5 a.m. in the vicinity of government buildings and other strategic areas—a measure typical of “a military dictatorship,” as CONAIE described it.
Then, Moreno only confirmed these suspicions by ordering a harsh crackdown against the protesters who defied the state of emergency and blocked roads across the country, proclaiming that the public mobilization will continue until the government backs down from eliminating fuel subsidies.
As a pretext for the repression, the government invoked various acts of looting and vandalism committed by persons unrelated to the indigenous and peasant movement, the true protagonists of the revolt, even though these movements have been weakened by a decade of attacks by the Correa government, which constantly complained about “left-wing radicalism, environmentalism and childish indigenism” being the greatest enemies of his “Citizens’ Revolution.”
The current president, however, has taken aim at Correa as well—in addition to Nicolás Maduro, the obligatory scapegoat for all right-wing governments—denouncing an implausible-sounding attempt by Correa to “destroy the democratic order.”
The United Nations has called on the government to avoid the excessive use of force and to ensure respect for the right to peaceful demonstration, along with an invitation to dialogue, which the government says it is willing to engage in, hinting that it could offer “measures to address the increase in the price of transport in rural areas, lines of credit for small farmers, community transport cooperatives and agricultural reactivation policies.”
It remains to be seen, however, whether these proposals will be enough for Moreno to keep his seat, considering the dizzying drop in popularity he had already suffered well before the announcement of the paquetazo, and even before the agreement signed in March with the IMF (for a three-year loan worth $4.2 billion), on account of his violent dismantling of the legacy of Correa, his predecessor, starting with a U-turn in terms of foreign policy which again positioned the country fully within the United States’ sphere of influence. Not to mention the accusations of corruption tied to the scandal of the so-called INA Papers, which have been hanging over Moreno since March.
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