by Gerry Foley/ May 2005 issue of Socialist Action
An estimated 30,000 people marched on the presidential palace in the Ecuadoran capital of Quito, demanding the resignation of the president, Lucio Gutierrez, AP reported April 20. The same day, an emergency meeting
of legislators voted to remove the discredited demagogue from office. Subsequently, he fled the country.
Gutierrez was the third president in Ecuador in the last few years to be forced to decamp in the face of a mass uprising. In the same period, two other Latin
American presidents have had to run for their lives in similar circumstances, one in Argentina and another in Bolivia.
But what is different about Gutierrez is that he gained the presidency in the first place by espousing the revolt against the very neoliberal policies he tried to apply after taking office.
In the last few years, a whole series of Latin American populist politicians have been put in office by a wave of rebellion against the effects of the economic offensive of imperialism and its agencies, such as the International Monetary Fund. In general, these politicians, except for Hugo Chavez in Venezuela, have tried to maintain the same neoliberal policies behind a populist mask and have suffered increasing discredit.
Of these figures, Lucio Gutierrez in Ecuador and Alejandro Toledo in Peru have suffered the most precipitous decline. Now Gutierrez has been blown
away. After his election to the presidency in 2002, his popularity ratings plummeted. In the week he fled the country, his favorable rating had fallen to 4
In addition to his betrayal of the economic interests of the masses, Gutierrez made the mistake of trying to make a deal with his ousted predecessors in order to get a majority in the legislature. He threw out the country’s Supreme Court and appointed one of his own choosing in order to get it to quash the corruption charges against the two former presidents so that they could return.
It could not have been a more dramatic turnaround for Gutierrez, since he first came to prominence in January 2000 when, as an army colonel, he refused an
order from his predecessor to fire on protesting crowds and then broke with the military high command to try to form a government responsive to the mass
upsurge. That is what created his popularity and won the November 2002 presidential election for him.
Now in the latest crisis, on April 15 he declared a state of emergency to try to quell the mass protests against his regime, surrounding himself with generals
when he made the announcement. Then on April 16, he had to rescind emergency rule.
The British Independent reported April 18: "President Gutierrez first imposed a state of emergency in Quito—banning street protests and large political gatherings—then retracted it when the entire panoply of Ecuadoran political parties, along with the military brass and the U.S. government, told him he
had gone too far."
These forces, which have more at stake than a discredited political adventurer, undoubtedly recognized that Gutierrez did not have the strength necessary to make a crackdown effective and therefore his attempt to do that risked setting up an uncontrollable explosion.
The Paris daily Liberation reported April 19: "In response to the call of Radio La Luna, a small community station in the capital, the discontented came into the streets, starting April 13. ‘No political movement is coordinating this protest, no political personality can even get near to it. It is a completely spontaneous movement," the doctor Oscar Camargo said. ‘Lucio out!’ said one poster. ‘Out with all of them, the politicians,’ said another."
As for Toledo in Peru, the April issue of Alternativa, the newspaper of the Socialist Workers Movement (MST) in Argentina reported: "The popular uprising in the small city of Llave (16,000 inhabitants) has shaken Peru. A month ago, the people rose up. They killed the mayor, drove out the police and last week they forced the withdrawal of the army. But Llave is not an exception. The country is boiling over. Millions are demanding the resignation of President Toledo. … He is saying that ‘the time has come for an iron hand’ and is threatening repression.
"The Toledo government has earned the hatred of the people. Today it has an approval rate of 7 percent and only 5 percent in Lima, the capital. That is the same as what De La Ruca, Bucaram, or Sanchez de Losada had before the population kicked them out." Bucaram was one of Gutierrez’s fugitive predecessors, the other two were neoliberal presidents respectively of
Argentina and Bolivia, who were also forced to flee from enraged masses.
The social climate in Latin America is obviously heating up very rapidly, and it is likely that there will be new explosions very soon. However, in these
conditions of upsurge and rebellion, in most countries there is still a lack of a political instrument that can give expression to the demands and aspirations of
the masses in a consistent way and thereby create governments genuinely based on the mass movement. The need for revolutionary parties and socialist revolution is more and more glaring.