Ecuador rises up again – national strike against banker president Lasso

On June 13, a new national strike began in Ecuador, announced by the Confederation of Indigenous Nationalities (CONAIE), demanding better economic conditions. Demands include the freezing of the price of gasoline, price controls on basic foodstuffs, and opposition to the privatisation plan. These demands challenge the impositions of the International Monetary Fund (IMF) head on.

[Read the original in Spanish here]

Lasso’s government

On 24 May 2022, Guillermo Lasso completed his first year in power. With a volatile economic and social situation, and whilst the majority of citizens living in insecurity, Ecuadorian politics has arrived at a critical state on the first anniversary of the banker-president’s government. 

Lasso broke his electoral alliance with the Social Christian Party, and broke an agreement with correísmo [the political tendency aligned with former president Rafael Correa], which offered him the possibility of governing at the parliamentary level. The tenuous legislative alliance that Lasso preferred to forge with the centrists of the Democratic Left and the political wing of the indigenous movement Pachakutik proved lethal for those political forces, for whom this manoeuvre has incurred significant internal divisions. As a result of the erratic political operations in the Assembly, the Executive has only managed to get one of its bills approved (and in a very controversial manner), and it has suffered numerous defeats.

Despite the increase in the minimum wage, the poor figures for job creation in a country devastated by a lack of opportunities, constitutes the main negative feature of his mandate. In the other key axis of his campaign – security – government inaction goes hand-in-hand with chilling crime figures and an unprecedented and accelerating prison crisis. The president’s only response to his failure and the failure of the IMF’s policies has been to blame and threaten his political opponents, including the powerful Social-Christian right wing that rules the country’s second largest city, Guayaquil.

As far as his relationship with other political and social groups outside the Assembly is concerned, his behaviour has followed the same trend. Singling out the social leaders as “conspirators”, while pretending to be in favour of dialogue, he has threatened them with imprisonment, as in the case of the indigenous CONAIE leader, Leonidas Iza.

This administration privileges the interests of a specific sector of the capitalist elites above the critical and central problems that the majority of the country is going through. In his year in power, Lasso has above all resorted to conflict and violence as tools of administration. It has been a year in which his utter mismanagement has radiated disrepute across the entirety of an already discredited capitalist political system.

Protests

“The social struggle is based on ten demands and proposals for the great #NationalMobilisation on June 13,” CONAIE, the country's main indigenous organisation, said on Twitter.

“Those of us who feel the weight [of] the crisis, high prices, those of us who produce, take care of the family economy and nature, join in,” they added after announcing an ‘all out’ protest.

Ecuador Gabriel UndaThe call for a national strike has had a big echo among indigenous people, youth and workers, given the attacks they have suffered in recent years / Image: Gabriel Unda

The demands of the movement include: “the reduction of fuel prices, the cancellation of the debt of the peasants with the public bank, respect for collective rights, that state assets are not privatised, control and stabilisation of the prices of basic products.”

The five indigenous organisations agreed that the protests will be carried out on an escalating basis. They will be first in the provinces and the movement will also have an all out character. Leonidas Iza, president of the CONAIE, explained: “Since Monday, after a year of dialogue in which we were not listened to, we summoned not only the organisations, but also ordinary citizens [onto the streets.]”

Meanwhile, the Minister of the Interior, Patricio Carrillo, launched a campaign to criminalise the protest, describing the demonstration as “a week of blocked roads and oil wells, kidnappings of police and military personnel [and] looting” and he claimed that the indigenous people would “disguise [the protest] as a social struggle in order to provoke victimisation”. President Guillermo Lasso called the protesters “hooligans” who want to cause chaos. “My obligation as president is to guarantee Ecuadorian families the possibility of moving freely.”

The call for a national strike has had a big echo among indigenous people, youth and workers, given the attacks they have suffered in recent years. On its first day, the strike was very successful. Various layers across the country mobilised: from the coast, to the central mountain range, and the east of the country. In Quito and Cuenca, students also joined the movement, and protested in the streets.

The indigenous organisations headed by CONAIE mobilised in their provinces, blocking roads and closing access to the cities. The highest level of mobilisation took place in the provinces of Cotopaxi, Azuay, Pastaza and Sucumbíos.

The Minister of the Interior, Patricio Carrillo, on the afternoon of the first day of mobilisation claimed that violent acts had been committed by the demonstrators, and in particular that members of the National Police in Saraguro had been “kidnapped” for a few hours before being later released. The general commander of the National Police of Ecuador, Fausto Salinas, threatened the “progressive [deployment] of force protocols” in the event that the demonstrators resort to “violence or vandalism.”

Thus we see that this government, which is powerless in the face of crime, drug trafficking and hired assassins, has no hesitations about sending in the police to violently repress protesters.

