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The Policeman Cometh:Yesterday’s insurrection by the police is over, but the results are far from certain. October 2, 2010

Posted by rogerhollander in Ecuador, Latin America.
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Gerard Coffey

http://lalineadefuego.wordpress.com/2010/10/01/the-policeman-comethyesterday%e2%80%99s-insurrection-by-the-police-is-over-but-the-results-are-far-from-certain/#comments

Quito . 1st October

Yesterday’s insurrection by the police is over, but the results are far from certain.

It felt strangely like a film, a very long film. It was exciting, at times dangerous, and had a good ending. The good President (Rafael Correa) was rescued after a gun battle between the army and the police, returned triumphant, and denounced the evil ex President (Lucio Gutierrez) as being the influence behind police units that took him hostage. So at ten o‘clock, when it was all over, I switched off the television and went to bed.

This morning it doesn’t seem quite so clear cut . On the radio I can hear talk about the next time, about the police and the military joining up with the civil servants affected by the new legislation that supposedly sparked yesterday´s insurrection. A friend warns me: “in Latin America “, he says “these semi coups are often followed by real ones”. He’s probably thinking about Chile in 1973. It was a long time ago though, and things have changed. Maybe. His words are worth pondering.

On the radio I can hear a repeat of yesterday’s  pronouncements by  the head of the joint military command, General Ernesto Gonzalez. He’s saying that the fault lies with the imposition of the legislation. Correa is not mentioned by name, but it’s evident that he’s the one implicated. General Gonzalez also suggests that the legislation be amended or shelved. It’s hardly a ringing endorsement of the government or a condemnation of the police. On another station, someone asks why the military took so long to act. We don’t know. It could have been nothing more than logistics. But the question is valid. It took from the time for the General’s declaration, around three in the afternoon, until about eight at night for the special forces to get to the hospital where the President was being held.

Once there, it has to be said that they did their job well. There was a lot of shooting. A lot. In total the confrontation lasted about five hours. Some members of the military were taken hostage by the police. But there was little bloodshed  (only two police and one soldier died- More recent figures but the overall total at 8 dead and 193 injured). The president was successfully rescued, ‘carried out like a corpse’ as he put it later. And if anyone seriously doubted that this was an attempted coup (at least by some elements of the police), then the long drawn out gun battle needed to get Correa out of the hospital must have put those reservations to rest. There seems no other explanation. This was not the result of a dispute over piece of legislation.

Today, there is some police presence on the streets, but little evidence of the military apart from the odd helicopter flying overhead. Things are quiet. Relief is the general sentiment. People are talking, exchanging stories. commenting on the events of the day before: the looting and bank robberies in Guayaquil; the robberies in Quito, where two banks were also broken into; the aggression of the police. A friend who took part in the march to the hospital where Correa was being held, says he´s never seen so much tear gas. I had my own stories. I was knocked over when I tried to intervene to save a man who being attacked by about ten police; I later had to escape when police charged with guns drawn and firing live ammunition into the air, as far as we could tell. There wasn’t much point in hanging about to make sure.  So we all ran, like hell.  I saw one man lying on the ground surrounded by a few friends. He looked seriously injured (he now appears to have died). There was no way to know; at that moment the police reinforcements arrived: a phalanx of motorcycles that chased the crowd into the park. I took shelter on the other side of the street.  My neighbor has his own account. He’s about 65, works as a carpenter´s assistant and can only be described as having humble origins. He tells me he was in the main square until eleven at night listening to the President when he returned triumphant. “We said we were going to stay and die there or wait till Correa came back” he tells me.

I was also there, but earlier in the day. The square was full, and most of the people were like my neighbour, working class, although that’s a bit of a misnomer. Most of them likely don’t have full time work, are sub employed as they say. The same thing couldn’t be said for the people I met a little later outside the National Assembly. They were evidently protesting and the red flags led me to think, somewhat naively, that they were Correa supporters. But no. These were judicial workers, also affected by the new Civil Service legislation, and they were also angry, and all well dressed. The flags belonged to the Marxist Leninist party and its political wing, the MPD, which seemed to be behind the demonstration. I asked one woman if they supported the police. She said yes. The world was off its axis. I shook my head and walked away. On television  I saw images of other MPD supporters confronting  ‘a palos’ as they say, a group of Correa supporters.

