Crisis in Ecuador


Oppressed and Exploited Indians Topple Govt.

Since the mass upsurge of Jan. 21 in Ecuador overthrew the government of Jamil Mahuad, the international capitalist press has been filled with stories claiming that these events represented a new danger of military rule in Latin America. The truth is a bit different.

What happened was that the army broke under the momentum of a popular rebellion, initiated by organizations representing the most oppressed and exploited population of the country, the Indian peoples.

However, a layer of generals then stepped in and returned the government to civilian bourgeois rule.

This was the second time in three years that an Ecuadoran government has been toppled by a mass uprising because it tried to apply the economic dictates of the international financial institutions. On this occasion, the rebellion was touched off by Mahuad’s attempt to peg the Ecuadoran currency, the Sucre, to the U.S. dollar.

A communiqué from the Indian organization CONAIE, cited in the Fourth International on-line press service, explained what “dollarization” means for the poor masses of Ecuador:

“It means that when the basic wage is $40, the family basket for a family of five is $250. In the countryside, the Indians and peasants can no longer buy fertilizer. Should we leave the countryside? But the cities only offer us more poverty. Despite the government’s big talk about large-scale investments in health and education, in practice these services are no longer free. … If you manage to see a doctor, you can’t pay for your medicine.”

Over the past year, the Ecuadoran economy has declined by more than 7 percent, and inflation has reached the level of 60 percent.

The Indian population on the land began to rise up. The CONAIE communiqué continued: “On Jan. 11, after the organization of parish, canton, and provincial parliaments, we set up a National Parliament of the Peoples, as an alternative government in which the various sections of society were discussing and putting forward proposals of a government and a multinational state….

“The indigenous and popular uprising called for various actions, such as blocking the roads and cutting off the supply of agricultural products to the cities, and mobilizations advancing from the countryside to the cities.”

That began the march on the capital, Quito. “At that point, we saw high levels of repression and coercion. Tanks and military squadrons appeared in the roads of the communities. All produce destined for the consumption of the communities was requisitioned for Quito, along with the vehicles in which it was being transported.

“Interprovincial buses got orders to move anything, people and even animals, but no Indians. Everyone who was dressed like an Indian or who looked like an Indian was forced to get out of the buses.”

But the military repression was overwhelmed by masses of Indians marching on the cities. About 40,000 people mustered in front of the congressional building in Quito.

A later dispatch by the FI on-line service reported: “At 10 a.m. on Friday morning, Jan. 21, a large group of Indians, headed by Colonel Lucio Gutierrez, occupied the congressional building. They declared the government removed and set up a council of government headed by Gutiérrez; Antonio Vargas, the leader of CONAIE [the national Indian organization], and Carlos Solorzano Constine, former chief judge of the Supreme Court.

“At 3 p.m., the minister of defense, General Mendoza, issued a statement saying that the armed forces had called for Mahuad’s resignation but were insisting on a constitutional solution (that he should be succeeded by the vice president).

Mendoza subsequently managed to replace Gutierrez in the rebel government council and impose the installation of the vice president, Gustavo Naboa. That for the moment ended the rebellion. Gutierrez was arrested and imprisoned. According to the Guayaquil daily, El Universo, the reactionary generals were able to resume control because the younger officials who were swept along by the rebellion did not control enough military units.

According to the Fourth International correspondent in Ecuador, the uprising failed primarily for two reasons: (1) The development of the mobilizations was uneven. Protests by urban workers did not match the scope of the rural uprising. (2) The alternative government was not well enough organized. It did not come as close to real dual power as the popular parliaments of the February 1997 uprising.

The Jan. 21 uprising has clearly terrified the Ecuadoran bourgeoisie. It is turning again to repression in order to try to break the mass movement. Defenders of the rights of working people and democratic rights in general have to be alert to come to the aid of the victims of state terror in Ecuador.

But reports from inside the country indicate that the mass organizations and leaders involved in the rebellion remain confident. Mass opposition to austerity and impoverishment has continued to seethe and spread over the past two years. After the failure of the Jan. 21 revolt, it has only temporarily receded. It may not be far from another, still more powerful explosion.

The Ecuadoran rebellions are an indication that the century now opening will not be any less revolutionary than the one now ended-and the repercussions of such a rebellion can be international.

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