The Ecuadorian Coup: Its Larger Meaning

Linked with James Petras – USA. – Published on Global, by James Petras, October 10, 2010.

… The Facts about the Coup: The police did not simply “protest” against economic polices, they seized the National Assembly and attempted to occupy public buildings and media outlets.  The air force – or at least those sectors collaborating with the police – seized the airport in Quito, concerted actions seizing and blocked strategic transport networks..  President Correa was assaulted and seized and kept hostage under police guard by scores of heavily armed police, who violently resisted the Special Forces who eventually freed the president resulting in scores of wounded and ten deaths.  Clearly the leaders of the police uprising had more in mind that a simple “protest” over cancelled bonuses – they sought to overthrow the president and were willing to use their firepower to carry it off.  The initial economic demands of public sector employees were used by the coup leaders as a springboard to oust the regime. 

The fact that the coup failed is, in part, a result of the President’s vigorous and dramatic appeal to the people to take to the streets to defend democracy – an appeal, which resonated with thousands of supporters and denied the coup makers public support in the streets.

The facts on the ground all point to a violent attempt by the police and sectors of the military to seize power and depose the president – by any definition a coup.  And so it was immediately understood by all Latin American governments, from right to left, some of whom immediately closed their frontiers and threatened to break relations if the coup leaders succeeded.  The only exception was Washington – whose first response was not to join in the condemnation but to wait and see what would be the outcome or as presidential spokesperson Philip Crowley announced “we are monitoring events”, referring to the uprising as a “protest” challenging the government.  When Washington realized that the coup was actively opposed by the Ecuadorian public, all the Latin American governments, the bulk of the armed forces and doomed to failure,  Secretary of State Clinton called Correa to announce US “backing” for his government, referring to the coup as merely an “interruption of the democratic order”.

In the run-up to the restoration of democracy, the trade unions were by and large passive observers, certainly no general strikes were discussed or even active mobilizations.  The response of top military officials in the army were by and large opposed to the coup, except perhaps in the air force which seized the principle airport in Quito, before handing it over to anti-drug units of the police force.  The anti narcotic police were in the forefront of the coup and not surprisingly were under intense US training and indoctrination for the past five years.

Explanation for the Varied Responses to the Coup: …

… Final Reflections in the Way of a Conclusion

The unfolding of the police coup turned into a farce: the coup makers miscalculated their support within the military as well as among the protesting Indians and unions.  They stood alone without glory or success.  Lacking national leaders, or even a coherent strategy, they were put down in a matter of hours.  They misjudged the willingness of the US to commit, once it became clear that the coup makers lacked any resonance among the military elite and were totally inept.  What may have started as a coup ended as a comic opera with a brief shoot-out with the military at a police hospital.

On the other side, the fact that Correa, in the end could only rely on his elite special forces, to free him from police hostage, reveals the tragedy of a popular leader.  One who started with immense popular backing, promising to finally fulfill the demand of the campesinos for land reform, the Indians demand for sovereignty to negotiate over mineral riches and urban labors’ demands for just remuneration, and ended returning to the Presidential Palace protected by military armored carriers.

The failed coup in Ecuador raises a larger political question: Does the near demise of Correa spell the end of the experiment of the ‘new center-left regimes’ which attempt to “balance” vigorous export-based growth with moderate social payoffs?  The entire success of the center-left regimes has been based on their ability to subsidize and promote agro-mineral foreign and domestic capital while increasing employment, wages and subsistence payments (anti-poverty programs).  This ‘political formula’ has been underwritten by the boom in demand from Asia and other world markets and by historically high commodity prices.  When the crises of 2008 broke, Ecuador was the weakest link in Latin America, as it was tied to the dollar and was unable to ‘stimulate’ growth or cushion the economy.  Under conditions of crises, Correa resorted to repression of the social movements and trade unions and greater efforts to secure support from petro-mining multi-nationals.  Moreover, Ecuador’s police and military was much more vulnerable to infiltration by US agencies because of large scale funding and training programs unlike Bolivia and Venezuela which had expelled these agencies of subversion.  Unlike Argentina and Brazil, Correa lacked a capacity to “conciliate” diverse sectors of social movements through negotiations and concessions.  Of course, the penetration of the Indian communities by imperial funded NGO’s promoting “separatism” and identity’ politics did not make conciliation easy.

Nevertheless, despite the particularities of Ecuador, the failed coup underlines the relative importance of resolving basic socio-economic grievances, if the center-left macro-economic projects are to succeed.  Apart from Venezuela, none of the center-left regimes are carrying out structural reforms (land reform) nationalizations of strategic sectors, income redistribution .Even the Chavez regime in Venezuela has lost a great deal of popular support because of neglect of essential services (public safety, garbage collection, delivery of water, electrical power and food delivery) because of corruption and incompetence.  Over time, the center-left can no longer depend on “charismatic” leaders to compensate for the lack of structural changes. The regimes must sustain the   improvement of wages and salaries and delivery of basic services in an ambience of ‘social dialogue’.  The absence of continuous social reforms, while agro-mining elites prosper, opens the door for the return of the right and provokes divisions in the social coalitions supporting the center-left regimes.  Most important the implosion of the center-left provides an opportunity for Washington to subvert and overthrow the regimes, reverse their relatively independent foreign policy and reassert its hegemony.

The institutional foundations of the center-left are fragile everywhere, especially the police and army, because officialdom is still engaged in government programs with US military, narco-police and intelligence agencies.  The center-left regimes – except Venezuela – have continued to participate in all joint military programs.  The center-left has not transformed the state. Equally important it has promoted the economic bases of the pro-US Right via its agro-mineral export strategy.  It has ignored the fact that political stability is temporary and based on a balance of social power resulting from the popular rebellions of the 2000-2005 period .The center-left ignores the reality that as the capitalist class prospers, as a result of center-left agro-mineral export strategies, so does the political right.  And as the wealth and political power of the export elites increase and as the center-left turns to the Right, as has been the case with Correa, there will be greater social conflict and a new cycle of political upheavals, if not by the ballot box then via the bullet – via coups or via popular uprisings.

The successful coup in Honduras (2009) and the recent failed coup in Ecuador are symptomatic of the deepening crises of “post-neo-liberal” politics.  The absence of a socialist alternative, the fragmentation of the social movements, the embrace of “identity politics”, have severely weakened an effective organized alternative when and if the center-left regimes go into crises.  For the moment most “critical intellectuals” cling to the center-left in hopes of a “left turn”, of a political rectification, rather than taking the difficult but necessary road of rebuilding an independent class based socialist movement. (full long text).

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