Dramatic events unfolded in Ecuador yesterday, when a sizeable group of the country's police forces tried to overthrow the left-wing government of Rafael Correa. The official reason for the rebellion of the police forces was a law passed by Congress on Wednesday that would end the practice of giving members of Ecuador's military and police medals and bonuses with each promotion.
The insurgent policemen managed to occupy several important buildings in Quito, Ecuador's capital. They were backed by a section of the air forces that took over the airport and closed it down.
The situation accelerated when President Correa responded by going directly to the police barracks to confront the policemen who had rebelled. The latter chose to throw bottles and teargas bombs directly at him. He defied them by yelling “Here is the president, kill him if you wish!”
Correa was injured during this incident and taken to hospital, where he was effectively deprived of his liberty by the insurgent policemen who surrounded the building. The plotters subsequently sent a fascist gang to harass the employees at the state media centre in central Quito, in an attempt to stop the national TV channel from transmitting news about resistance to the coup.
The masses of workers and urban poor responded with huge mass demonstrations in the central square, Plaza de la Independencia. In the afternoon thousands began to approach the hospital where Correa was being held prisoner.
The repression was ferocious. Already two deaths have been reported and several were injured. According to a Marxist.com collaborator in Quito, the police began to attack the protesters, not just in the demonstrations themselves, but also in the nearby squares.
Towards late afternoon, it was clear that the coup-plotters had found themselves isolated. At 9.30pm, Ecuadorian time, President Rafael Correa was finally rescued by a special military unit which took him from the hospital to the Plaza de Independencia.
From the balcony of the Carondelet Presidential Palace he spoke to the revolutionary masses and reaffirmed his desire to rather die for the “peoples' revolution” (“Revolución Ciudadana”) than bend to the pressure of the conspirators.
Splits in the armed forces
A key factor in this situation was the mood within the army and the police. Clearly the armed forces split right down the middle between those loyal to Correa and the revolution and those who sided with the counter-revolutionary coup-plotters.
While the high commands of the military initially vacillated and made ambiguous statements about the situation, things were different in the lower ranks. A good example of this was a call that Radio Luna de Quito received from one of its listeners in the afternoon.
The female listener explained that she was married to a policeman who was loyal to the revolution and that she was very worried about her husband. She also stressed that he was not alone, “there are many good ones in there” and that the people should fraternise with these revolutionary elements.
This was exactly what happened in the actual rescuing of president Correa. It was not a purely military affair, but was backed by tens of thousands who had showed up to demand his release. In the last analysis, it was the mass movement which saved Correa and reinstalled him in power.
Many of the ordinary soldiers are themselves children of workers, poor peasants and urban poor. They have no interest in firing on their class brothers and sisters. This was shown clearly yesterday, where many sectors of the army and police refused to follow the orders of the coup-plotters.
The background to this development
Correa correctly said that this was not simply about a wage demand or rejection on the part of the police against this or that law. In his words, “This was a plot. Let nobody be fooled. What they wanted today was to make a bloodbath in Ecuador and obtain the power which they cannot win in the election ballots”. He added that ex-president Lucio Gutierrez is behind this.
In order to understand yesterday's events we have to travel some years back in time. Ecuador was the first country which opened the revolutionary wave in Latin America in January 2000, where a mass insurrection, led by the left of the indigenous organizations, stormed parliament to protest against the dictates of the IMF and the World Bank.
Unfortunately, that revolution was derailed, as the leaders of the insurrection handed power back to some army generals who in turn appointed a new bourgeois president. But one of the army's lieutenants, Lucio Gutierrez, who had refused to shoot at the demonstrators in January 2000, began to grow in popularity.
He presented himself as a leftist and tried to impress people by making contacts with Chavez in Venezuela, the FARC in Colombia and others. However, once he rose to power through the presidential elections of 2003, he very quickly betrayed all his promises and signed all the agreements of the IMF and the World Bank. In other words, he sold out to neo-liberalism. He was overthrown by a new popular mass riot, the so-called “Insurección de los forajidos” of April 2005.
Then in November 2006, Rafael Correa was elected president on a leftist programme, which included a No to the ALCA new trade agreement, a refusal to prolong the contract for the US Military base in Manta and a number of smaller reforms, including a Constituent Assembly, in line with the reforms carried through in Venezuela.
These reforms, in and of themselves, were not threatening capitalism as such, and actually many activists in Correa's own movement Alianza Patria, have criticised them for being too moderate. But they immediately faced the ferocious resistance on the part of the Ecuadorian oligarchy which has its stronghold in Guayaquil, the country's second largest city.
The US government also began to get increasingly angry at Correa for his refusal to host their military presence. This conflict accelerated on March 1, 2008, when the Colombian military (which is a close US Ally) violated Ecuadorian territory to kill a number of FARC guerrilla leaders who had camped close to the border.
At that time Correa radicalised the anti-imperialist tone of his speeches, condemning the right-wing Uribe government. Just one year later the conflict was further aggravated when Uribe signed a new agreement with Obama, allowing the US Army to set up seven new military bases in Colombia, in replacement for the one they lost in Ecuador.
