On 30 September, a police strike in Ecuador escalated into an attempted coup d’etat as President Rafael Correa was surrounded and trapped in a hospital for 12 hours in the capital Quito. Tens of thousands of Ecuadorians poured into the street to block attempts to overthrow the democratically elected government, defending the Presidential Palace and facing tear gas and missiles thrown by police who had sealed off the area around the hospital where a defiant Correa was refusing to negotiate or surrender.
Correa was first elected President in November 2006. After introducing a new progressive constitution and changes to the system of political representation, he was re-elected in April 2009, with 51% of the vote, giving him a mandate to continue and deepen the unprecedented social and economic programme of reforms – the Citizens’ Revolution – to reverse the poverty and exploitation suffered by the majority of the population in a country which has been ravaged by neo-liberalism. Correa has announced that Ecuador is building socialism for the 21st century and joined the Bolivarian Alliance for the Americas (ALBA), the regional trade and cooperation bloc set up by Cuba and Venezuela in 2004.
Ostensibly, the police protest was in response to a new law approved the previous day which reduced payment received for promotions and bonuses. However, since Correa became President, police salaries have increased by an average 81%. When a small group within the 42,000 police force began a protest on 30 September, Correa went to talk to them face to face, but he was attacked by tear gas and, recovering from a knee operation just nine days previously, he left for treatment at the hospital. Once there, the hospital was surrounded, while other groups of armed police and some members in the army seized control of an international airport, broadcast facilities and other strategic objectives.
Ecuador’s army command, however, declared loyalty to the President and the Constitution as the people took to the streets, determined to resist a repetition of the coup in Honduras in June 2009. Finally, during the night, the army stormed the hospital and rescued Correa who went directly to the Presidential Palace to address jubilant crowds waiting there. Two days after the event Correa said of the police protest: ‘they tried to create chaos, to provoke civil war, and when that failed, they tried several times to kill the President.’
Venezuelan investigator Eva Golinger has warned that: ‘The latest coup attempt against one of the countries in the Bolivarian Alliance For The People of Our America (ALBA) is an attempt to impede Latin American integration and the advance of revolutionary democratic processes. The rightwing is on the attack in Latin America.’ Rejecting the brutal legacy of neo-liberalism in Latin America, ALBA promotes welfare-based development, keeping resources in the region to promote domestic development, acting as a barrier to US domination and European imperialism.
Golinger demonstrates that US imperialism was behind the coup attempt, citing an October 2008 report from the Ecuadorian Defence Minister revealing ‘how US diplomats dedicated themselves to corrupting the police and the Armed Forces’, and the fact that in 2010 the US State Department increased USAID's budget in Ecuador to more than $38 million dollars. ‘In the most recent years, a total of $5,640,000 in funds were invested in the work of “decentralization” in the country.’
In an exclusive interview with President Correa in October 2009 during his academic visit to London, published in Fight Racism! Fight Imperialism! Helen Yaffe asked how the ALBA countries could defend themselves against the kind of reaction seen in the coup in Honduras. Correa responded that ‘there is nothing that guarantees that this cannot happen in Ecuador, in Venezuela, in Bolivia. We must be very well organised. You know that our governments have great popular support, but we are not organised to defend our process from any intent at destabilisation…They are also preparing mobilisations in Guayaquil [in Ecuador]. They had everything ready when we managed to resolve the problems, but perhaps not next time. Basically every country has to organise its internal structures.’
The Ecuadorian government has learned the lessons from Honduras, and from Venezuela and Bolivia, where coups attempts and destabilisation plans have been defeated. They understand that the best defence for the Citizen’s Revolution is the citizens themselves; to be organised at the grassroots to defend the revolutionary process against the many obstacles, challenges and pitfalls. By pouring onto the streets in their tens of thousands the Ecuadorian people have shown that they are determined to drive the process forward to the construction of socialism in the 21st century.
On Thursday 30 September, within hours of the news of events in Ecuador reaching Britain, Rock around the Blockade joined activists from MERU (Movement of Ecuadorians in the UK) and other Latin American solidarity campaigns in Trafalgar Square for a protest. By 11pm, they numbered 50 and filled the Square with chants of ‘Correa our friend, the people are with you’ and ‘the people united will never be defeated.’ The following evening, activists returned to celebrate the defeat of the reactionaries and the strengthening of the Citizen’s Revolution.