This was a coup attempt – encouraged by Washington's shameful support for the overthrow of Manuel Zelaya last year
In June of last year, when the Honduran military overthrew the social-democratic government of Manuel Zelaya, President Rafael Correa of Ecuador took it personally. "We have intelligence reports that say that after Zelaya, I'm next," said Correa.
|Ecuador's president, Rafael Correa (with microphone), addresses his supporters from the balcony of the government palace in Quito after the coup attempt. Photograph: Pato Realpe/EPA|
On Thursday, it turned out to be true.
Some analysts are still insisting that what happened was just a police
protest over possible benefit cuts that got out of hand. But to anyone
who watched the prolonged, pitched gun-battle on TV last night, when the
armed forces finally rescued President Correa from the hospital where
he was trapped by the police, this did not look like a protest. It was
an attempt to overthrow the government.
The co-ordinated actions
in various cities, the takeover of Quito's airport by a section of the
armed forces – all this indicated a planned coup attempt. And although
it failed, at various points during the day it was not so clear what the
outcome would be.
The government pointed a finger at a former president and army colonel, Lucio Gutierrez,
and he was on television yesterday calling for the ousting of Correa.
He accused the president of everything from supporting the Farc (the
guerilla group fighting Colombia's government), to wrecking the economy.
coup might have had a chance if Correa were not so popular. Despite his
enemies in high places, the president's approval rating was 67% in
Quito a couple of weeks ago. His government has doubled spending on healthcare (pdf),
significantly increased other social spending, and successfully
defaulted on $3.2bn of foreign debt that was found to be illegitimately
contracted. Ecuador's economy managed to squeak through 2009 without a
recession, and is projected to grow about 2.5% this year. Correa, an
economist, has had to use heterodox and creative methods to keep the
economy growing in the face of external shocks because the country does
not have its own currency. (Ecuador adopted the dollar in 2000, which
means that it can do little in the way of monetary policy and has no
control over its exchange rate.)
Correa had warned that he might
try to temporarily dissolve the congress in order to break an impasse in
the legislature, something that he has the right to request under the
new constitution – though it would have to be approved by the
constitutional court. This probably gave the pro-coup forces something
they saw as a pretext. It is reminiscent of the coup in Honduras, when
Zelaya's support for a non-binding referendum on a constituent assembly
was falsely reported by the media – both Honduran and international – as
a bid to extend his presidency.
Media manipulation has a big
role in Ecuador, too, with most of the media controlled by rightwing
interests opposed to the government. This has helped build a base of
people – analogous to those who get all of their information from Fox
News in the United States, but proportionately larger – who believe that
Correa is a dictator trying to turn his country into a clone of
The US state department issued a two-sentence statement from secretary of state Hillary Clinton,
who late Thursday urged "all Ecuadoreans to come together and to work
within the framework of Ecuador's democratic institutions to reach a
rapid and peaceful restoration of order." Unlike the White House
statement in response to the Honduran coup last year, it also expressed
"full support" for the elected president. This is an improvement,
although it is unlikely that it reflects a change in Washington's policy toward Latin America.
The Obama administration did everything it could
to support the coup government in Honduras last year, and, in fact, is
still trying to convince the South American governments – including
Ecuador, Brazil, Argentina and the collective organisation of UNASUR
– to recognise the government there. South America refuses to recognise
the Lobo government because it was elected under a dictatorship that
did not allow for a free or fair contest. The rest of the hemisphere
also wants some guarantees that would stop the killing of journalists
and political activists there, which has continued and even got worse
under the "elected" government.
As the South American governments
feared, Washington's support for the coup government in Honduras over
the last year has encouraged and increased the likelihood of rightwing
coups against democratic left governments in the region. This attempt in
Ecuador has failed, but there will be likely be more threats in the
months and years ahead.guardian.co.uk