human rights International

The Ghosts of Ecuador’s National Strike

(Image by Ana Gabriela Soria Morales)

By Javier Tolcachier / Pressenza

After 18 days of mobilisations throughout Ecuador, which had their final epicentre in Quito, the indigenous organisations signed an agreement with the national government, bringing to an end what they called the “first stage” of the strike.

A period of 90 days is now open in which compliance with the agreement will have to be verified. However, the country is far from achieving the peace touted by the government. Effective peace is unlikely to emerge if the current neoliberal orientation in the management of the state persists. Peace with justice that will have to overcome not only the plummeting welfare of the majority in a complicated international context, but also address the severe human rights violations produced by government repression.

In addition to the objective factors that stand in the way of this task, there are the ghosts that emerged during the strike, intangibles whose volume will have a strong impact in the weeks and months to come.

A ghost president

During the Paro, Guillermo Lasso was totally absent, except for short video appearances on national television. The banker in government did not attend any of the appointments required by the situation, but neither did he attend those provided for by law in the event of activating a removal process for “serious political crisis and internal commotion”, as stipulated in the second paragraph of Article 130 of the National Constitution.

The president sent Fabio Pozo, his legal secretary, to defend him before the legislature, while at the negotiating table with the indigenous movement, he was represented by government minister Francisco Jiménez, who had replaced the resigned Alexandra Vela in April.

Days earlier, another of Lasso’s ministers, retired general and now Interior Minister Patricio Carrillo Rosero, had opened the way to repression by applying the “proportional use of force” against the demonstrators. It is worth remembering that Carrillo had been Director General of Operations of the National Police during the National Strike of October 2019.

The presidential omni-absence was at first pallidly justified by an alleged Covid-19 contagion, later called into question by photographs posted on his twitter account that showed the president in jubilant embraces with the Interior Minister and other armed forces chiefs. The meeting took place the day after a strong repression against a march of indigenous women and students, and on the same day that the National Police threw tear gas bombs into the agora of the Casa de la Cultura Ecuatoriana, where hundreds of indigenous people were gathered in deliberation.

The ghosts of the past are present

The interruption of presidential mandates has powerful antecedents in the country. After the Revolución Juliana, between 1925 and 1948, 27 presidents passed through the country.

In 1952, Velasco Ibarra took office. He was Ecuador’s president five times, completing only his first four-year term. After long years of military dictatorship, Jaime Roldós Aguilera – elected in 1979 – was unable to complete his term either. He died in a dubious plane crash with his wife 21 months after taking office.

Later, popular pressure led Congress to remove Abdalá Bucaram, Roldós’ brother-in-law and elected in 1996, from office before he had even been in office for a year. His successor, Jamil Mahuad, of whom Lasso was “super-minister of the economy”, met the same fate just over a year after taking office.

Colonel Lucio Gutiérrez, who took office in 2003 after the coup that ousted Mahuad from the Carondelet palace, was himself forced out of office in 2005 after what he called the “Rebellion of the Outlaws” (a nickname with which he tried to disqualify the mob and the young people who took to the streets).

In all the uprisings since the national indigenous uprising of June 1990, the Confederation of Indigenous Nationalities of Ecuador (CONAIE), founded in 1986, has been a key player.

As was also the case in October 2019, in which, together with broad sectors of the population, the indigenous organisations were at the heart of the protest.

The root cause of all presidential replacements was almost always the same. The intrinsic contradiction of governments that promised social improvements for the people while at the same time defending the property of the power groups generally ended in the early termination of their mandates.

The ghost of the past came to life in the present, once again disappointing the false expectations of improvement that Lasso had spread prior to the second round of elections in April 2021, after Lenin Moreno’s calamitous turn to the right in the previous term.

This time, though, and by a slim margin, Lasso retains the presidency.

A ghostly government

Beyond the concrete achievements in the 10-point agenda set out at the beginning of the strike, the Ecuadorian people know that the grassroots and indigenous leaders twisted the government’s arm, leaving it extremely weakened.

