Ecuador: Popular uprising overthrows Lucio Gutierrez

Once again the masses in Ecuador have risen up. As we predicted, the President, Lucio Gutierrez, has been overthrown by mass opposition. Before him Bucaram and Noboa were chased out of power by revolutionary uprisings of the masses. The pressure of the masses is unstoppable and reflects the revolutionary developments unfolding across the whole of Latin America.

Another Latin American country has risen up in the last few weeks. After the recent mobilisations in Bolivia against president Carlos Mesa for his policies of attacks on the workers, of privatisation and collaboration with the oil multinationals which are plundering the resources of the country, now it is the turn of Ecuador. Lucio Gutierrez, elected with 55.5% of the votes in November 2002, has fallen in the face of the movement of the working masses and peasants. Suspended in mid air for months, with the support of only five MPs in parliament (out of a total of 100), with a derisory 7% of popular support amongst the 13 million inhabitants of the country, clashing with sections of the oligarchy, with the middle classes, and most important of all with the poor masses who have come out onto the streets chanting the slogan “Lucio Out”, his fall was a foregone conclusion.

The people are on the move
Picture: Ecuador Indymedia

He became known during the revolution in 2000 which made him very popular amongst the poorest sections in society. The adoption by the then president J. Mahuad, of the dollarisation of the economy at the end of 1999, and a whole package of economic measures which meant a further impoverishment of the population (60% under the poverty line), provoked the popular insurrection on January 21, 2000, led by the Ecuador Indigenous Nationalities Confederation (CONAIE), which overthrew the Mahuad government.

However, due to the lack of a consistent revolutionary policy and despite having power in their hands, the leaders of that movement thought it was not the time to put an end to capitalism and transform society and allowed the ruling class to regain control. Colonel Lucio Gutierrez, became known at that time for refusing to use repression against the workers and peasants and side with them. As a result of mass mobilisations and having renounced his army career, he was released. Then, together with military officers he set up a political party, the “January 21st Patriotic Society”, in order to stand in the 2002 presidential elections.

This is the background against which we can understand the behaviour of the poor masses towards Lucio Gutierrez in those elections. He was not a safe bet for the bourgeoisie, since, faced with a new wave of the class struggle, he could decide to base himself on the popular layers and defy those who have ruled the country in the benefit of a wealthy elite for centuries. The example of Hugo Chavez was in their minds. However, very quickly, Lucio Gutierrez chose to be a loyal and obedient servant of US imperialism. In 2003 he reached an agreement with the IMF which included a brutal “adjustment” programme: wage freeze until 2007, 120,000 redundancies in the public sector, no right to strike in the public sector, increase in the price of gas by 375%, privatisation of electricity, oil, telecoms, water, etc. Throughout his presidency there has been a wave of strikes in different sectors, and in the October 2004 municipal elections he was soundly beaten, getting barely 5% of the votes. Unlike Chavez, Gutierrez quickly went into the capitalist stable and dug his own grave.

Lucio’s manoeuvres

“Enough is enough! Out with Bucaram,
Lucio, the Court, the Tribunals and Congress”
Picture: Ecuador Indymedia

After the municipal elections the weakness of Lucio Gutierrez became even more obvious. With the aim of avoiding being removed by parliament, he formed an alliance with two of the traditional capitalist parties, the Renewal Institutional Action Party (PRIAN) and the Ecuadorian Rodolsian Party (PRE) of former president Abdala Bucaram, who had to flee the country back in 1997 accused of corruption, and facing a mass popular uprising. The price imposed by the PRE was a change in the Supreme Court of Justice (CSJ). On December 8th, 27 out of 31 judges were changed, and a new president of the CSJ was chosen, a friend of Bucaram. The manoeuvre was completed on March 31st when the trials against former presidents Abdala Bucaram and Gustavo Noboa (PRIAN) were cancelled. This opened the door for their return to the country and even to standing in the 2006 presidential elections.

On January 26 and February 16, there were mass demonstrations of 100,000 people in Quito and Guayaquil, the country’s main cities, which revealed the enormous malaise that exists. At the head of these demonstrations were the mayors of Quito, Paco Moncayi, of the social democratic Democratic Left (ID), and Guayaquil, Jaime Nebot, from the right wing Social Christian Party (PSC). While the demonstrators clearly demanded Gutierrez to go, the mayors insisted once again: “We do not want him to go. We just want him to rectify”. Their aim was clearly at variance with that of the demonstrators. These mayors wanted to lean on the movement in the streets in order to defend their own power and privileges. They wanted to negotiate with the president their quota of influence within the judiciary from a position of strength. This had been weakened by the changes in the composition of the CSJ in favour of other sections of the Ecuadorian bourgeoisie. The Ecuadorian workers and peasants cannot have the slightest trust in these leaders. Their class interests in this struggle are not the same.

