Wednesday, April 27, 2005

Ecuador: Mass protests drive president from power

After four months of mounting political pressure and constitutional crisis, the people of Ecuador have driven President Lucio Gutierrez from office. In the face of unstoppable mass protest, and growing calls for the dissolution of Congress and establishment of popular assemblies, Ecuador's right-wing Congress abandoned Gutierrez, leaving vice-president Alfredo Palacio to assume the role.

Gutierrez was overwhelmingly elected in late 2002, on a campaign supported by the left. Styling himself an "Ecuadorian Chavez", he promised to destroy corruption in Ecuador, remove the contentious United States military presence at the Eloy Alfaro Air Base, and free the country from neoliberalism. Gutierrez had supported the 2000 uprising, led by indigenous groups, that overthrew a corrupt president.

Like most Latin Americans, Ecuadorians have been hit hard by neoliberal economic policies pushed by the US and international financial institutions, including privatisation of basic services that has led to increases in the cost of living; and increased debt that imposes crippling repayments. These policies have increased the economic and political subordination of the country to the US, which has strengthened support for left-nationalism.

Upon his election, however, Gutierrez quickly revealed himself as another US puppet, increasing US military ties; embroiling Ecuador in Plan Colombia (the Washington-Bogota-led war on Colombian left-wing insurgents); increasing Ecuador's IMF debt; supporting the war on Iraq; privatising basic services; agreeing to negotiate a free trade agreement with the US; and approving oil exploration in indigenous and environmentally protected areas.

Wednesday, April 20, 2005

ECUADOR: 'Lucio out! Democracy yes! Dictatorship No!'

On April 13, thousands of Ecuadorians protesting in the capital Quito were violently attacked by riot police with tear gas. The protesters, led by unionists and students, blocked roads with burning tyres and shut down the centre of the city, demanding the resignation of President Lucio Gutierrez and the reinstatement of the Supreme Court judges sacked by the president last December.
Quito Mayor Paco Moncayo, leader of the opposition Democratic Left Party (ID) and an organiser of the protest, ordered the closure of public transport, municipal offices and schools, as protesters shouted "Lucio out! Democracy, yes! Dictatorship, no!"

About 800 fully armed police and soldiers occupied the two blocks around the presidential palace, erecting metal barriers and barbed wire fencing across roadways.

This is just the latest in a wave of protests. On April 11, a group of about 100 protesters from various social movements occupied the nearby Metropolitan Cathedral. Despite being denied food and water, they are refusing to leave until the former Supreme Court is reinstated.

The prefect for Pichincha province, which covers Quito, ID member Ramiro Gonzalez, declared an indefinite strike from April 12, closing roads — including the Pan-American Highway — businesses and the local airport.

Roads were also blocked by demonstrations in the regions of Imbabura, Cotopaxi, Tungurahua, Loja, Azuay and Canar, and the Confederation of Indigenous Nations of Ecuador (CONAIE) occupied the education ministry building in Quito.