“Se acabó la zanganería” (“the bludging is over with”).
With this phrase, President Lenin Moreno announced the end of the 40-year long policy of fuel and petrol subsidies that traditionally benefited the working-class population.
Zánganos (drones) is a slang term traditionally used by the wealthy to refer to the workers and the poor as “mindless” or “uneducated” — reflecting the neoliberal president’s disgust towards the working class.
Overnight, the slang turned into a buzzword used by Moreno’s opponents to refer to themselves and the new movement as la revolución de los zánganos (the drone revolution).
There have been a series of large demonstrations across the country, as a new package of neoliberal reforms was presented by the Moreno government in a bid to satisfy the demands of the International Monetary Fund (IMF).
This latest explosion of mass protests was caused by the government’s announcement on October 1 of a series of new economic measures to reduce “wasteful” public spending and further balance the budget.
The most controversial measure is the complete elimination of fuel and petrol subsidies, in place since the 1970s, directly contributing to a 123% rise in the price of diesel and similar increases for other fuels.
Furthermore, the package introduces a 20% cut in public employee salaries and the initiation of plans to privatise pensions and remove safeguards for workers’ conditions and job security.
Foreseeing the likelihood and magnitude of protests against his government, Moreno declared a “national state of emergency” and deployed the police and military against protests in the capital, Quito, and other areas.
Among the most visible political forces leading the protests have been Rafael Correa’s Citizen Revolution Movement (MRC), the Popular Front (FP) political party, and social and trade union organisations, such as the United Workers’ Front (FUT) and the Confederation of Indigenous Nationalities of Ecuador (CONAIE).
Furthermore, both transport workers’ unions and the taxi drivers’ associations announced strike action on October 3, bringing several cities around the country to halt, among them Quito and Cuenca.
The province of Pichincha was converted into the epicentre of popular struggle, with more than 10,000 people taking part in the strike and protests.
Although the transport workers suspended the strike action on October 5, protests by other organisations, particularly indigenous groups, have shown no signs of stopping.
The state of emergency has been severely criticised by the MRC as being unconstitutional, as it lacks any specific parameters regarding proportionality, legality, temporality, territoriality and rationality (as mandated in the constitution). It is widely considered to be a measure to prevent a repeat of the mass uprisings in major cities that overthrew the neoliberal governments of Jamil Mahuad in 2000 and Lucio Gutiérez in 2005.
Three hundred and fifty arrests have been made since the protests began on October 2, including several activists from the transport unions. More than 20 people have been injured according to reports from around the country.
In Caymabe, Pichincha, police reportedly used live ammunition against protesters.
During the transport workers’ strike, several delegates and local leaders were detained by the police in Cuenca, and a further four members of the taxi drivers’ associations were arrested.
The cuts to fuel subsidies have only served to fan the flames of popular discontent, which has been spreading across the country since Moreno’s neoliberal economic turn and his embrace of authoritarianism.
Moreno has attempted to consistently discredit Correa’s highly successful and popular economic strategy of combining increased social spending with public investment in major infrastructure and energy projects, and the diversification of the economy away from oil.
Instead, his government has pursued an IMF-mandated package of reforms, including the dismissal of thousands of public sector employees, reducing the size of the public sector, initiating privatisation (particularly the public banking services) and cuts to education and healthcare.
Consequently, levels of poverty and inequality have significantly risen under Moreno’s government. According to official figures, structural poverty rose from 23.1% in June 2017 to 25.5% in June this year, with some economists projecting that it will reach 30% by the end of the year, if the new economic measures are enacted.
Extreme poverty has risen from 8.4% to 9.5% during the same period. Furthermore, the Gini coefficient for economic inequality has risen from 0.462 in June 2017 to 0.478 in June this year, reflecting Moreno’s policy of reducing social spending principally to benefit the rich.
The country has witnessed a continuous breakdown of constitutional law, such as the persecution of the former vice-president Jorge Glas on dubious charges, the censorship of critical media, the “INA Papers” scandal and discovery of secret off-shore bank accounts linked to Moreno’s family. The newly elected Council of Citizens’ Participation and Social Control was dismissed and Ecuador also withdrew from the Union of South American Nations and the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries.
There has also been a political witch-hunt against Correa and other leaders of the MRC, such as former foreign minister Ricardo Patiño and former deputy Sofia Espin.
MRC National Assembly member Esther Cuesta said: “Millions of Ecuadorians, whom we join as the Citizen Revolution Movement, reject the neoliberal economic measures, dictated by the IMF and imposed to the Ecuadorian people by Moreno’s government, mainly because they will impoverish the vast majority of the population: the middle class, the working class and the poor, as well as small and medium-sized businesses, to the detriment of the future of children and younger generations.”
She said the “zánganos” movement is significant in the people’s struggle against neoliberalism: “Since the paquetazo [IMF package] announcement, what started as a transportation strike, emerged as a growing social protest all over the country and from different sectors of the population.
“Ecuadorian people have memory. The adjustment policies applied in the country in the 1980s and 1990s provoked massive unemployment, impoverishing of the population, and about 12% of the population emigrated.”
[An edited version of this article first appeared at thegrayzone.com]