The Ecuadorian indigenous movement, which since December 2021 has declared itself in resistance against the government of Guillermo Lasso for the lack of responses, organized a strike with a 10-point agenda, including fuel subsidies, whose price is set at international values, fair prices for rural products, policies to control the prices of basic products, economic relief for more than four million families with a debt moratorium, an end to mining in indigenous territories, greater investment in health and education and a guarantee that there will be no privatization of new sectors of the economy.
This platform represents not only the indigenous movement, but also the vast majority of popular and grassroots organizations in the country.
The Lasso government’s response has been, from the beginning, a violent repression and a radical refusal of any substantive dialogue, that is, a purely authoritarian response without serious political negotiation. To date, five people have been killed and hundreds injured in clashes between law enforcement and protesters.
On June 14, the second day of mobilization, the government unleashed the strike by kidnapping Leonidas Iza, the president and main leader of the Confederation of Indigenous Nationalities of Ecuador (CONAIE). Iza was the leader of the October 2019 protests, the largest in the country since the return to democracy in 1979. This action transformed a protest that could have been smaller, less lasting and located in territories where the indigenous movement is strong, into an action national and extended.
Thanks to such a clumsy move, Lasso managed to unite, for the first time since the 2021 elections, the two wings – center-left and right allied to the government – of Pachakutik, a party created by the indigenous movement in the late 1990s. that all sectors of the left unanimously spoke out against the measure, and that several other popular organizations that had already expressed their support for the strike, such as students, feminists and environmentalists, adhered even more strongly to the measure.
When they learned of the leader’s arrest, the indigenous movement began to mobilize towards Quito, the country’s capital, where Iza was allegedly being held. The government had to release the leader 24 hours later, because the number of illegalities committed during his detention made keeping him in prison unsustainable and because it wanted to prevent him from becoming a hero.
On Friday, June 17, Lasso signed and circulated a decree (455) declaring a state of emergency in three provinces of the mountain range. The decree was full of illegalities, including clearly dictatorial measures, such as cutting off the internet and allowing searches without a warrant in absentia of the forces of law and order, disregarding the inviolability of the home. Immediately, in the face of a strong reaction from all public opinion, he said that the decree was only a draft and circulated another, less restrictive, but still illegal and unconstitutional.
The only political responses to the already massive social protest at that time were a tiny $5 raise for Bono de Desarrollo Humano. [programa de transferência de renda]the declaration of the public health system in emergency, a subsidy for urea in agriculture and a small increase in the budget for intercultural bilingual education.
Delegations of the indigenous movement began to arrive in Quito from various parts of the mountains on Saturday (18). At the same time, protests and demonstrations were taking place in almost every province in the mountains and the Amazon, including a major march in the coastal city of Guayaquil, the country’s largest city, where there are traditionally no major protests. The mainstream media did not show the situation, but in alternative media and social networks it was already very clear that the protests were widespread and not restricted to indigenous areas and the capital.
As if that were not enough, last Sunday, June 19, the police raided the headquarters in Quito of the Casa de la Cultura Ecuatoriana, an autonomous public institution that maintains museums, libraries, cinemas and theaters, in search of alleged material of war. The images of police officers walking among the shelves of books, where there were obviously no weapons, would have been humorous if they weren’t tragic reminders of classic fascism scenes. The only time the Casa de la Cultura had suffered a similar action was during the military dictatorship. The director of the entity had offered, as in 2019, accommodation for the indigenous movement that was already on its way to Quito.
The National Assembly met on Monday, June 20, to repeal the state of emergency decree and, while doing so, received notification that Lasso had issued a new decree (459), similar to the first, extending the measure to six provinces. Due to procedural rules, the Assembly could not revoke the new decree until 48 hours later.
Along with the second state of emergency decree, Lasso issued two other decrees that undermine the labor rights of public servants. This was the continuation of the “dialogue” of the self-styled “Government of the Encounter”, in the midst of a strong national strike.
Some universities in Quito have sheltered protesters from the countryside. On several occasions, the police launched tear gas and entered university buildings, actions that are totally illegal because they violate university autonomy. Although the Casa de la Cultura was demilitarized on Thursday, June 23, all the marches that take place are violently repressed.
In such a setting, Lasso’s statements inviting dialogue not only sound hollow, they are hollow. Just as the results of the dialogue between the indigenous movement and the Moreno government to end the strike in October 2019 did not last beyond a few months. This experience led Iza to demand some conditions for dialogue this time, including an end to violent repression and the demilitarization of the Casa de la Cultura.
