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  Number 461 | Noviembre 2019
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Latin America

Ecuador’s rebellious speak with one voice

Ecuador just experienced an uprising that was unprecedented and powerful for its immensity, independence and enthusiasm. It inaugurated an exceptional time of intense learning on how to now build a grassroots unity that’s capable of actually altering the country’s correlation of forces. Perhaps the first thing to do is formulate a program that proposes alternative economic approaches and reforms a corrupt political system hijacked by the economic elites.

Fernando López Romero

A“swarm of parasites” was how President Lenín Moreno referred to those who protested the “government for everyone” package that penalized the vast majority to defend the interests of the richest 1% of the population. In Ecuador’s case, this 1% is 50 families that own the country and decide the price of eggs, milk, bread, alt, sugar, wages, public transportation, ank interest rates, aspirins... well, everything.

The swarms reached Quito


These “parasites” swarmed into Quito in the first days of October. They included indigenous peoples, rural laborers, poor farmers, construction workers, small-scale merchants, migrants, women, children, adults and seniors. And they came from everywhere: the north, south and central Sierra; the Coast; the Amazon the jungle and the high plains. They came from towns, rural farms and provincial cities. They walked many miles and came in trucks, pick-ups and buses, defying all obstacles and receiving solidarity from the rest of the population along the way.

Once in Quito they joined with factory workers; artisans; service providers; public employees and the unemployed; teachers; university professors; lab workers; researchers; high school students; students from the Central University, National Polytechnic and private universities; cooks; cleaners, hairdressers and stylists; mechanics; taxi-drivers; housewives and pensioners.

There they met those who are up against the large-scale mining industry; those who defend water and life; the landless; those in precarious or temporary jobs; workers who earn less than the vital minimum wage; those who couldn’t get into public universities or who had to leave them; the hundreds of social activists prosecuted by former President Correa’s legal apparatus; those condemned to giving birth to children resulting from rape; the abused; the “limited” ones former President Rafael Correa’s accusing finger pointed to on five hundred Saturdays; those who had their wages stolen during the earthquake; honest journalists prosecuted for investigating corruption and Correa’s repression, all the victims of capitalist exploitation and neoliberal handbooks; those oppressed by the patriarchal system; those who don’t support colonial thinking, racism and xenophobia; and also those who are indignant about Moreno’s servility to the US Department of State.

All joined together with
the indigenous movement


There were, thousands of young people in their 20s and younger firmly saying they’ve been lied to and demanding that they not lie to us anymore. In mobilizing, they overcame a decade of being taught fear and told that revolution and good living are fictions. Many received their baptism of fire in this social struggle with tear gas, the cavalry and armored vehicles.

In the marches and at the barricades they joined together with both veteran and young leftist militants; artists and cultural workers, unionists, feminists and environmentalists. Thousands and thousands joined the protests, until all these torrents of discontent united with the deep rivers of the indigenous movement and inundated everything. Nothing was left untouched by a grassroots revolt expressed in all its forms; in words and deeds, in streets and squares, invading every conversation, intimacy, and other aspects of daily life.

Entrenched before the crowd


The defiant multitude took over public areas to challenge the power of the 1% that monopolizes most of the country’s wealth and to ruffle the dreams and delusions of the bank owners and financiers, moneylenders and lobbyists for foreign capital; the shareholders and executives of large companies; the owners of mainstream media; and those monopolizing the land, water and foreign trade.

All of them, with their clenched teeth and dumbfounded, furious faces, entrenched to protect themselves behind their generals, their police, soldiers and officers; their high bureaucracy; their war rooms and pens for hire; their festering prejudices; their self-help wisdom; their neoliberal and common spaces breviary; their fabricated truths and lies; their frauds; their racism and class hatred; and because of all that their inability to understand those who aren’t like them.

The indigenous and other working people who construct the homes and public works of this 1%, collect their garbage in the cities, plant and harvest their fields, work in their factories, serve their tables, walk their dogs; earn a pittance guarding their condominiums and recreation centers, cook their meals and clean their homes are invisible to the owners of the country, just part of the landscape. They are the “good savages,” the reason for occasional political speeches, postcards and tourist publicity; they form part of
the highly celebrated biodiversity… but when they rise up they suddenly turn into manipulated and violent vandals, the feared and irrational mob, Attila’s hordes...

The spark that
fired up the hinterlands


Last March, a threat to most of the population’s living conditions showed its face with the signing of the government’s Letter of Intent with the International the economic and political powers were incapable of preventing the tidal wave of social discontent that grew by the minute. After the first response, the first strike, rightwing analysts, mainstream media, some academics and security experts persisted in their lack of insight by pointing out that the movement was the result of an error in Lenín Moreno’s political calculation that he hadn’t been warned about in time through a failure of the intelligence services still under Rafael Correa’s control.

