Ecuador: Grassroots debate reforms, Correa warns of coup plot

President Rafael Correa speaks to thousands of supporters from the presidential palace in Quito's main square, June 15, 2015. Photo: EFE.

After weeks of often-violent right-wing protests over proposed tax changes that would affect only a very small minority of affluent Ecuadorians, more than 15,000 leaders from Ecuador’s rural governments held an extraordinary assembly on June 25 in support of the government.

At the event in the north-eastern city of Montecristi, the leaders of the so-called rural parish governments discussed the advances achieved by the government of President Rafael Correa, as well as expressed support for the elected government in the face of anti-government protests.

A leader of the local government movement, Bolivar Armijos, said members of the national council of local governments have declared they will be “on constant watch” for any attempt to destabilise the government.

“If we have to support the government, we will bring hundreds of thousands of rural citizens to protect the Citizens' Revolution,” Armijos said.

The “Citizens' Revolution” was begun by Correa when he first became president in 2007. It has brought about a series of social programs and deep reforms that have delivered remarkable changes for Ecuador's long-excluded majority.

It has also positioned the country as one of the most stable economies in Latin America, after decades of turmoil, including the 1999 financial crisis prompted by a bank bailout, which resulted in mass unemployment, inflation and poverty. Correa's left-wing government has taken an estimated 1.1 million people out of poverty, according to official figures.

The anti-government protests have been sparked by government plans for tax reforms that target the rich. In response, Correa put the reform plans temporarily on hold and called for a nationwide debate on wealth redistribution. He challenged the opposition to prove the planned reforms would hurt the poor.

Although the right has ignored Correa's call, many social movements have responded.

The Confederation of Indigenous and Campesino Organizations (FEI) is one of many social movements that are taking part in the national debate on Correa's proposed inheritance tax bill and law for limiting capital gains.

The FEI said it sees these measures as promoting greater social equality.

“There should be a dialogue among all sectors of the country,” FEI president Jose Agualsaca told TeleSUR. “But this dialogue should not just be about the inheritance tax and capital gains. It needs to be expanded, for example more just and equal development models.”

Carmen Tene, a leader of the Saraguro indigenous community, said: “We are discussing these bills, and I think that it is good to internally analyse these actual events. It is good and it is strengthening our organizations.”

The country's two biggest indigenous organisations — the Confederation of Indigenous People (CONAIE) and the Federation of Campesino, Black and Indigenous Organizations (FENOCIN) – welcomed Correa's launch of a national debate.

However, the groups differed on their stance towards the government. FENOCIN said it would support the government and avoid actions that can cause confrontation. However CONAIE, which has often clashed with the Correa government, has said it wanted the debate to be broader than just the two laws.

For their part, opposition leaders as well as the chambers of commerce of Quito and Guayaquil have rejected the call to engage in debate. Instead, they have called for the proposed laws to be completely scrapped. They said they would continue their protests.

Correa has said that behind the opposition protests was a planned coup, and the opposition was working to destabilise the country. He has said he hopes the debates will lead to a national consensus on these bills, which seek to create greater social equality.

Speaking on his weekly television program on June 20, Correa called on his supporters to defend the achievements of his government's “Citizen’s Revolution” against destabilisation attempts by the right.

“Be aware, there is a coup underway,” Correa said. “We are the immense peaceful majority, but we are going to defend our revolution and the moment they want to touch the president of the national government: everyone to the street, to defend what we have achieved.”

The president warned: “We are peaceful people, but do not play with the patience of the people, you few oligarchs who want to return to the past. You will find the people more united than ever.”

Correa said the right was trying to achieve through destabilisation what it could not win at the ballot box. He emphasised: “The greatest social sin of our Latin America is inequality, and we face a massive campaign of disinformation, to the point of exhaustion, and manipulation by the opposition.”

The results of citizen debates on the law for capital gains and the inheritance tax will be evaluated on September 15. The government will then determine whether or not to resubmit the bills to the National Assembly.

[Compiled from TeleSUR English.]

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