For Correa this is part of the problem. In his four years in office he has made a lot of changes , mainly for the good, but also a lot of enemies. He has never courted the social movements and they’re not on his side. Despite what the woman said to me outside the National Assembly it seems unlikely that the unions, the indigenous groups, the environmentalists , the majority of teachers , or even the majority of civil servants, actively support the police. There is general agreement that they are dangerous, often in league with thieves and recently the subject of accusations of Human Rights violations made by the Truth Commission. But these groups definitely don’t like Correa that much.  His major support is amongst the poorest least organized sectors, and that could be a bit of problem if it comes to another confrontation.

A lot of people have been affected by Correa’s confrontational, steamroller style. He´s a man in a hurry. And that causes problems. But because of it there have major positive changes. He far outshines the other do-nothing governments I’ve know. The country is no longer the banana republic it was for example in the time of President Bucaram, in the mind nineties. But the opposition, of whom many previously spent a lot of time calling for governability, doesn’t seem to understand that in a democracy the ruling party implements its agenda, and there is little the rest can do about it except shout. Or maybe they do understand. They just don’t like it. Which is fine, but even for them actions such as yesterday’s can hardly be called democratic. The police have no business taking control of the streets.

For their part the media are calling for more democracy, more dialogue, although it’s hard to understand what that means, unless you take it as a call for Correa to implement what the opposition wants. And for better or worse, ´dialogue´ is not Rafael Correa´s strong point.  As for the agents of law enforcement, no one seems sure of what will happen. What do you do with a group of armed and dangerous people in uniform?  In the long term the rebellious elemants, the kidnappers, have to cleared out and dealt with. But  in the short term it’s hard to imagine thatmuch can, or even should, be done. No one wants a repeat of yesterday, and that is still a possibility. It´s still a delicate situation. There is undoubtedly a lot of resentment. There is also the question of relations between the police and the military. The police will undoubtedly feel aggrieved that their ‘legitimate’ protest was put down by the army. But if the police do decide to take to the streets again, there is a feeling that the support of the military may not be that firm the next time around.

The most important point is that government is back in control. Plans will likely include a large scale march of support for the President, bringing people in from all parts of the country.  Correa himself is still very popular nationally, with approval ratings over sixty percent , and this may help to dissuade any further troublemaking.  But things do need time to cool down.  And for the time being at least, a more rational, less confrontation approach would seem the wisest course of action.

Ecuador: A Philosophical Analysis December 23, 2008

Posted by rogerhollander in Ecuador Politics, History, Government, Culture, Ecuador Writing, Ecuador: A Philosophical Analysis.
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 (My political writing, I freely admit, has a schizophrenic character.  When I am attempting to place an article in a mainstream publication, I have no choice to try to “lay it between the lines.”  My major achievement in this respect was the oped piece of mine on free trade published by the Los Angeles Times in October of 2005.  In writing to “family and friends,” I am much more free to be explicit about my political revolutionary socialism, but I tone it down there as well – don’t want to turn people off with Marxist terminology [sadly, and for reasons which are too complicated to go into here, this is the reality].  However, I often write for the Marxist-Humanist periodical, “News and Letters,” and it is here where I feel under no compulsion to censor myself.  See for yourself the difference in style and content in these various efforts.)

 

ECUADOR ANALYSIS (June 2003) for News and Letters

 

What is occurring in Ecuador today is a classic example of the fate of philosophically rudderless progressive political movements.  It is characterized by the confusion and bickering within the ranks of the governing coalition (the Patriotic Society Party, organized by Gutiérrez, and Pachakutik, the political wing of the Indigenous movement,), but, above all, by the opportunism of the Right and its capacity to exploit philosophic debility through cooptation.

 

Colonel Gutiérrez’s dramatic and decisive electoral victory of November 2002 was nothing less than an expression of massive popular discontent with the neo-Liberal status quo.  His position as a viable presidential candidate in the first place arose directly and exclusively from his support of the aborted popular coup d’etat of January 2000, that was the culmination of decades of intense political organizing within the Indigenous communities.  The uprising was in response to a government that had overseen a major banking collapse which caused the loss of capital equal to the nation’s annual GNP and that was in the process of accelerating the implementation of the IMF’s economic plan for the country.  The demands of the movement (which was lead by the Indigenous and campesino communities but included the support of labor and other progressive social organizations) included a moratorium on payment of the external debt, and end to privatization, freezing utilities costs, fundamental restructuring of the nation’s political institutions through popular assemblies, and the reclaiming of sovereignty over the military base at Manta, which is in the hands of the U.S. military.