Lasso completely betrayed his campaign proposals and, even today, despite the fact that a barrel of oil costs 120 dollars, there are no public policies to fight hunger, alleviate poverty or reduce unemployment (only 32.5% of the population has a decent job ). What can be clearly read is: Lasso not only does not negotiate, but he continues to repress popular mobilization, while reaching the population with the neoliberal austerity agenda in its fullest expression. The decrees follow the line of former president Lenín Moreno who, in the midst of the worst moment of the pandemic, when Ecuador was breaking world mortality records and the streets were literally full of corpses, paid in advance the debt with the IMF.
The government’s only agenda is exactly that of the IMF and everything that helps to please local elites, always submissive to foreign interests, especially the US. Personally, Lasso has two main concerns. The first is the legal defense to try to save his skin in the face of the allegations that link him to the Pandora Papers, about which he even the american congressmen wrote to Biden, with a copy to Ecuador’s attorney general, Diana Salazar, calling him a tax evader. The second concern seems to be getting the Banco de Guayaquil, formally no longer owned by him – because in Ecuador the law does not allow elected candidates to own financial institutions -, but still in the hands of his family, to become the largest bank country by purchasing Banco del Pacífico, the country’s second largest bank. Banco del Pacífico is a public bank that was nationalized following the 2000 financial crisis and that Lasso put in the process of privatization.
Poverty and inequality are the best foundations for crime and Ecuador has been a victim of this for the past two years. In addition to the massive massacres in prisons, the increase in robberies and robberies it’s at homicide rate it is very worrying.
At the various levels of power (government officials, military commanders and police), the narrative that the demonstrations are organized by “drug traffickers and criminals” has been constantly reiterated, with no basis in reality. On the contrary, the institutions that seem to have connections with drug trafficking and criminality are the forces of order themselves: the police and the military. Those who have been on the streets protesting for 12 days are the organized people.
The hegemonic media reiterates these narratives and offers more images and content about the material damage caused by the demonstrations than about the number of injured and dead and the violent repression of the forces of law and order.
Given the government’s radical refusal to engage in any substantive negotiation and increasing repression, two possibilities are open. The first, which is currently more likely, is to maintain the situation with strong repression until the protest is exhausted, and the second is the end of the Lasso government. For this, there are constitutional solutions, such as the resignation of the president or his removal from the National Assembly.
For Lasso’s removal from the National Assembly, two-thirds (92) of the Assembly’s members must vote in favor. However, if the members of the Assembly remove the president, they also have to go through the mechanism called “muerte cruz” (cross-death), included in article 130 of the Ecuadorian Constitution. This article stipulates that, immediately after impeachment, the vice president takes over and, after seven days, the National Electoral Council must call a general and simultaneous election for president, vice president and a new Assembly, within a maximum period of six months. On June 24, the 47 members of the Union for Hope Movement (UNES) bench, the movement of former president Rafael Correa, started this process, presenting the request in the National Assembly.
Given the composition of the Assembly, with the right and center-right reduced but still united around the government, and the center-left and left divided, it seems difficult to get Lasso impeached. UNES needs, in addition to its 47 votes, Pachakutik’s 25 votes, and about half of its members in the Assembly supported the government until Iza’s arrest, plus 20 votes from other parties, such as the Democratic Left, also an ally of Lasso until recently, and Popular Unity (Maoists), always a staunch enemy of Correism, or independent members of the Assembly.
In order to assess possible solutions, it is also necessary to consider that Lasso is dangerous to the interests of part of the bourgeoisie: it is not so easy for him to please the entire local elite. His attempt to have the largest bank in the country clashes with the interests of the owners of Banco Pichincha, currently the largest bank in the country, which in fact controls the flow of money due to its size.
Then Lasso threatens to break off relations with Russia, being faithful to his agenda of submission to the United States, but Ecuador is the world’s main exporter of bananas, with about 25% of exports, and Russia is a very important market. .
And it’s important not just for bananas, but also for flowers, another key Ecuadorian export. If this measure were taken, it would seriously damage two of the country’s main sources of foreign exchange, which are essential for the very functioning of a dollarized country. Finally, Lasso also talks about the signing of 18 free trade agreements, another of the points of opposition of the organizations that support the strike, as they would contribute to the destruction of the work of small indigenous farmers and peasants. Of these agreements, two in particular – one with Mexico and the other with Uruguay – provoke disputes within the bourgeoisie; the first would put textile producers and automakers at risk, the second dairy and meat producers.
The way out of the crisis still remains quite open, but the interior minister said on Friday that he will advance the strategy of progressive use of force and the repression of popular movements near the National Assembly in Quito has been greatly intensified. At the same time, there is no repression against Lasso supporters who demonstrate on Av. de los Shyris from the same city. So the Lasso government talks.
*This is an opinion article. The author’s view does not necessarily express the newspaper’s editorial line Brazil de facto.
Editing: Nicolau Soares