Almost one year has passed since Lucio Gutierrez was ousted from power, overthrown by the rising of big sectors of the Ecuadorian population, in what was to become known as the “rebellion of the forajidos” (Lucio called those who demonstrated against him "outlaws" - in Spanish "forajidos", and they defiantly adopted this name for their movement) in April 2005. Although the rising was mainly based on layers of the middle class, it was a clear indication that the policies of Lucio were deeply unpopular with the population.
Lucio Gutierrez came to power in the 2003 elections. His victory was, although in a distorted form, the result of the desire of the working class, the urban poor, the small peasants and the indigenous minority for a profound change in society. It was these same layers that pushed the enormous revolutionary insurrection forward in January 2000, a movement that became very radical and even went so far as creating a people’s parliament, an alternative to the bourgeois parliament.
As we said at that time, power was in the hands of the revolutionary movement, but the leadership did not have a clear idea of how to substitute the bourgeois state apparatus with a state-structure that could serve the needs of the masses. Thus power slipped out of the hands of the masses, and the bourgeoisie was able to find a “constitutional solution” through a simple change of president.
It was against this background that Lucio Gutierrez was elected. An army officer who joined the uprising in January 2000, he portrayed himself as a leftist who built relations with progressive forces in Latin America, for example Hugo Chavez in Venezuela. Many people in Ecuador indeed saw him as a “second Chavez” in the sense that they believed he would take the same path as the Venezuelan president, challenging the oligarchy and rejecting the diktats of imperialism.
However, once he got into office, he began to adapt himself to the demands of the IMF, which included cuts in social expenditure, a continuation of the hated dollarization of the economy, and the establishment of close relations with Bush in the US. In other words, he sided with imperialism and the capitalists against the aspirations of the oppressed masses. This is what forced him to leave in the end – the masses being disgusted with his treacherous policies.
Extreme poverty and national oppression
Although the ruling class was able to find a replacement in the former vice-president Alfredo Palacio, none of the fundamental contradictions that led to the April 2005 rising have been solved. Ecuador is a country were the vast majority live in extreme poverty. Even the bourgeois press is forced to recognize this reality. The Ecuadorian daily El Comercio, in its edition on February 20, carried an article about life in the valles – the poor and working class neighbourhoods in the hills that surround Quito. In many of these neighbourhoods people live without electricity and even without water. The unemployment rate is 40%. And this is the official figure, which of course never reveals the truth of the situation.
Poverty is especially widespread amongst the indigenous minority. Around 35% of the Ecuadorian population has direct roots in the various national groups that inhabited Ecuador before the Spanish conquerors arrived. Many of these people do not speak Spanish as their mother tongue but native languages such as Quechua, the old language of the Incas. But in the schools and colleges these languages are not allowed and harsh measures have been adopted by the ruling class in order to isolate the indigenous people from real positions of power.
The deep crisis of Ecuadorian capitalism not only reflects itself in the social conditions of the country, but also in the political arena. One of the main slogans of the “rebellion of the forajidos” in April was “¡que se vayan todos!” (All of them must go!), echoing the rejection of all the bourgeois politicians in the December 2002 uprising in Argentina. On many of the banners, past presidents were listed under one common denominator – “rats”. Thus, the mass protests were not only directed against Lucio Gutierrez, but against all the bourgeois leaders and politicians. Moreover, it was against a discredited political system where the masses feel that they do not really have a say in the important decisions. There is a deep feeling amongst the people that each and every time they vote for a radical change, as was the case with Gutierrez, their wishes are completely ignored and betrayed.
After the change of president in April 2005, things haven’t changed at all. A concrete example is the case of Oxy (also known as Occidental), a US multinational oil company operating in Ecuador. This giant company extracts millions of dollars in oil, utilizing a contract that was signed in May 1999 which gives it the right to operate in important regions in Ecuador. It has now been accused of illegally transferring 40% of its stocks in one area. This has resulted in a drawn out legal conflict. Whereas the social movements have demanded that Oxy be kicked out, the government has given the multinational more space to act, delaying the deadlines for them to present evidence, etc. The fact that this multinational is allowed to extract the rich oil resources of the country while social spending is being cut is a source of great anger and frustration for millions of Ecuadorians.
