EspañolRight now, the Venezuelan government is leading the country into the economic abyss; Mrs Kirchner is facing charges in Argentina for her disastrous economic policy; Brazil’s “Lula” Da Silva, the former president, and Dilma Rousseff, the current one, are on their heels in the face of corruption scandals; and Bolivia’s president, Evo Morales, lost a referendum that would have allowed him to hold on to power.
Meanwhile, Ecuador’s social boiler starts to heat up and the military begins to show its teeth once again.
President Rafael Correa faces formidable budgetary challenges due to the low price of oil, which represents 40% of the country’s revenues. Add to this the socialist government’s spending on welfare, and you find the Ecuadorian economy at the doorstep of a recession with decreasing economic growth according to the International Monetary Fund.
Correa was not in Venezuela to commemorate Hugo Chavez’s death anniversary. Ecuador’s president is too busy steering a polarized society with high unemployment, rising violence and rampant drug trafficking. In 2015, the government seized 79.2 tons of cocaine, which had entered the country from Colombia in the north and Peru to the south.
The United States State Department reports that Ecuador is now a net producer of illicit drugs. Since the US dollar is used as the national currency, billions of drug dollars can flow into the country each year as complacent authorities allow money laundering to become rampant.
The Ecuadorian government has also turned to China in order to alleviate its economic distress. After Brazil and Venezuela, Ecuador is the country with the largest loans from China, some USD $7 billion.
In the midst of this financial predicament, Correa, who is known for repressing press freedom in his country, took over the funds of the Armed Forces Social Security Institute (ISSFA). He threatened to pass the ISSFA to the ordinary system of the Social Security Institute and delayed the payment of military pensions. These measures raised a prompt outcry from the armed forces. And Correa reacted by firing the entire military leadership.
Some days later, when Correa headed an official event in Quito’s Parcayacu Military College, all retired officers rose and left the field in silence. When the president finished his tirade, not one applause was heard among the dour and properly uniformed officers on active duty.
Four days later, the minister of defense resigned, reading a letter in which Correa was described as ignorant and shameless. The senior official stated that the army was not willing to provide security to the president since he had chastised the high command on Twitter. Paco Moncayo, former congressman and former mayor of Quito, claimed that the armed forces are “not a bastion of the commander in chief or his minister.”
In September 2011, Correa was kidnapped by police units who protested after their salary bonuses were cut. On that occasion, the president was rescued by the Army Special Forces in an incident that ended with a dozen dead, about 200 injured and several police officers in jail.
Today’s political atmosphere is also tense, with military officers, teachers, students, doctors, hospital employees, journalists, and businessmen upset at the government. The revolts which ousted a government in the year 2000 and caused instability until 2007 are still remembered. It was Correa’s rise to the presidency which finally settled matters; Ecuador’s current leader is, after all, the best educated of the 21st Century Socialism’s strong men.
Correa managed to hold on to power by breaking up powerful social organizations such as the National Indigenous Confederation (CONAIE), a group which had toppled former presidents. Now, Correa is trying to divide the military. Veterans have responded by enthusiastically supporting a national protest on March 17.
Public demonstrations have been growing in frequency, volume, and violence across the country since mid-2015. “Coup against Correa” has become the slogan for next week’s protest.
In the border areas with Colombia, the oil crisis is also breeding unrest. There, the Southern Block of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) prowls the provinces of Carchi, Sucumbios and Orellana as they introduce cocaine from Colombia’s Cauca and Putumayo regions.
Drug traffickers in the border area continue to flourish. The Sinaloa Cartel has managed to set up support networks, shipping cocaine to the entire world or from the border itself, often making use of semi-submersible vessels that hug the Pacific coast as they head for Central America.
As I drink coffee in a small bar in Quito’s colonial city center, I speak to a retired military officer. He points to the Plaza Grande hotel terrace, located just in front of the Carondelet Palace, the seat of government. At the top, two snipers rest their Remington sniper rifles on their waist.
“They are responsible for neutralizing any threat against the President when he goes out to the balcony to greet his followers,” he says. “There are only a few left these days. You see, as he is fighting with the military, I don’t think he really wants to go to the balcony”. We hurry another sip of coffee.
In the evening, I meet an academic who says that “the economic situation is very critical since Correa has had to cut all the social welfare programs that gave him popularity. He wants to be ousted from the government. He wants to avoid a trial, as is happening in Argentina with Kirchner and Lula in Brazil. He prefers to be toppled, to leave the country and then try to return as a savior.”
He adds that, “in Ecuador, the military has popular roots, economic power, and tradition. They are appealing to other sectors unhappy with Correa and his Venezuelan-style authoritarianism. This can reignite an uprising at any moment.”
Things in Ecuador these days are complex, and tensions are running high. Beneath the heights of the Cotopaxi and Tungurahua volcanoes, there is a noticeable, accumulated odor of discontent that presages a new social explosion.