Bucaram comes back: anger explodes

But the arrival of Bucaram, at the beginning of April, radically changed the whole mood. The popular response did not wait. Once again, the political insult, the utter contempt of the bourgeoisie for the exploited, unleashed the anger of the masses faced with the manipulation and impunity of the powerful.

On April 5th there were the first mobilisations, above all in the capital city. 3,000 people marched to Congress shouting “Lucio out”, and they faced harsh repression. More than 100 people were injured by tear gas. The Quito Citizens’ Assembly was set up, presided by the mayor, Paco Moncay, and authorities from six provinces, all of them from ID and Pachakutik (the political wing of the CONAIE indigenous movement).

Violent night in Quito, 80 asphyxiated,
five wounded and one dead confirmed
Picture: Ecuador Indymedia

On April 11 a strike was called in the province of Pichincha, where Quito is located. On April 12th there was a call for an indefinite general strike. The mayor of Quito was prepared to call off the strike if in a session of Congress an agreement was reached.

These leaders wanted to limit the struggle to the question of the Supreme Court and go back to peace and quiet as soon as possible, but they were overtaken by the movement in the following days. The CONAI joined the mobilisations on April 13th. The president, trying to put an end to the movement, which he fears might get out of hand, sent a decree to Congress to change the CSJ. It was already too late. The return of Bucaram in fact had been nothing more than the accident which ignited the accumulated frustration and anger of the population in a country suffering from extreme economic conditions where misery is growing by the day in the face of opulence and corruption at the other end.

“Que se vayan todos”

The opposition to the government of Lucio Gutierrez cannot be explained solely by his behaviour over the CSJ, but also because of his policies of attacks on social standards and his alliance with imperialism. The war cry quickly became “Que se vayan todos” [“They must all go”], and “Lucio out”, which reflect opposition to all bourgeois politicians and the lack of trust in a system, capitalism, which is the source of corruption, misery and the attacks on living standards.

The visit to Ecuador of the IMF director general, Rodrigo Rato, in March, was not an unimportant detail. The day after there was a mobilisation of tens of thousands of people in Quito in opposition to his plans (5,000 redundancies of civil servants, cuts in social spending, elimination of subsidies, “opening up” of the oil and energy industries to private capital). This in a country where the richest 20% of the population controls 60% of GDP while the poorest 25% barely receive 4%; where unemployment and underemployment represent 46% of the active population, and where 45% of the population has no access to running water.

After this visit, and accepting the dictates of Rato, Lucio Gutierrez presented, as a matter of urgency, the so-called “State Economic Rationalisation Law”, known as the “Mole Law”. This was another massive attack, which was aimed at privatising social security, the electricity companies, flexibility of the labour market, and selling off the profitable oil fields to the multinationals.

State of emergency to crush growing protests

April 13th was a key day. In Quito public transport, education and council buildings were all paralysed. During the day the protest marches spread and after lunch time more than 46 marches were already taking place all over the country: Pichincha, Carchi, Imbabura, Chimborazo, Azuay. However, it was in the evening and during the night when the real strength of the mobilisation was felt. Radio Luna radio station in Quito, broadcast appeals to go out on the streets. Thousands and thousands of people gathered and marched to the building of the CSJ. Despite heavy repression with dozens of injured and arrested, a few hundred managed to reach Lucio Gutierrez’s home to shout “Lucio out” and “the people united will never be defeated”. The arrogance and lack of contact with reality on the part of the president became obvious when he branded the protesters as “outlaws”. He wanted to have a show of strength in order to scare the protestors. Furthermore, he felt safe because in that same week he had received the backing of the Chief of the High Command of the US Armed Forces. The protests continued in the following days and became more radicalised.

Repression raised its head
Picture: Ecuador Indymedia

On Friday, April 15 there was a turning point. Faced with the increasing mobilisations, the president, surrounded by army officers (but with some significant absences which fuelled rumours of splits within the army), declared on television a state of emergency, “with the aim of paralysing or neutralising the social mobilisation which is threatening to go out of control and finish off Gutierrez”. The right to assemble and demonstrate was curtailed; the police was allowed to conduct house searches without a warrant, etc. At the same time he announced the dissolution of the Supreme Court of Justice. This measure was an attempt to calm down his opponents in parliament, those sections of the ruling class unhappy with his behaviour, while on the other hand trying to terrorise the people that had been demonstrating non-stop throughout the week, and if necessary he was prepared to drown their protests in blood.

