Latin America: Their struggle is ours

Thousands of Ecuadorians mobilised against the September 30 attempted coup against Ecuadorian President Rafael Correa. Photo: Go

It is not difficult to see that the events in Ecuador on September 30 amounted to an attempted right-wing coup d’etat.

Mass mobilisations in the streets of the capital, Quito, and other cities — together with action by sections of the armed forces loyal to the government — stopped the coup before the day was out.

But those few hours highlighted, again, the deep dangers facing those fighting for progressive change in Latin America and the Caribbean.

Remarkably, the first task is to re-assert that it was a coup attempt. In the wake of its failure, many commentators tried to minimise what happened.

Peruvian “libertarian” Alvaro Vargas Llosa — darling of the World Economic Forum and outspoken critic of the Bolivian and Venezuelan governments — insisted in an October 7 Australian article that it was not a coup, just an “ill-advised, violent protest by the police against a law that cut their benefits”.

Let us examine the facts. Rafael Correa is the democratically elected president of the country, re-elected in 2009 with 51.99% of votes cast in a poll with a turnout of almost 75%.

His nearest rival — ex-president and oil company friend Lucio Gutierrez — received just 28.24% of the vote.

On September 30, thousands of police rebelled, taking control of several cities, shutting down roads and airports. In the capital city, Quito, they took over their barracks.

When Correa went to the main barracks to confront the police, he was attacked with tear gas and injured. He was treated in a police hospital, but confined there for 12 hours until rescued by loyal soldiers.

Sections of the armed forces rebelled. Air force members shut down Quito’s international airport and anti-Correa political figures tried to force their way into the buildings of Ecuador National Television.

That all adds up to an attempted coup.

The reason for the bizarre attempt to pretend it doesn’t is the hope that people won’t ask who stood to benefit from such an action.

A quick examination of Correa’s actions sheds considerable light on that:

• In 2006, working with Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, Correa increased state control over oil production in the country;

• In 2008, Correa announced that Ecuador would not pay several billion worth of its more than US$10 billion foreign debt, calling it “illegitimate”;

• In 2009, he refused to renew the lease of the US military airbase in Manta, saying that “the only way the US could keep their military base in Ecuador, is if Ecuador were allowed to have one of its own in Florida”; and

• In 2009, he brought Ecuador into the Bolivarian Alliance for the Americas (ALBA), the anti-imperialist bloc led by Venezuela, Cuba and Bolivia.

It is clear the forces that would benefit from a coup would be: a) corporate interests inside Ecuador; b) international financial institutions; and c) the US and its allies.

Another reason to minimise what happened is there is now a shamefully long list of recent coup attempts in Latin America and the Caribbean — four of them against ALBA members.

In 2002, there was a failed coup against Chavez in Venezuela in 2002, defeated by mass protests and loyal soldiers. In 2004, Haitian president Jean-Bertrand Aristide was overthrown in a coup backed by the military forces of Canada, the United States and France.

In 2008, right-wing Bolivian forces used fascist gangs against President Evo Morales’ government — stopped by mass mobilisations and loyal sections of military.

And in 2009, Honduran President Manuel Zelaya was overthrown by the military.

All but Haiti were ALBA members — and one of the main acts of the coup regime in Honduras was to withdraw from ALBA.

It is not an exaggeration to say the coup attempt in Ecuador was the latest in a series of violent attempts to roll back the anti-neoliberal movement, whose main institutional shape is represented by the ALBA countries.

The dangers facing the anti-neoliberal movement were also highlighted by Venezuela’s September 26 National Assembly elections.

At one level, the results were a remarkable achievement — Chavez’s United Socialist Party of Venezuela (PSUV) won 98 seats out of 165.

But there were troubling signs.

First, the PSUV won more than five million votes nationwide, but the right-wing Democratic Unity Roundtable (MUD) also topped five million votes, trailing the PSUV by about 200,000.

Second, key states along the border with Colombia (the main base for the US military in the region) fell to the MUD.

Finally, the PSUV failed to win the two-thirds majority necessary for key constitutional changes. Important advances — such as creating a favourable legislative framework for workers’ control of industry — will be much more difficult.

There is disillusionment in sections of the PSUV’s base. The global economic crisis hit Venezuela hard. The old state bureaucracy is still largely intact (and reluctant to support Chavez’ reforms), and the bulk of the media remains in the hands of the right.

The PSUV has been a remarkable school in politics for millions of people, but it has also been a source of career advancement for a few thousand.

Nepotism and bureaucratic tendencies have become a drag on many of the government’s pro-poor reforms.

In each of the ALBA countries, internal difficulties are huge. In each, many positions have been taken that are difficult for global North observers to properly understand.

In Ecuador, for instance, it wasn’t just right-wingers who denied there was a coup. Unfortunately, an important coalition of social movements, the Federation of Indigenous Nationalities of Ecuador (CONAIE), said the same.

In an October 6 statement, CONAIE blamed the events on “uncertain political management of the government that causes popular discontent through permanent aggression, discrimination and violations of human rights”.

CONAIE’s importance in Ecuador’s social movements is not to be doubted. Its mobilisation of the indigenous community has been key in the social advances made in Ecuador this century.

Correa has not always been easy to defend. In June, in response to CONAIE protesters, he was quoted by regional TV network Telsur as saying: “These people are gringos who are coming here with NGOs. Take it somewhere else.

“These people’s stomachs are full enough.”

But even with legitimate grievances, it is clearly a mistake for CONAIE to minimise the dangers represented by the September 30 events.

Global North solidarity activists need to be aware of internal conflicts in the ALBA countries, take them seriously, and try to sort out our attitude towards them. But from a distance, that is not easy.

In general terms, we can say the way forward in all the ALBA countries will be popular mobilisations at the base. Political tendencies that base themselves on the developing organs of popular control, in the neighbourhoods and workplaces, are the only long-term alternative.

It is also very clear that no break from imperialism will be possible if it is not deeply rooted in indigenous sovereignty.

But we need to be clear: in the global North, these are not the key issues.

The task of solving these issues falls to the workers and campesinos inside the ALBA countries.

Our job is to recognise the importance of the push-back against imperialism represented by the ALBA countries and to see the seriousness of imperialism’s determination to reverse this process.

Our job is to build solidarity with the ALBA countries against attacks from the US and other First World governments. To the extent we can do that, we can modestly increase the space for these struggles.

This task is not easy. In the First World, there is a virtual blanket of silence around the enormous movements against imperialism across Latin America and the Caribbean.

We need education to show the importance of these struggles. We need to encourage worker-to-worker and student-to-student exchange programs, so that we can see for ourselves the challenges and possibilities in Latin America and the Caribbean.

This can help lay the basis for a bigger solidarity movement should there more coups in the coming period.

This is not charity. It was the poor of Cochabamba in Bolivia who, 10 years ago, rose up and defeated the privatisation of water in their region — the first big victory against privatisation in all the Americas.

It was the Latin American masses who defeated the US-pushed Free Trade Area of the Americas in 2005.

It was the Bolivia government that convened the alternative conference on climate justice — again in Cochabamba — after the global North failed miserably in Copenhagen.

In every sense, their struggle is our struggle.

[Reprinted from Paul Kellog is a Canadian-based socialist.]