Ecuador: Chronicle of a still unfinished victory

Co-author Virgilio Hernández

Ecuador was shaken by a new social outbreak that kept the country on edge for 18 days in a confrontation between the popular bloc called to the streets and the government of President Guillermo Lasso. Internationally criticized for the abusive use of physical and symbolic violence against the demonstrations, the Ecuadorian government was forced to sit down at a national dialogue table that concluded with the signing of an agreement on June 30. 

During the 18-day national strike (called by the indigenous confederations Conaie, Feine, and Fenocin), time passed at great speed in Ecuador. What began as a popular protest, with a clear Decalogue of demands to contain neoliberal policies, came to take dismissal overtones in both the social and political-institutional spheres. 

President Lasso, who according to recent polls enjoys 13% of public confidence and less than 20% approval of his administration, bet from the beginning on the protest, which was based on the use of violence that exacerbated the mobilizations. On June 14, the arrest of Conaie’s president, Leonidas Iza. A process that was plagued with irregularities, uncovered popular discontent and generalized social protest to which the Government responded with repression and militarization.

The multiple states of exception, the warmongering discourse, the police occupation of the House of Ecuadorian Culture (traditional meeting place for the mobilizations of indigenous peoples and nationalities), the attacks on universities converted into centers of peace and lodging, and the abusive use of police and military force have resulted in half a dozen people dead and hundreds injured and detained. 

As had already happened in 2019, the government strategy was based on the criminalization of several opposition leaders. On the one hand, both the president and different ministers focused on Leonidas Iza a discrediting campaign that exacerbated the racist expressions of part of the population and undermined coexistence in the country. On the other hand, several ministries have spread the idea, without foundation, that the mobilizations were being financed by political groups linked to transnational crime and seeking destabilization (in a clear allusion to “Correism”). 

While social tension escalated and the conflict became generalized throughout the country, the Citizen Revolution bench decided to attempt a political-institutional solution to the crisis, using the mechanism established in article 130.2 of the Ecuadorian Constitution, known as “muerte cruzada” (cross death). Thus, on June 24, 72 legislators activated this procedure which includes both the removal of the president and the dissolution of the National Assembly and the calling, within seven days, of early elections which should be held in 90 days at the most.  

Under pressure from the social and political-institutional side, the Government agreed to the dialogue which began on June 27 and lasted only hours. The following day, after the death of a military officer in a confrontation between the Army and different groups in an Amazonian area, the President broke off the dialogue and, at the same time, called “coup plotters and political mafias” the sectors that were to debate and vote that afternoon on the proposal for presidential dismissal. In addition, Lasso’s harsh verbal attack in a national chain against Leonidas Iza clearly sought the rupture of the indigenous movement, which he called to disown its leader. 

Thus, apparently and in a climate of maximum tension, institutional and negotiation channels were closed while the National Assembly proceeded to vote on the impeachment proposal. However, the benches of the Citizen Revolution, a part of Pachakutik and independents reached 80 votes in favor compared to 48 votes against from the Social Christian Party, the Democratic Left, and the pro-government group. In this way, Lasso assured his continuity in office, while his weakness in terms of real support in the Assembly was evidenced. 

In view of the complex situation, there were even warnings of the possible arrest of Leonidas Iza and other leaders of the indigenous-peasant movement. However, the leadership of the convening organizations deepened the call for grassroots mobilization and the demand for the recognition of Iza as president of Conaie. This risky decision was key to advance in the talks to reach a solution, forcing the Government, with the mediation of the Ecuadorian Episcopal Conference, to sit down to dialogue.

Ecuador’s future after the national strike

On June 30 an agreement was reached between the Government and the indigenous movement after which the national strike was lifted and the state of emergency was repealed. Among the main agreements, is Decree 452, which requires the country’s governors to intensify control operations to prevent and eradicate speculative processes, the declaration of an emergency in the health sector, as well as the establishment of compensatory public policies for rural and urban areas, and the reduction of fuel prices.

Additionally, Conaie achieved the repeal of Decree No. 95 on hydrocarbons and the reform of Decree 151, which contains the Mining Action Plan. In addition, a 90-day dialogue table is to be established to resolve the pending issues, with the participation of the different branches of government. 

The closing of the conflict leaves the Government seriously weakened. The vote in the Assembly demonstrated its institutional weakness, while the delay in agreeing to dialogue evidenced its political incapacity to manage the country. Six people dead, more than 500 wounded, and further social division are a result impossible to forget, even more so when different international human rights organizations, such as the IACHR, the Committee on the Rights of the Child, or Amnesty International, have harshly criticized the abusive use of force and human rights violations. 

For its part, the indigenous movement and, in particular, its leader, Leonidas Iza, emerged strengthened after showing its capacity to sustain 18 days of mobilization and social protests. In fact, the mobilizations allowed the recognition of important rights and social advances that will benefit the social majorities of Ecuador as a whole, beyond the indigenous movement. 

The scenario is still open. In the coming days, we will see the corollary of this mobilization. The Government may err, as it happened in October 2019, and open a new moment in the persecution against social fighters and opponents, among them, Leonidas Iza, who has his trial hearing on July 4. But Guillermo Lasso could also be right and assume a transcendental turn in his political line to meet the needs of the country, instead of continuing to sacrifice Ecuador under the arrangements of organizations such as the International Monetary Fund. 

Translated from Spanish by Janaína Ruviaro da Silva

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