Ecuador eyewitness: Elites protest as Correa calls for debate on redistributing wealth


Supporters of Correa and the pro-poor 'Citizens Revolution' flood Quito on June 15.

Ecuador's left-wing President Rafael Correa has called for dialogue with his country's right-wing opposition amid a wave of protests over proposed reforms aimed at taxing the rich.

The anti-government protests that began on June 8 have continued despite Correa's announcement on June 15 that he would temporarily postpone parliamentary debate on two tax measures targeting the ultra-rich.

The announcement came after thousands of people flooded the streets of Ecuador's capital, Quito, that day to support Correa.

Quito's Plaza Grande was packed in a show of support for the pro-poor Citizen's Revolution initiated by Correa — first elected in 2006 and re-elected with 57% of the vote in 2013 — and to reject the sometimes violent right-wing protests.

Addressing the crowd, Correa shrugged off opposition calls for his resignation, instead arguing Ecuador’s rich are only being asked to pay their fair share. “All excessive wealth accumulation is unjust and immoral,” he said.

The peaceful, upbeat rally contrasted starkly with the frustrated opposition protests of recent days. Fist fights and broken bottles marred anti-government protests, but Correa’s gathering felt more like a family-friendly festival than a political demonstration.

“With peace, with joy, with conviction, we must all press forth to defend the revolution in every corner of the homeland,” the president said.

In a televised address that night, Correa announced plans to postpone the controversial measures so as to host a wider national debate. “We can wait,” he said. “This is not for our government; this is for future generations.”

Correa repeated accusations that the opposition was using the tax reforms as an excuse to try to destabilise his government while refusing to engage in public debate over the proposals. He urged them to return to the negotiating table.

The two proposed reforms include increases in Ecuador's capital gains and inheritance taxes. Both measures will only affect the wealthiest 2% of income earners in the country. Correa said they are part of a broader effort to redistribute wealth.

The Correa government has already lifted more than 1.1 million people out of poverty with a socialist-inspired mix of investment in welfare and social services. There has also been a slew of large-scale infrastructure projects that the government says have created badly needed jobs.

Correa says tax reforms are needed to curb inequality. But he vowed to dump the measures if the opposition could prove they will negatively impact the poor and working class.

Opposition leaders responded to Correa's call for talks over the reforms by vowing to remain in the streets, though their demonstrations have increasingly suffered from waning turnout.

Right-wing demonstrators have struggled to shrug off a popular view that their movement is largely restricted to the rich and upper middle-class, and is out of touch with ordinary Ecuadorians.

Behind closed doors, prominent opposition leader and Guayaquil mayor Jaime Nebot has allegedly suggested that protesters play down their privileged backgrounds, according to recent allegations.

In a leaked audio recording purportedly involving Nebot, opposition protesters were encouraged to avoid turning up to demonstrations in “luxury” vehicles.

In the recording, a voice alleged to be Nebot said: “We should try not to go [to protests] in luxury cars … If you have two cars and one is old, use the old one.”

The origin of the recording is unclear and its authenticity unverified. But the popular view of the opposition as elitist appears to be hampering right-wing efforts to woo public opinion away from Correa.

A June 16 CNN Spanish poll found more than 60% would vote for Correa in the event of a presidential recall referendum. A separate poll by the think tank Quantum Inform put his approval rating at about 55%.

Since coming to power in 2007, Correa's approval rating has mostly hovered between 60-85%, making him one of Latin America's most popular heads of state.



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