At the moment the political environment is dominated by the preparations for the presidential elections, which are to take place in October 2006. A number of speculations are being made about who will be presented as candidates. So far there are a number of candidates on the left, the most prominent being Rafael Correa standing for the independent movement “Alianza Patria”. Correa is a former Minister of Economy who was sacked because he defended the sovereignty of the country against foreign interests and opposed the multilateral agreements that US imperialism is trying to implement to strengthen its control over the continent. He has also promoted himself by establishing relations with Chavez and Fidel Castro. Next month he will go to Europe on a tour to speak with Ecuadorian immigrants.
It is possible that Correa will win the elections. The masses will be looking for a way out of the impasse and their misery. But if Correa is elected he will have very little room for maneuver. He will have to choose between serving the masses or the interests of the oligarchy. If he disappoints the masses it is very likely that he will end up like Lucio Gutierrez.
In order to distract the attention of the oppressed masses from the real problems, the government has tried to make up a campaign in the media about the alleged threat of Colombian guerrillas entering Ecuadorian territory.
The national army has been used energetically to fight battalions of the FARC, which, according to the government, were grouping on the Ecuadorian side of the border. The latest clash was on February 18, when there was an exchange of gunfire and two guerrilla-soldiers were arrested.
Oswaldo Jarrin, Minister of Defence, declared that, “every illegal armed element that is considered a threat to national sovereignty, will be neutralized with force”. At the same time he cautiously stressed that the Ecuadorian army is independent of Colombia and that it does not follow the instructions of the Uribe government.
Obviously, the government of Alfredo Palacio is terrified of being identified with the thoroughly unpopular Uribe government. It knows that if it does not distance itself from Uribe – at least in words – it will quickly end up being smashed by the masses.
But at the same time, the anti-guerrilla activity is being used as a way to distract the attention of the masses from the growing inequality and injustice in society. This is not at all a new trick – in fact it is one of the old methods of the Ecuadorian oligarchy. It was precisely the same thing that it was aiming at in 1995 when it launched a war against Peru, supposedly in order to re-conquer lost territory that belonged to the “national heritage” of Ecuador.
New explosions are being prepared
Slowly but surely, the inability of capitalism to solve the problems of the masses in Ecuador is reflected in the social and political landscape. Great contradictions are accumulating and will sooner or later explode in new revolutionary events.
Even layers such as the pensioners have entered into struggle. On February 16 a demonstration at the Plaza de la Independencia, in the heart of Quito, was held where hundreds of pensioners demanded decent pensions.
Ecuador is a country with great revolutionary traditions going all the way back to the fight against the Spanish empire. One of the fighters was Sucre, who side by side with Simon Bolivar liberated the country. They wanted a united federation of Latin America. But they were betrayed by the national ruling classes, which have always been in the pocket of imperialism.
Today the revolutionary processes in Venezuela and Bolivia are a great source of inspiration for the masses of Ecuador. The idea of Latin American unity is more relevant today than ever before. But the betrayal of the heroic struggle of Sucre and Bolivar by the local capitalist oligarchies shows that it can only be accomplished as a socialist revolution, breaking the power of the capitalists and landlords.
Ecuador cannot escape the revolutionary tide sweeping across all Latin America and will once again be thrown into a state of turmoil and rebellion, a situation where the ideas of socialism will pick up enormous interest among the workers and youth.
Quito, February 28th, 2006
- Ecuador: Interview with Marcelo Roman, historic leader of the oil workers' trade union (February 23, 2006)
- Ecuador: Popular uprising overthrows Lucio Gutierrez by Miriam Municio (April 21, 2005)
- Brutal repression against teachers' strike in Ecuador by Jorge Martin (December 12, 2003)
- Ecuador - Lucio Gutierrez victory opens a new revolutionary stage by Julian Costas (November 26, 2002)
- 10 Days Which Shook Ecuador by Jorge Martin (February 14, 2001)
- Ecuador, 2 months after the revolution by Jorge Martin (March 14, 2000)
- The uprising in Ecuador marks the beginning of the 21st century by Jorge Martin (January 23, 2000)