The current situation in Ecuador has numerous interconnections with the country’s recent past and with what is happening on a regional scale. Once again, Latin America is the scene of a fierce dispute where, beyond the many nuances that can be attributed to any heterogeneous social process, the guiding framework is the essential contradiction emerging between the broad popular sectors and the oligarchies that dominate these countries.
The Ecuadorian people also have, by way of comparison, the economic and living standards achieved by the country in the decade of the Citizen Revolution, which were rapidly degraded by the policies of former President Lenín Moreno and continued by current President Guillermo Lasso.
To shed some light on the current situation, we spoke with the Ecuadorian sociologist Irene León, who has followed the events closely. Irene is also coordinator of the Ecuadorian chapter of the Network in Defence of Humanity.
JENG: Ecuador is again shaken by strong protests, what is the root of this new cycle of popular struggle?
IL: Ecuador has been engaged in a popular strike for more than two weeks. It is a process that has managed to mobilize the country like never before. The main reason is that the government of the conservative Guillermo Lasso has sharpened the reinsertion of the nation into the dynamics of neoliberalism and neocolonialism. Mainly those that result from a blind adherence to all the demands of capital and, above all, to international financial institutions, such as the International Monetary Fund (IMF).
A government of, and for, financial capital has been enacted unequivocally. Even placing the interests of that sector in all the locations of power, as if they were priorities, or even as synonyms for the national economy. There is a frenetic pace of the return of private interests, usually transnational private interests, to strategic areas: oil, energy, telecommunications, food and others. The privatization of all public goods is also greatly accelerated, which despite their value are being auctioned under the assuredly neoliberal criteria of devaluing them as much as possible to later hand them over to the private sector for nothing. These are just a few examples of the accelerated dismantling of the public sector for the benefit of the private sector.
The protests today are articulated around Ten Points: fuel price reduction; economic relief to the more than four million families in debt through a debt moratorium of at least one year; fair prices for a group of basic products; employment policies and labour rights; a moratorium on new mining and extractivist concessions and payment of compensation for ecological damage; respect for the twenty-one collective rights of indigenous peoples; an end to privatization, especially in key, strategic sectors; price control policies that curb speculation; an urgent budget to attend to health and education, and security and protection policies to curb the wave of violence and drug trafficking in Ecuador.
JENG: How have the neoliberal measures taken by the government affected the public sector?
IL: We have a radical neoliberalism that has raged against the Ecuadorian people for the last five years, particularly during this last year, where none of the measures or decisions taken by the government have to do with popular needs. And I’m not exaggerating. On the contrary, the government has done everything it can to make life precarious for everyone, especially peasant and rural communities. Small scale production and the necessary means of survival that it provides have been dismantled. The government policies have encouraged the the return of transnational corporations and an array of other economic forces that have no understanding of homeland and society.
And so, in this deinstitutionalization, all regulatory frameworks of the market were eliminated. Already freed from the condition of having some control by the State, any corporation, company, whoever, does what they want here. The door is then open to all the abuses that result from the neoliberal model and, as I already mentioned, that includes neocolonial and racist abuses. Ecuador is experiencing a kind of synthesis of the dispute that is expressed in Latin America and the Caribbean over the orientation of our societies. On the one hand, Ecuador has one of the most advanced Constitutions in the region whose horizon is the socialism of “good living”. So there is an alternative project to capitalism, to neoliberalism and a search, as in other parts of Latin America, to place life and society at the centre rather than the interests of capital. And on the other hand, there is the dispute against an aggressive neoliberalism accompanied by articulations of the extreme right that seek control of our peoples.
I’m telling you, Guillermo Lasso, the president, is a banker who prioritises these interests of financial capital and their economic, political and geopolitical worldviews. They are obsessed with that approach, with the neoliberal approach. So they are economic interest groups but they are also ideological groups, who, despite the evidence of the inequalities generated by capitalism, impose it as a doctrine. The consequences matter little to them. Neoliberalism is a far-reaching failure. The mindset seeking to present neoliberalism as the only possible horizon is deeply ideological.
Lasso, in addition to being a conservative, is a militant of the international extreme right and actively participates in organizations such as Opus Dei and other similar ones that have arisen with racist, sexist and neocolonial ideas. His international policy reflects that. He expresses an unrestricted alignment with US interests that includes, for example, the incorporation of the country into initiatives that are being carried out around NATO. Ecuador enters as of January of next year as a member of the Security Council to replace Mexico and as such is already assuming such agendas and commitments.
JENG: Why in particular is the indigenous sector the most visible face of the struggle? What other sectors and classes have joined?
IL: This strike, headed by the Confederation of Indigenous Nationalities of Ecuador (CONAIE), has a wide reach. In reality, it is the indigenous and peasant movement, its five affiliates that are not just CONAIE, that called for this mobilization. And immediately other protagonists with similar ideas converged, which makes it a very heterogeneous mobilization, in which there are actors from the workers’ movement, the feminist women’s movement and LGBT, etc. There are even organized bodies that until a few days ago were from the Lasso bloc, for example the doctors’ union, the teachers’ union, among others that until recently were part of the environment that supported the current president. It is a very powerful intersectoral mobilization that has spread throughout the country. And that is its strength and that is why it still resists. The people have aspirations of dignity and have undertaken initiatives of permanent resistance at different times through these last five years. In fact, in October 2019 it was the same model of mobilization.
JENG: What has been the government’s reaction to the massive popular protests?
IL: The government’s response has been disproportionate. We have had a state of emergency in almost the entire country. Undoubtedly, there was no state of total exception, so as not to cause the country to be declared officially in a state of emergency as this could be a juncture in which to apply measures against the president. Also from the beginning, in addition to this state of exception that violates human, legal and civil rights, there has been a very strong campaign to criminalize rights, to criminalize politics. As is known here we have already lived in a state of the judicialization of politics for five years. So there is persecution and no response to popular grievances.
The media have acted as a sounding board for the government’s position of declaring that the mobilization is terrorism, drug trafficking, vandalism, etc. They even associate the indigenous peoples, the peasantry, the poor, with those epithets. The media is carrying out a campaign to demonize the indigenous peoples and the popular movements, as well of course as the Citizen Revolution movement, which the right wing calls “correísmo” [after former left-wing president Rafael Correa], which will undoubtedly be blamed a lot after this mobilization.
Another government strategy has been attrition. Let time pass knowing that the indigenous, peasant and popular mobilization is not carried out in favourable logistical circumstances. The people who have travelled to Quito these days have encountered exceptionally cold weather and have not had good conditions in which to operate. So wear and tear bets on letting time pass without responding to the Ten Points. Meanwhile, the Citizen Revolution movement, which is the majority bloc in the National Assembly, has proposed the application of a constitutional article which provides that in the event of a national commotion like the one we are experiencing now, the president can be questioned and even revoked. This call has been accepted in the Assembly but the debate is also undertaking a long procedural cycle. There were already two sessions that went on for many hours and the call continues to be postponed for a later day and it probably does not have the necessary votes for that article to be applied.
Undoubtedly, what the Citizen Revolution movement is proposing is to make transparent that there are possible political solutions and that it is not necessary to accept this cruel violation of human rights, in which there has already been five deaths, one hundred and fifty people seriously injured, and that’s without adding those who are not accounted for, because things have happened in the countryside, children disappeared, etc. The movement proposes to find a new way with votes and not with bullets. If that constitutional article is applied, all the elected powers leave, the legislative and the executive, and elections are called again. But probably this will not happen.