Leonidas Iza detained

Early in the morning of Tuesday 14 June, the Ecuadorian Police reported through Twitter that they had arrested Leonidas Iza, president of CONAIE, on suspicion of “committing crimes”. Iza, who had been the main leader of the protests, was then placed in a temporary detention room for a ‘flagrancy qualification hearing’. This arrest came on the second day of CONAIE’s call for national mobilisations in rejection of the Lasso government’s policies.

CONAIE declared that Iza’s detention was illegal and denounced it for failing to comply with due process. Lenin Sarzosa, Leonidas Iza’s lawyer, wrote that his client’s arrest was illegal because it did not follow a judge’s order and there is no police report, and in a public statement he reported that Iza was transferred to the flagrante delicto unit in Quito.

The arrest of Leonidas Iza did nothing but harden the protest and radicalise the spirit of the protesters leading the indefinite national strike. “We call on our organisational structure, to RADICALISE the de facto measures, for the FREEDOM of our leader and for the dignity of our struggle,” CONAIE stressed.

Having no answers about the whereabouts of Leonidas Iza, five police officers were detained by members of the Jatarishum organisation, who placed them on a truck and took them to one of their communities. This Tuesday, groups of university students also joined the indefinite protest.

Finally, in the early hours of 15 June, Leonidas Iza was released on caution, but he is under threat of returning to jail “if he breaks the law”. Clearly Lasso’s capitalist government aims to decapitate the movement through repression.

However, things are not so simple. The beginning of a new popular uprising in Ecuador is not the result of the whim of the CONAIE leaders, although leadership obviously plays an important role in any movement. The popular protest is a response to the worsening living conditions of the masses. It is a radical rejection of the capitalist policies of the IMF that the Lasso government has been applying. In these conditions, the government is playing with fire. Their repression can have the effect of radicalising the movement further. 

As the CONAIE national strike enters its third day, indigenous columns are approaching the capital, Quito.

Perspectives for the movement

This national strike movement takes place in conditions that are very propitious for its victory: the government of banker-president Lasso has lost enormous amounts of prestige. Significant divisions are opening up within the ruling class. And, of course, we have magnificent traditions of struggle of the working people of Ecuador. 

However, this is not the first time that there has been an uprising against a capitalist government in the country. Time and time again over the last 25 years, the poor peasants, the working class, and the youth have overthrown right-wing governments (Bucaram, Mahuad, Gutiérrez). And two and a half years ago, they staged a heroic insurrectionary uprising during the ‘Red October’ of 2019.

It is necessary to learn the lessons of those earlier movements, and above all the lessons of ‘Red October’, so that this national strike may succeed.

In the first place, it is crucial to achieve the unity of the peasant organisations with those of the workers and the student youth. It is necessary to draw new sectors into the fight. The indigenous peasants play a crucial role in any mobilisation. But to win they need the participation of the workers and youth in the main urban centres. The programme of demands affects all the exploited sectors, and unity is strength.

In 2019, the extreme sectarianism of the CONAIE leadership towards correísmo pushed them to form an unnatural pact with Lenín Moreno that deactivated the movement and frustrated its potential. The same mistake cannot be made a second time.

Moreover, we must state things clearly as they are. In 2021, in the second round of the presidential elections, the Pachakutik indigenous movement made a serious mistake by advocating a spoiled ballot instead of giving critical support to the UNES Arauz correista candidate. That error, the main responsibility for which lies with the Pachakutik candidate, Yaku Pérez, but for which Leonidas Iza must also share blame, is what brought the banker Lasso to power.

Now, CONAIE has correctly called for an indefinite movement. It is necessary to organise the structures of the movement in the broadest and most democratic way possible in order to incorporate all sectors of the working people into the struggle. In the past, the People's Assemblies have played that role. It is necessary to create such organisations in all provinces and at the national level to give the struggle an organised form.

In the face of police repression, which has already begun and threatens to intensify, it is necessary to organise workers’ self-defence, following the example of the Indigenous Guard and the militant youth of October 2019.

As for the political programme and the objectives of the movement, it is necessary to be clear that in the context of the world capitalist crisis, and particularly the impact that it has on a country dominated by imperialism like Ecuador, it will be very difficult to obtain concessions from the government. Rather, if the movement develops and gains strength, it can take on an insurrectionary character like in 2019. It is really about bringing down Lasso. If the president does not respond to the interests and aspirations of the majority, he must be removed from office and the majority (workers, peasants, indigenous people, youth) should govern through their own organisations (Peoples’ Assemblies, etc.).

Extend and broaden the indefinite national strike!

Unity of the working people against the banker Lasso and the IMF!

Repudiation of the external debt – let the capitalist oligarchy pay for the crisis!

For Peoples’ Assemblies and Indigenous Guard!

Lasso out! The working class shall rule!