Guillermo Lasso, Ecuador's banker-president, has used Article 148 of the Constitution – known as the “muerte cruzada” or “mutual death” – to shut down the National Congress just two hours before the vote on his impeachment trial for corruption was due to begin. Elections must now be called within six months to renew both the executive (the president) and the legislature (the Congress), but in the interim, the president remains in office and rules by decree without parliamentary oversight. It is therefore a power grab or, as some have described it, an autogolpe (a self-coup).
It is no coincidence that Lasso has deployed soldiers around Congress and the Presidential Palace. The army leadership, complicit in the decision, has come out in support of the muerte cruzada decree.
The leadership of the mass indigenous and peasant movement CONAIE has rightly come out to reject the measure, which its leader Leonidas Iza has described as a self-coup. CONAIE has called for vigilance, rank-and-file assemblies and the creation of a broad National Assembly of Popular and Plurinational Power. A national plenary of the organisation was called to organise possible mobilisations against Lasso's coup d'état.
However, it is necessary to point out that the CONAIE communiqué asks for a ruling by the Constitutional Court on the legality of Lasso’s move. We must warn that it is a grave error to try to combat a bourgeois coup with appeals to bourgeois legality. Lasso's decree, which is technically legal since it is laid out in the Constitution, is a coup because it is a manoeuvre to evade the democratic vote of the Congress representatives, which he knew would be unfavourable to him.
The most scandalous thing is that while the president dissolves the Congress, at the same time he reserves powers to govern by decree for six months “on urgent economic matters”. Already the cabinet has announced a series of decrees that it wants to implement by decree, the first being a tax reform and the second a labour reform. Obviously both of these are favourable to businessmen and contrary to the interests of the working class.
As we have explained in past articles, the Lasso government was a very weak government, which only managed to get elected in the second round due to the null vote of the indigenous Pachakutik party. What little popularity the government might have had, it lost during the national strike of June 2022, when it responded to the demands of the workers and peasants with brutal repression. In the local elections in February this year, his coalition was heavily defeated; and the referendum proposed by Lasso himself was a failure, being defeated on eight different questions. The president's approval rating stands at a paltry 13 percent, with 51 percent rating his performance as bad and 32 percent as very bad.
The economic and social situation has only worsened. CONAIE's communiqué gave the glaring figures: 70 percent of the population is unemployed, underemployed or in precarious conditions, more than six million families live in poverty or extreme poverty, more than 200,000 Ecuadorians have been forced to leave the country in what is the second biggest migration crisis in the last 40 years, more than 130,000 young people have not been able to enter university. To all this must be added the crisis of violence linked to drug gangs operating with impunity.
Fearing a movement of the masses from below, even the political representatives of the ruling class had decided to bring down Lasso, in a movement from above, thus creating a majority in favour of impeachment. The impeachment process was opened on Tuesday, 16 May, and its final vote was to take place on Saturday, 20 May.
Lasso's decree also demonstrates the disgusting hypocrisy of US imperialism and its lackeys in the capitalist oligarchies of Latin America. When Peruvian President Castillo decided to dissolve Congress and call early elections, using a procedure analogous to Lasso's, the bourgeois military, business and political leadership immediately staged a coup d'état. They feared that Castillo's decision (and his intention to call a Constituent Assembly) could awaken the movement of the masses on the streets. In the case of Peru, Washington was quick to recognise the coup against the democratically elected president, a coup about which the US embassy was already informed.
But in the case of Ecuador, when the same procedure is carried out by a banker president, a lackey of imperialism, whose intention is not to implement the popular mandate, but precisely to evade it and rule by decree for the benefit of capitalists and multinationals, then the US rushes to support Lasso's self-coup. In a statement within hours of the muerte cruzada decree, State Department spokesman Vedant Patel announced that “our bilateral relationship with the Government of Ecuador... remains strong” and added that President Biden was “aware” of Lasso's decision. Lasso clearly had consulted with his master in the White House before taking any decision. Without blushing, the US spokesman offered his support for “Ecuador's democratic institutions and processes”, just when democracy is being violated. He expressed his respect for “the will of the Ecuadorian government and people”, when these are clearly in contradiction.
We are facing a move by the ruling class, with the support of US imperialism, to keep in power a banker who no longer even has parliamentary support, so that he can apply urgent economic measures against the working class and in favour of the oligarchy. The only possible response on the part of the workers, peasants and the youth of Ecuador is to take to the streets to prevent this manoeuvre.
The struggle against Lasso's self-coup must not be limited to the question of democracy, but must be linked to a plan of demands that respond to the most immediate needs of the masses. For the people to have health, education, housing and work, the capitalists must be made to pay for the crisis, starting with repudiating the onerous foreign debt and expropriating the oligarchy.
The problem is not that “the neoliberal model has failed”, as both Correa and Iza claim, but that neoliberalism is the reflection of the crisis of capitalism in a country dominated by imperialism and the attempt of the capitalist oligarchy to make the masses of workers and peasants pay for this crisis. It is therefore capitalism that has failed.
In the last 25 years it has been shown time and again that the Ecuadorian people, the workers and poor peasants, when they are on the move, are capable of courageously defending their interests and overthrowing those who rule against the majority.
It is imperative to draw lessons from recent movements. On the last two occasions, in the October 2019 insurrection and in June 2022, what was missing was a leadership of the movement with a clear perspective of taking power. The promises made in both cases by the government (in 2019 by Moreno, in 2022 by Lasso), to appease the movement and get the masses off the streets, were never fulfilled. It is not a question of changing one government for another, but of overthrowing the capitalist oligarchy, so that the working class can rule for the benefit of the majority and not the private interests of a parasitic minority beholden to imperialism.
It is necessary to build a revolutionary leadership, based on the ideas of Marxism, with the perspective of the socialist transformation of society, in Ecuador, in Latin America and in the whole world.