In fact, at that moment there were already shock troops being organised such as the “Zero Corruption” group, in the style of fascist gangs, whose task would be to provoke clashes which could justify the intervention of the army or even a military coup. Around the installations of Radio Luna, a group of 40 provocateurs tried to attack its installations, but the intervention of thousands of people against them, prevented them from succeeding in this.

Thousands and thousands of demonstrators came out onto the streets defying the state of emergency. The army did not intervene and in less than 20 hours the state of emergency had to be lifted and an extraordinary session of Congress was announced for Sunday, April 17, so that it could ratify the dismissal of the CSJ (but not necessarily the reopening of proceedings against the corrupt former presidents).

This was obviously a defeat for the president in the first round. By retreating he had encouraged the popular movement, which could now see more clearly the weakness of the government. Sections of the armed forces were uneasy with the conduct of the president. The US ambassador in Ecuador appealed to the president to be prudent and to enter into dialogue, as did the Ecuadorian bishops, while vice-president Alfredo Palacio came out publicly criticising the state of emergency. The ruling class was already looking for someone to replace the president who was already smelling like a political corpse. The vice-president, who over the previous year had distanced himself from Gutierrez, and who now called for him to recognise “the mistakes made or run the risk of facing the dissolution of the nation”, was looking like a good option.

Lucio flees – Alfredo Palacio more of the same

Lucio Gutierrez locked himself in the Carondelet presidential palace and continued to minimise the movement, refusing to accept reality: “I think that we have more than two million people in the capital, and the marches have not been bigger than 10,000 or 20,000 people, which means that only 1% of the people is actively mobilising” and “in the rest of the country the situation is completely quite... while here they say Lucio out, there they say Lucio re-election”.

The masses storm the palace
Picture: Ecuador Indymedia

Meanwhile the protests far from going down, increased. At 5pm on April 19th, more than 50,000 people descended on the streets of Quito marching towards the old city centre, but they were met by more than 4,000 police officers and repression started. The first casualty of this social explosion was a Chilean cameraman who died asphyxiated by tear gas. The next day a woman was killed by the police. Over two days there have been more than 180 wounded and dozens of people arrested.

In a last desperate attempt to save himself, Gutierrez asked Bucaram to leave the country. Yesterday, April 20th, in the morning, secondary and university students came out onto the streets. The mood got more and more angry and the situation got out of control.

Finally a few demonstrators managed to enter the Congress building which has been forced by popular pressure to sack Lucio Gutieerrez. The square where the Congress building was located was full of people celebrating Lucio’s dismissal, but anger was still the dominant mood and groups of demonstrators ran to the airport from where they knew the president would flee the country. According to the latest news he is asking Brazil for asylum, and the people have surrounded the Brazilian embassy in Quito in protest.

Meanwhile, in an attempt to bring the situation under control, Congress has appointed as president Alfredo Palacio who until recently was vice-president. As the saying goes “same dogs, different collars”. His first statements have been “today we have put an end to dictatorship, immorality, arrogance, terror and fear. We will not forgive, and we will not forget”. However the slogans against him have already started. Palacio is nothing more than another representative of the capitalists, whose interests have nothing to do with those of the workers and poor peasants of Ecuador. We are witnessing another delaying tactic by the bourgeoisie in order to keep power in their own hands.

A revolutionary alternative needed

“Eliminate capitalism - build socialism”
Picture: Ecuador Indymedia

The Ecuadorian masses have won the first round of this struggle. However the aim was not only to remove Lucio Gutierrez from government, but to put an end to the system he represented. This is why it is crucial to continue the mobilisation until all bourgeois politicians are gone. For that the movement has to face the bourgeoisie with an independent programme, which includes, together with the punishment for those involved in corruption and those responsible for the deaths of the last few days, opposition to the readjustment policies and improvement of the living conditions of the masses: against privatisation of natural resources, against the “Mole Law”, against redundancies, etc, It must be explained that the only real way to achieve this is to break with capitalism and defend a genuine revolutionary policy which involves expropriating the big capitalists, the landowners and the banks, so that all these resources can be put under the democratic control of the Ecuadorian workers and peasants in order to satisfy their social needs.

In the working class neighbourhoods of Quito, during the state of emergency, the idea was raised of setting up neighbourhood assemblies which would elect delegates to represent them in a mass meeting or general cabildo. Such neighbourhood assemblies must be set up and spread at local, provincial and national level, so that the mobilisation can be maintained and spread to other layers, so that it can have a unified and coordinated character all over the country. This is the way forward in order to build an alternative workers’ power to that of the bourgeoisie. The last word has not been said.

April 21, 2005

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