Brutal repression against teachers' strike in Ecuador

The brutal repression of the teachers' protest in Ecudaor in December highlights the fact that the period of waiting on the part of the Ecuadorian masses is over. The movement of 2000 brought Lucio Gutierrez to power, but he has merely continued with IMF policies. Now Ecuador is poised for a new movement on a higher level, comparable to that of Bolivia.

Lucio with the IMF, the masses against Lucio

Thousands of striking teachers were met with brutal repression by the police when they tried to march in the streets of the Ecuadorian capital Quito on December 10. The teachers, who had been on an all out strike since November 11, were demanding that the government fulfils the terms of the wage agreement that had been reached after a 28-day long strike back in July. The powerful National Teachers Union (UNE) had called the march "the taking of Quito" and had the support of parents and students. Other working class, people's and peasant organisations had also joined the protests in solidarity.

The increasingly unpopular Lucio Gutierrez government used all means at its disposal against the struggle of the teachers, blockading coaches transporting striking teachers to the capital, issuing arrest warrants against the trade union leaders and occupying the Arbolito Square where the march had been scheduled to start. Despite all this, twenty thousand teachers managed to gather at the university stadium to then march to the city centre. They were heavily attacked by the police and there were running battles in the city centre for several hours in which teachers, parents and students fought back against the brutal repression of the police.

An Ecuador Indymedia report described the struggle: "Despite the violent police action, teachers managed to take over the centre of Quito, raising their voices against this murderous government. Some of the slogans were: 'UNE, UNE, UNE, go home and resign, miserable government', 'budget for education, not for corruption', 'the people say it, and they are right, this government means hunger, misery and oppression'. Impromptu rallies were held at each police line, and the battle continued until late in the afternoon, when they marched to participate in the Enlarged Council of the UNE to decide what strategy should be followed for the all-out strike".

To add insult to injury, the day after the brutal repression of the teachers who were demanding the implementation of the wage raise already agreed with the government, the MPs awarded themselves a Christmas bonus worth US$4,120 each, on top of their monthly wage which varies between US$2,500 and US$3,000.

The struggle of the teachers is part of a wider process of increasing opposition against the Lucio Gutierrez government. This was elected barely a year ago with the support of workers and peasants who had participated in the January 2000 revolution. At that time, the movement of the people managed to overthrow the president and all established bourgeois institutions and take power, though only for a few hours. A section of young officers, led by Lucio Gutierrez, joined in with the workers and peasants. However, none of the leaders of that movement had a perspective of taking power and therefore they were all duped by institutional manoeuvres and the bourgeois government and parliament were able to take power back rapidly. ( "The uprising in Ecuador marks the beginning of the 21st century").

The election of Lucio Gutierrez was therefore the distorted expression of the desire of the masses for radical change. As we said at that time: "His government will be subject from the outset to the pressure of the masses on the one hand, who demand solutions to the serious problems of poverty and social injustice faced by the country, and of imperialism and the Ecuadorian bourgeoisie in the opposite direction" (La victoria de Lucio Gutiérrez abre una nueva etapa revolucionaria en Ecuador). The colonel decided to make an agreement with the IMF and thus betrayed all hopes the masses had placed in his government.

The signing of the letter of intent with the IMF meant a brutal austerity programme including: a general wage freeze until 2007 (average monthly wages of public sector workers are US$200), taking away the right to strike from public sector workers and the sacking of 120,000 workers. Amongst others, the IMF demands included: a 375% rise in the price of household gas, the destruction of the social security system, an increase in the prices of phone services, and the privatisation of electricity, oil, the telephone company and the water system.

All these proposals come on top of those already applied over the last few years by several Ecuadorian governments and which have had the effect of plunging most of the country into extreme poverty. According to World Bank figures, the richest 10% of the population controls 42% of national income, while the poorest 10% only gets 0.6%. 56% of the urban population, 77% of the rural population and 90% of the indigenous peoples cannot afford to buy basic foodstuffs. This is the direct result of the policies of the IMF and the burden of the payment of the interest on the foreign debt: "In the last 32 years, Ecuador has paid out US$88.935 billion in foreign debt repayments, an amount equal to the country's production for a decade, and much higher than the total income from oil exports in the same three decades" (Ecuador: El venenoso mascarón de la deuda, Marcelo Larrea).

In a period of just a few months, all working class, peasant and left wing organisations that had originally given support to Lucio´s presidential campaign, have now abandoned the government. The first to do so were the Democratic and Peoples' Movement and then they were followed by Pachacutik. Amongst the first sections to come out in struggle were the oil workers who were met with government repression and whose leaders had to go underground. In July there was a meeting of the Congress of the Peoples' of Ecuador which agreed to break with the government and launch a campaign of mass mobilisations. The Manifesto of the Congress starts thus:

"Enough is enough!

"We have waited for six months. We had an agreement with Lucio Gutierrez that he would implement the mandate of January 21st 2000, with the following aims: to refound the Republic, reactivate production, abandon dollarisation in an orderly fashion, overcome public and private sector corruption, build the fourth moral power of the Nation, stop the Free Trade of the Americas Agreement, defend our sovereignty and promote a different type of integration; to prevent the privatisation of strategic resources, particularly oil, electricity, telecommunications, social security, education and health and develop a solid process of modernisation; to promote a policy of peace and non-alignment towards the Colombian conflict; to promote the recovery of the rural economy and a national plan of human development to fight poverty and unemployment.

"But we see with anger that Lucio Gutierrez has chosen to continue the same neo-liberal policies that he once condemned; he has joined the representatives of the oligarchy and modern right wing, the Febres Corderos, the Mauricios and the Arboledas; he has become the main ally of Bush's government and the most loyal in applying the policies of the IMF. We cannot have any hopes in following this kind of path, since we already know where has it led the peoples' of Our America.

"The causes of the crisis have not been eliminated, rather they have been aggravated. We are facing a serious economic recession. Unemployment and underemployment have increased and we have been sucked into a growing involvement in the war on the Northern Border. Even more worrying is the fact that new forms of authoritarianism have emerged, with the persecution of labour, indigenous peoples', social and peoples' leaders, who have now become 'criminals and terrorists' in the eyes of the government, with the operation of spy networks and the reintroduction of the National Security Doctrine as the main rule in the Republic.

"Today we appeal to all our organisations and our people to say: Enough is Enough"

Already in August there were mass demonstrations all over the country against the government. All this shows clearly that the mass movement in Ecuador has gone through a very rich experience of struggle. In the last few years, the masses in Ecuador have overthrown three governments, Buccaram, Mahuad and Noboa, through their own struggle which assumed an insurrectional character in January 2000. They have also tried the electoral field with the election of Gutierrez.

There is no doubt that what is being prepared in Ecuador is another national uprising of workers and peasants like the one in January 2000, and similar to the recent revolutionary events in Bolivia. Lucio Gutierrez will, probably, join the list of Latin American presidents to be overthrown by the rage of the masses against the policies of the IMF. The main lesson to be drawn is that it is not enough to change a government, but rather, we must put an end to the capitalist system that is the root cause of the exploitation and oppression of the masses. But in order to do that we must build a revolutionary leadership with a clear socialist programme that can lead them to victory. The masses of the Ecuadorian workers, peasants, and students have shown once and again their willingness to struggle. With a revolutionary leadership up to the tasks that are posed, they could storm heaven.

See the original in Spanish.