All these facts are crucial to an understanding of the situation, because they cast a clear light on the motive behind yesterday's coup attempt: The intention was to put a brake on Rafael Correa's “Revolución Ciudadana”.
Who is behind this?
Quite clearly Lucio Guitierrez is one of the elements behind this plot. But it is an established fact that he managed to build strong ties with at least a part of the US ruling class during his presidency. Not for nothing did he sign all the agreements of the IMF.
It is difficult to say at this moment, whether yesterday's events were ordered directly from Washington. Although the American government came out quickly to distance themselves from the coup, we should not let ourselves be fooled. Latin America has always been regarded by US Imperialism as its “backyard”, where it could move presidents as it pleased.
At the moment it seems that the events are similar to Honduras last year, in the sense that the most radical reactionary faction of imperialism and the oligarchy went ahead with their plans, while a more moderate sector tried to oust Correa in a more diplomatic way. Not because they are less reactionary, but simply because they wanted to use other means to remove him – methods which would be less risky than the present ones.
That being said, it is necessary to see these events in a regional context. Yesterday's events can be seen as a continuation of the new US policies towards the Latin American revolution. All the latest developments indicate that American imperialism is trying to control the situation. That is why they backed the coup in Honduras. That is why they want the seven military bases in Colombia, the military concessions in Panama, Costa Rica and the Dutch Antilles, the reactivation of the Fifth Fleet, and so on.
A continental revolution
All this proves that we cannot speak of a revolution restricted to Venezuela, to Bolivia or to Ecuador. This is a continent-wide revolution, where events in one country are quite closely linked to events in another. The events in Ecuador are part of the struggle between revolution and counter-revolution. The coup d’état in Honduras on June 28, 2009 was one battle in this war. Ecuador was the next chapter. But more countries can follow.
In Paraguay, there have been constant threats from within the military against the “Red priest”, Lugo. In Bolivia, Evo Morales denounced the fact that the right wing was trying to make a “coup in slow-motion” in October 2008, which included a massacre of peasant activists in Pando. The Bolivian oligarchy seems hell-bent on getting rid of Morales.
What we are witnessing is in a way a new chapter in the Latin American revolution. It is no longer possible for the different left-wing presidents to make reforms within the confines of capitalism and then expect to be left unhindered. Their reforms, even the small and most timid ones, immediately face the wrath of the national oligarchies, always conservative and opposed to any kind of change which would challenge their power in the slightest way.
Furthermore, imperialism is also stepping up its efforts to crush the Latin American revolution. It is afraid of the revolution, not just because it seeks to protect US interests in terms of natural resources and markets, but also – and most importantly – because it fears its example and that the revolution will spread. Within the United States, the Latino immigrants now constitute the biggest minority and Spanish is spoken widely in many cities. Just four years ago we saw the potential once this layer begins to move, with the big demonstrations for immigrant rights.
In his speech from the balcony of the Carondelet palace, Rafael Correa poured scorn on the plotters whom he called “cowards” and “traitors of the fatherland”. He asked how it was possible that someone who doesn't respect the legally elected president can be a member of the Ecuadorian police corps.
He insisted that this betrayal will not be forgotten, that there will be no pardon. In an earlier interview on the day, he stressed that a radical change will take place in the police, that there will be a real purge. He also admitted how he was surprised by the movement of the masses and he was clearly moved when he saw the enormous crowd gathered in front of the Presidential Palace.
The situation is now in a way similar to the one that Chavez faced immediately after April 2002. Correa has been brought back by the masses, but the counter-revolution will persist in its attempt to overthrow him. It is absolutely decisive that he doesn't commit the same mistakes as Chavez did in 2002. Trying to negotiate with the right wing would be a disaster and only give them time to prepare a new and even bloodier insurrection.
Not only should there be a thorough purge of the army and the police, it is also necessary to build militias of workers, peasants and urban poor. This is the only guarantee against a new counter-revolutionary putsch!
We must remember that several bloody coup d’états in Latin America had a first trial run and then a second, successful counter-revolution. That was for example the case in Chile where the first attempt, the “Tanquazo” in June 1973, took place just three months before Pinochet's final coup.
The same could happen in Ecuador, if serious measures are not taken to defend the revolution. The Guayaquil oligarchy clearly stands behind this coup. The plotters must be revealed and their property must be confiscated and taken over by the state, under workers' control. That is the only guarantee against them using the main levers of the economy to sabotage and undermine the revolution.
Within the confines of capitalism it is impossible to carry out the tasks of the “Revolución Ciudadana”. The true liberation of Ecuador, agrarian reform, the solving of the indigenous national question and so on, are all bound up with the socialist tasks. If the revolution is to succeed it must inevitably go in this direction.
The situation is still unstable. The balance of forces is favourable for the revolution, but it is time to act decisively! We appeal to all workers and youth in Ecuador to mobilise around the following demands:
Arm the people! For the creation of militias in the factories, the poor neighbourhoods and in the villages!
For the setting up of action committees on a local and regional level, with elected representatives subject to the right to recall.
No compromise with the plotters. Fulfil Correa's words: Prison for all the counter-revolutionaries and purge of the armed forces.
Confiscation of the property of the oligarchy. Put it under workers' control to the benefit of the whole people.
Caracas, September 30, 2010