 

Both Pachakutik, which was in formal electoral coalition with Gutiérrez, and the Marxist-Leninist backed Movement for Popular Democracy (MPD), which backed the Gutiérrez candidacy, based their support on written and signed agreements that reflected the demands of January 2000.

 

Gutiérrez’s drift to the right began immediately after his stunning victory in the first electoral round (the pundits had him coming in fourth or fifth).  As with so many progressive politicians who begin to taste real power, he felt the immediate need to “assure” the investing community that had nothing to worry about from a Gutiérrez presidency.  Many of his supporters, with the naiveté that is a product of philosophical vagueness, saw this as a necessary “tactical” maneuver.  They should not have been surprised, however, when his first act as president was to worship at the shrine of Bush and the IMF.

 

Five months into the Gutiérrez presidency, both the government and, to a degree, the Indigenous and social movements, are in a state of disarray.  There have been scandals, nepotism, corruption, ministerial resignations, and a total of thirty-one strikes and work stoppages that have included teachers, public health workers, civil servants and oil workers in the public sector, and workers in agriculture and transportation in the private sector.

 

The advancement of the neo-Liberal economic agenda and the alignment with Bush and Uribe on the Colombia question are now fixed policies.  The pathetic ideology that Gutiérrez employs to mask his treasonous adventure speaks of including all Ecuadorians in the sharing of power, again a traditional approach when so-called progressives take power (e.g., Papandreou in Greece, Mitterrand in France, the NDP in Ontario, Canada). Thus he has given the socially oriented ministries (education, health, social welfare, etc.) to the progressives and the economic ministries (finance, international trade, etc.) to the Right (the chief of whom is Mauricio Pozo, Minister of the Economy, longtime Central Bank functionary and neo-Liberalism true believer).  Guess who has all the power, influence and budget.

 

There has been some bitter sweetness to all this.  Nina Picari of Pachakutik, a prominent and respected Indigenous leader, is Secretary of State, to my knowledge the first Indigenous woman ever to hold such a position anywhere.   The sweetness is to see an Indigenous person in traditional dress, representing a nation on the international scene, where she is taking leadership on the question of human right for Indigenous peoples.  She is no Colin Powell.  The bitterness comes from the fact that she lends credibility to a corrupt government that is certain to taint her own credibility in the future and contribute to disunity within her own movement.  The same can be said of long time Indigenous leader and fighter, Luis Macas of Pachakutik, who as Minister of Agriculture is making attempts to stop the flow of communal lands to agribusiness; and Wilma Salgado, who, as head of the banking insurance entity, is taking concrete steps to bring a degree of justice to those who lost their life savings.

 

Those who integrate themselves with apparently progressive governments or popular fronts usually do so based upon the naïve believe that they can do more “good” from within than from without.  What they end up achieving is confusion and conflict within the movements they represent.  They fail to recognize that it is the masses in motion, not leaders from above, that initiate fundamental social change.  In effect, they separate themselves not only from their initial base support, but also from libratory philosophy.

 

Marx spoke to this in his scathing critique (Critique of the Gotha Program) of the unification of the two German socialist tendencies (one of which was considered to be Marxist) based upon bourgeois and reformist principles with respect to the questions of labor, nationalism and the state; Marx re-enunciated the essential themes of true liberation from the oppression of capital: “the need to uproot the state machinery, the state form, to pose an international not a national viewpoint, the vision of the nonstate to be, ‘from each according to his ability, to each according to his needs,’ and the inseparable relation of theory and organization …”[i]  The adoption of

 

programs of contradictory and incorrect principles render such tendencies which adopt them at

best irrelevant and at worst counter-revolutionary.

 

Pachakutik has recently reaffirmed its support of and participation in the Gutiérrez government. 

It is doubtful, in the light of those who have the real power within the government, that this will be

sustained much longer.  However, the longer it is, the greater the damage to popular movements.


[i] Gogol, Eugene, “The Concept of Other in Latin American Liberation: Fusing Emancipatory Philosophic Thought and Social Revolt,” (Lexington Books, 2002) p. 363.  I highly recommend this important book by the former managing editor of News and Letters.  It takes a sweeping view of the Latin American scene, and speaks to the various dead end paths taken by failed revolutionaries, from Cuba to Nicaragua to Central America, etc.

 

 

 

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