Ecuador: In the Aftermath of a Police Revolt
Ecuador is one of those nations that only catch’s the world’s attention when the government is overthrown; so about once a year. On September 30th Ecuador got its fifteen minutes for the year when rebelling police officers held the president hostage for half a day; but upon deeper examination a new, more violent and authoritarian pattern may be emerging for the Andean nation.
Ecuador changes governments so frequently in large part due to the power of the nation’s various social movements. When the current president, Rafael Correa, was elected in 2006 he was the nations 8th leader in ten years and not a single one had finished their term in office. Politicians are not well liked to say the least and inevitably they get caught with their hand in the cookie jar and are seen as corrupt. Because of Ecuador’s mountainous topography and experienced protesters it became an effective ritual for the protesters to block important roads and cut off sections of the nation from each other. Once the important roads were shut down and a few symbolic government buildings were occupied most presidents wouldn’t last very long. They would flee the nation and their government would collapse. The police would lob tear gas and the protesters would throw rocks, but for the most part these transitions of power were overwhelmingly non-violent and peaceful; almost routine.
Everything changed when Rafael Correa took office in January 2007. Correa was able to harness the energy of the social movements like no one before him and rode their wave of discontent to the presidency. In a nation that loathes politicians he quickly became a hero when, without debate or due process he started throwing out any elected official who dare step in the path of the ‘citizen’s revolution’. Fast forward to September 30th and eight people are dead and hundreds injured after the nations police and military turned their guns on each other when the military re-took the hospital Correa was being held in by the rebelling police. For nearly four years the president has remained the same, but everything else has changed.
The massive peaceful protests have in large part disappeared even as Correa’s popularity has slipped. The military budget has skyrocketed as Ecuador engages in one of the fastest military buildups in the hemisphere, and soldiers have had an increasing presence at the much smaller demonstrations that have begun to occur.
On September 30th a police protest against proposed pay cuts escalated manifold when the President himself went to their main barracks in the capital to give them a piece of his mind. This was not the first time Correa had taunted people who dared protest his government, but it was the first time the dissidents were armed. Speaking in front of a crowd of angry police Correa ripped open his shirt and dared the officers to shot him “if they were brave enough”. Minutes after this outburst the police did in fact start shooting; teargas. The president and his security detail retreated from the suffocating cloud into a nearby hospital, also within the police base. The group of angry officers followed and demanded Correa agree to shelf the proposed law before they would let him go. Dissatisfied police all over the nation walked off the job, set up blockades and occupied buildings in solidarity with the police holding the president.
Still communicating with the outside world, Correa urged his supporters to go out into the streets and re-take all the seized buildings from the police – and thousands heeded his call. He also repeatedly dared the police to shot him. Before the night-time raid ended the crisis with the blood of dissident officers, the nation seemed set to explode as the two armed sides faced off throughout the country.
The next day, with the military patrolling the streets a tense calm returned, but will it last? Correa has effectively ended the political instability of the nation, but at what cost? His confrontational style, unwillingness to compromise and increasing reliance on military force may also be ending the nation’s recent history of peaceful power transitions.
Tags: Ecuador , Correa , Revolt , Police , Dictatorship , Socialism , South America , Violent Protest
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