“Let’s give a shout out to those people in Ecuador that are standing up against what the IMF are doing to their economy & their people.”Jeremy Corbyn
By Lee Brown
Ecuador resembled a warzone at times over recent days as the army and police violently confronted protests erupting across the South American nation against austerity measures imposed to meet an International Monetary Fund (IMF) loan.
Shocking scenes included armoured military vehicles entering the capital city, clouds of teargas engulfing areas where families with their children had been protesting, a brutal police crackdown including motorbikes driven over protesters and rubber bullets fired at head height into crowds. A curfew was enforced and the “militarization” of the capital city announced. Media covering the situation were blocked.
The immediate spark was the hike in food and transport prices set to follow the removal of longstanding petrol and diesel subsidies, with diesel doubling in price overnight. But public services were also targeted with thousands of layoffs announced, holiday entitlement halved, and wages cut by 20 percent for some employees.
On Sunday night, the government finally caved and scrapped the decree that sparked the protests. But this was only after seven people lost their lives, 1,200 people were arrested and over 1,300 injured, according to Ecuador’s human rights Ombudsman.
Undoubtedly this was a huge victory for people power, led by indigenous communities, but also mobilising students, trade unionist and wider civil society. The protests were so powerful that the President moved the seat of government from the capital city. It will have inspired people across the continent to step up their own protests against injustices.
But while the government has been forced onto the back foot by the scale of the protests and forced to make immediate concessions, there are ongoing concerns.
Firstly there is doubt about whether the government’s deal is all that meets the eye. While it has retracted the initial decree and lifted the military curfew, the government will still be expected by the IMF to implement austerity measures to meet the terms of its loan.
A commission between the government and indigenous community representatives to look at new ways to meet the loan conditions has been established. The government may seek to change only the form and the target of the measures, rather than scrapping austerity altogether. That could mean, for example, privatising assets such as the country’s state-owned energy sector, further cutting back public services or increasing regressive taxes. That battle is not yet over.
The recent record of the government headed by President Moreno indicates it won’t be prepared to stand up to the IMF or Ecuador’s elites. Without ongoing resistance, the people could well pay the price in one way or another. The loan deal with the IMF was part of the government’s right-wing trajectory since being elected on a centre-left platform in 2017, promising to carry on the measures of Moreno’s socialist predecessor Rafael Correa.
Correa’s radical policies had focussed on state-led development, investment in public services to reduce inequality and poverty, as well as greater national independence by moving the country away from its close relationship with the United States and closing the largest US military base in the continent, and instead building greater regional integration. These measures may have garnered the respect of progressives across Latin America but they earnt the wrath of the business elites and the United States government. Moreno has been desperately seeking to comfort both ever since his election.
Another doubt is whether justice will be done for all the victims of human rights violations of recent days – of those wrongly detained, severely injured and who tragically lost their lives. As part of the push for justice to be done, the Ecuadorian Confederation of Indigenous Nationalities is demanding the Interior and Defence Ministers’ removal.
Another major concern, is ongoing political repression. Just hours after the government reached agreement with the indigenous communities, prominent left-wing politicians from Correa’s movement were targeted. . Paola Pabón, one of its elected governors and one of the most well-known Correa aligned politician still in the country was arrested. The home of Virgilio Hernández, the general secretary of the Citizen’s Revolution party was raided and Gabriela Rivadeneira, the former President of the National Assembly under Correa sought protection in the Mexican Embassy. This clampdown looks like an attempt to prevent a left-wing party coming to power should the Moreno government collapse. Given President Moreno had disapproval levels of around 80% ahead of the protests, this a real possibility. Many of the leaders of Correa’s government, including the former president himself, have been forced to flee the country to escape political persecution and the use of “lawfare” that draws parallels with treatment of President Lula in Brazil.
Progressives the world over can take heart from the blows against IMF-led austerity measures in Ecuador over recent days. But this story is not over and progressives worldwide should keep a close watch and step up solidarity with those fighting the IMF in Latin America.