Three moments in
the grassroots struggle


The grassroots struggle was expressed in three incremental moments cornering the government, the economic elites and the political right: an indigenous mobilization, a national strike on October 9 and a popular uprising on the days that followed. In less than two weeks, the indigenous mobilizations that began in the provinces were joined by workers and others in the capital in a multitudinous strike that became a massive uprising of people not just in Quito but throughout the country.

Mobilizations began in Quito and several other cities the morning after the package was announced. The government’s immediate response was repression. The confrontation grew as the hours passed, especially in the city’s historic center where a police barricade had been erected around the Carondelet presidential palace. That night, the transport unions announced a general strike starting at zero hours on October 3.

From one moment to the next, Moreno’s government, which had handled itself ineptly from the start of the mobilization, decreed a state of emergency from midday on October 4; it had been prepared weeks earlier as one of his strategies for imposing the measures. On arresting the main leader of Quito’s taxi-drivers, a policy of pressure and threats developed that only worsened the confrontation. At dusk, the transport unions announced the suspension of the strike, but this resolution was not complied with by all its members.

Governmental ineptitude and
bitter racist media discourse


Those first days of the confrontation set the tone for the growth of repressive violence and the response to it amid increasing class polarization, in which the dominant bloc closed ranks around Moreno and the leaders of the political Right.

From the first indigenous mobilizations heading towards Quito and the first protests in the capital, the mass media launched a bitter discourse against the grassroots struggle that never let up despite massive rejection by the public. The one-sided information came in a constant stream from the government’s spokespersons, business associations and rightwing analysts and politicians, with no contrasting sources. The language exclusively rejected those identifying with the indigenous movement and grassroots protesters, describing them as “violet,” “vandalistic,” and “rabble.” Meanwhile they systematically concealed the violence of police and military against the mobilized sectors.

During the weekend of October 5 and 6, undaunted by the barricades put up by the police and military, the indigenous peoples began to arrive in Quito. On that Monday they were still coming. Speaking that night from Guayaquil, where he had moved government headquarters at the recommendation of the military high command, Surrounded by the military leadership and with a black curtain as a backdrop in the best style of the ferocious Southern Cone dictatorships, President Moreno, confirmed that the measures would be maintained despite the wave of protests. The response to this governmental heavy-handedness was a grassroots mobilization that continued to grow throughout the country. At a press conference on October 8 the Unitary Workers Front (FUT) called for a national strike the following day.

Since about 37 years ago


From the morning of October 9 a diverse and packed crowd of 50,000 indignant and determined people occupied Quito’s historic center. The national strike constituted an overwhelming plebiscite against both the measures and the government. At that moment the grassroots movement consolidated its numerical force and expressed a very clear position of class against class.

We haven’t seen a mobilization of this magnitude since October 1982, when the FUT held a national strike against the sucretización deal [the government had covered a dangerously high debt contracted by a private company in US dollars which it later reimbursed the government for in devalued sucres, Ecuador’s currency from 1894 to 2000] and the economic measures of Oswaldo Hurtado Larrea’s Christian Democratic government. The current mobilization represented a major advance in class consciousness and incorporated a new generation of social fighters.

For the government the die was cast. On October 10, as the confrontation grew, the grassroots movement was bolstered by new contingents that determinedly resisted the onslaught of governmental repression.

October 12: Banging on
pots and pans for peace


The Ágora Assembly, which private TV channels were forced to broadcast, consolidated indigenous leadership of the grassroots movement. Amid this accumulation of forces and mounting tension with the entire country mobilized, the indigenous movement took a step forward in search of dialogue with the government in order to transform the victorious popular mobilization into a political victory.

October 12 was the darkest day of the entire struggle. Bewildered, frightened and lacking insight, the business associations and the Right clamored for stronger intervention by the Armed Forces and Police to reestablish order.

To quell the movement, the government declared a curfew, to which people in the poor and middle class neighborhoods responded by banging on pots and pans for peace and against repression and the package, taking over the parks and large avenues in an immense unprecedented grassroots uprising, powerful in its independence and energy.

Indigenous leaders and
government face to face


The night of October 13 the entire country witnessed a televised dialogue between representatives of the Confederation of Indigenous Nationalities of Ecuador (CONAIE), the Council of Indigenous Peoples and Organizations (FEINE) and the National Confederation of Indigenous nd Afro-descendant Peasant Organizations (FENOCIN) on one side and Moreno, his ministers and other state officials on the other, with mediators from the United Nations, the Catholic Church and the rector of the Central University of Ecuador.

As each side had its own turf and its own proposals, it was a moment of intense politicization, in which the indigenous leaders took on representation of the joint interests and aspirations of the grassroots camp, while Moreno and his ministers defended the pro-IMF and business policies, although claiming to do so for the “common good” and “national interests.”