This weakness was expressed institutionally in the result of the vote in the National Assembly in the course of the removal process initiated by the Union for Hope (UNES) bench. After three days of debate, the 47 deputies from the progressive sector, who voted unanimously in favour of dismissal, were joined by 33 parliamentarians – 23 of them from Pachakutik, the political arm of CONAIE, 4 dissidents from ID, 3 independents and even 3 ex-government supporters – to reach 80 votes in the affirmative. The 48 negative votes (including 14 from the Social Christian party and 9 from the Social Democrats, 5 independents and the rest of the ruling party’s bench (BAN)) and nine abstentions (3 from Pachakutik, 2 from ID, 2 from the PSC and two from the ruling party) prevented the 92 votes necessary to approve the dismissal.

The vast majority of the population celebrated the agreement reached and acknowledged the FORCE and fortitude of the indigenous resistance, and the mobilised contingent was greeted with cheers and thanks from residents of southern Quito as they set off on their return to their communities.

The exception were middle and upper-middle class sectors that adopted an openly classist and racist attitude, echoing the government’s proclamations reproduced by the hegemonic media, as a counterpart to the juicy publicity they receive from the government.

In this way, the government is thus caught on two fronts. If it chooses to continue aligning itself with local and foreign capital and the austerity measures dictated by the International Monetary Fund, it will face widespread popular discontent and an even more widespread rebellion than the one it has just faced. If, on the other hand, it takes a more moderate path, with fewer cuts and delaying its privatisation projects, it will come under enormous pressure from business and the financial sector. Even the media groups now at his disposal will turn their backs on him and tax evasion, “shell companies” in tax havens and mismanagement of state affairs, among other “news”, will once again come to the fore.

Thus, with strong opposition and the almost certain blackmail of the formations previously allied in parliament, he will be left with only the brute force of the armed institutions, which in the end will not want to pay the political cost of sustaining the unsustainable.

Clearing the ghosts of the future

The question that many Ecuadorians are surely asking themselves is what comes afterwards after Lasso’s failure, what alternatives can and should emerge for the country to return to a path of inclusion, human growth, solidarity and general well-being.

Is it possible to think of a Historic Pact, similar to the one that now aspires to remove them from barbarism and humanise Colombia? If so, there is no doubt that a broad alliance of these characteristics would have among its main vectors the forces loyal to the Citizen Revolution and the indigenous movement, strengthened and without a dent in its power to mobilise, although divided in its political leadership.

However, there are powerful ghosts that appear when imagining such a possibility. Ghosts linked to the severe misunderstanding that ended the relationship between Rafael Correa’s government and a large part of the organised indigenous sector. Ghosts that also have to do with the historical cultural, socio-economic and lifestyle gap between the coast, the highlands and the Amazon, and between the country’s rural and urban centres, but also with the corporate and prebendary way in which the different social sectors have tried to advance in the unilateral improvement of their situation.

To re-imagine a future free of these ghosts, the only possibility is to reconcile, to unite the divided, to build bridges and to construct a great social front similar to the one that allowed the drafting and approval of the Montecristi Constitution. A front in which today the participation, ideas and sensitivity of the new generations will also be fundamental, together with the vital feminist drive, as well as the inclusion of organisations and groups from different sectors.

In order to form this heterogeneous mosaic with sufficient force not only to win elections, but also to build with a certain solidity a new political project centred on human solidarity, it will surely be necessary to overcome mistrust and discard the aspirations of hegemony and centralism on the part of any particular sector. For which, in turn, it will be essential to add a good dose of generosity in favour of the whole and at the same time work on transforming the inner landscape of militants and leaders, far removed from resentment or revenge and based on the principle of treating others as one wants to be treated.

It is very likely that there are already leaders thinking and feeling that this is the best alternative and perhaps already trying to activate that direction.

Javier Tolcachier
Javier Tolcachier

Javier Tolcachier is a researcher from the World Centre of Humanist Studies, an organism of the Humanist Movement. Mail: Twitter: @jtolcachier