Economic power faces those
who sustain the economy


The dialogue clearly showed the overall ineptness of the governmental policies with a simple truth: other economic policies had been possible, but the people had to mobilize, risking death, disappearance, imprisonment and persecution just to get the government to even take them into account.

The whole country heard the parable of indigenous leader Leonidas Iza’s tractor, which revealed the daily reality of a farm worker and the shameful example of the economy minister’s US$40,000 car with subsidized fuel.

A speech about macroeconomic figures was countered by one about rural poverty and the harsh reality of the countryside, neglected by Correa and his mediocre successor, both of whom were committed to agri-businesses and big exporters. In the dialogue the advocates for economic power came face to face with those who survive day to day by their own efforts, and in so doing sustain the dollarization and the whole economy.
The mobilization and the struggle at least temporarily halted the neoliberal package. The repeal of Decree 883 is the most important grassroots victory in recent years, but it’s only the first round of a battle in which it’s vital to reconstitute a programmatic grassroots movement that has been beaten down for more than a decade by unsuccessful capitalist modernization and Correa-inspired authoritarianism.

A great grassroots victory
and an opening to transition


From that moment on, with the principal actors coming face to face, a complex transition was initiated, whose final result will be marked by the partial results of several battles.

At stake in the first of these battles is the dispute about the movement’s direction. Once again, the radios, TV screens and front pages of the mainstream press present a parade of spokespersons from the political and economic Right and the government, who express their remorseful bewilderment and insist on the same neoliberal formulas, calling for the reestablishment of order, and taking preventive measures against the new grassroots struggles.

The government’s discourse, backed by its choir of rightwing politicians and business associations, has become entrenched in the script of conspiracy and coup-mongering, which Moreno learned from his teacher and mentor Rafael Correa during the 2010 police revolt against a law reducing their benefits. A substantial part of the implementation of governmental policy is based on reprisals and purges against Correa supporters in order to maintain the official version of a coup-mongering conspiracy run out of Belgium and, at the same time, to threaten all the joint opposition.

In addition to accepting a formula to concentrate subsidies and not affect the grassroots sectors, and a proposal of small Band-Aids, the government, business associations and the Right t have no alternative proposal to the pro-IMF recipes that, wherever they have been applied, have only increased and accelerated foreign dependence and the accumulation and reproduction of capital.

The discourse of the economic and political elites is now that this must not happen again;tgeey were wrong not to take into account the social movements’ response; the measures weren’t well explained; there was an intelligence failure and we must be prepared…

They’ve learned nothing


The most reactionary sectors, which shouted at the indigenous peoples to “go back to the barren highlands” raised the flag to prevent Quito from being taken hostage again and called for Guayaquil to remain as an immaculate rightwing bastion, are now hiding behind the calls for peace. Meanwhile they are saying nothing about the human rights abuses and ongoing prosecutions. The more obtuse of the middle classes have even begun to buy guns. They have learned nothing and won’t forget anything.

A weakened government and the business associations will try all possible means to isolate the indigenous peoples and strike at all the people, which is why they are prosecuting and convicting the demonstrators. They will entrench themselves more behind the repressive apparatus. That’s the reason for the settling of scores against the military leadership, the reorganization of the intelligence apparatus and the absolute impunity of the police leadership responsible for the most serious abuses and deaths.

They immediately clamped down on Rafael Correa’s main supporters, but won’t stop there of their own accord. The danger of repressive escalation and calls to violence also looms over the grassroots movement.

“Stay in Sanborrondón!”


Former Guayaquil mayor Jaime Nebot’s racist shout of “Go back to the barren highlands!” may be answered in the 2021 elections with a resounding “Nebot, stay in Sanborrondón!” the emblematic and exclusive residential sector of the upper middle class and bourgeoisie in Guayaquil, named after a mythical island that appeared on numerous maps in Christopher Columbus’ time called Saint Brendan’s Island in English. It’s quite clear that the Social Christian Right mortgaged much of its electoral hopes on presidential candidate Nebot’s racist and authoritarian discourse in 1996, but he was defeated by the populist Abdalá Bucaram. The same thing could happen again.

These aren’t the only pieces to have fallen in the electoral setting. From Guillermo Lasso, the rightwing banker-politician, through small populists up to Lenín Moreno’s regular dinner guests, their henchmen and political operatives, his regrettable performance during the grassroots uprising will undoubtedly have to be paid for.

We are living in an exceptional time of intense learning and development of class consciousness. How do we build a popular unity that can overcome the dispersion and permanently modify the correlation of forces in favor of the grassroots movement? Perhaps the first thing is to formulate a program of struggle that proposes alternative economic approaches, reformulates the corrupt political system hijacked by the economic elites and the political Right, and radicalizes democracy from grassroots self-organization and self-government.

Fernando López Romero is a historian and social researcher and the principal professor in the Social Communication Department at the Central University of Ecuador. This article was first published in the digital newspaper La línea de fuego (The line of fire) on October 23, 2019.

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