Ecuadorian President Rafael Correa and social movements behind Ecuador’s “Citizens' Revolution” are engaged in yet another battle against the South American country's entrenched elites.
Supporters of Correa marched through the capital of Quito on August 12 to the presidential palace, where they intend to maintain a permanent presence to help defend the elected government.
The next day, violent opposition protests led to 86 police officers being injured, the interior ministry said, along with 20 civilians and three members of the press.
What originally began as demonstrations by the country's right-wing opposition against a proposed new inheritance tax laws targetting the country's richest 2% have now turned into a full-blown attempt at a “soft coup”.
Having observed the strategy of Venezuela's far right during last year's violent demonstrations, the Ecuadorian opposition movement has combined tactics of peaceful protests and demands for Correa's resignation with open calls for a coup and even alleged terrorist attacks.
The headquarters of the governing Allianza Pais (Country Alliance) party were bombed on July 14 in the city of Guayacuil. Packages containing explosives were sent to the headquarters of the publicly-owned El Telegrafo and privately-owned El Universal newspapers.
All of this has been done under the umbrella of “defending family values” and protesting against the Correa-pushed economic model that seeks to create a “socialism of 21st century”.
Key opposition leaders are Guayaquil's conservative mayor Jaime Nebout and failed right-wing presidential candidate Guillermo Lasso. They have called for a “national strike” on August 13 involving right-wing parties, business groups and some trade unions and indigenous groups.
Correa has denounced the strike as an attempt to destabilise the country and prepare a coup to bring down not just his government, gut the gains of the citizen's revolution over the past eight years.
For more than a decade before Correa's 2006 election, an explosive cocktail of economic and political instability marred the country. The 1999-2000 banking crisis caused economic decline and rising poverty.
Neoliberal measures, such as adopting the US dollar as the country’s currency and an International Monetary Fund-sanctioned structural adjustment package of reforms, were deeply unpopular.
Three elected presidents were forced out of office in the wake of huge popular protests led by the country’s indigenous and social movements. Abadala Buckram was forced out in 1997 amid widespread protests over alleged corruption.
His successor, Jamil Mahuad, was brought down by mass demonstrations and a military rebellion in 2000. He presided over the country’s banking and neoliberal economic stagnation, as well as the process of dollarisation.
Lucio Gutierrez, a leader of the 2000 military rebellion, was elected president in 2002 with the support of the country’s largest indigenous movement, CONAIE, on the back of promises to break with neoliberalism.
However, after he implemented the same neoliberal agenda as his predecessors, Gutierrez was overthrown by a series of huge protests.
Then-vice-president Alfredo Palacio became president until the 2006 elections.
Correa served as finance minister in Palacio’s government. He won the 2006 vote on a platform of ending neoliberal polices and convening a Constituent Assembly to redraft a new, progressive constitution.
The political movement that backed Correa went on to form the Alianza Pais party. It is committed to what Correa called the Citizens' Revolution and “socialism of the 21st century” - a broad, still-ill defined concept first raised by late Venezuelan president Hugo Chavez in 2005.
The Citizens' Revolution builds on the back of social and indigenous movement struggles against neoliberal aligned-governments. It sets as its goal a unique brand of “socialism of living well”.
The new constitution, which expanded democratic and social rights, was adopted by referendum in 2008.
Among its new additions were recognising access to education, health care, public services and decent employment as a human right. Workers' rights in the informal sector were recognised.
Domestic work, mostly conducted by women, was also recognised as productive labour, giving those who carry it out access to rights and social security.
The indigenous concept of “living well” - sumak kawsay - was recognised as the country's guiding principle. This concepts places social and human development, and sustainability and social justice above wealth and capital accumulation. It recognises the rights of “Mother Earth” and the importance of indigenous laws, language and culture.
The concept of citizens’ power and popular participation was also enhanced through the introduction of the National Decentralised Participatory Planning System. This system has enabled de-centralised and transparent planning to take place via the participation of communities throughout the country.
The government's economic policy has been set out in the National Plan of Living Well 2013-2017. The plan calls for a broad range of reforms to shift the economic model of production away from private capital accumulation towards human development.
The government has expanded public spending, particularly for education, health care and public infrastructure. A vast range of financing and microcredit programs have been initiated, targetting the poor and the informal sector.
A shift towards the collective ownership of the means of production, alongside the recognition of the right of nature and sustainable development, has been recognised as ultimately the way to achieving the socialist goal.
One of the most remarkable features of the new model of “Living Well” has been recognising the rights of migrants and refugees. In the case of refugees, government policy places the value of human life above that of xenophobia-fuelled nationalism or profit-driven incentives to lock up refugees in expensive detention camps.
On July 11, Correa unveiled the plans to gradually make all migrants legal, while at the same time implementing new plans and programs to help refugees, illegal migrants and stateless people to integrate within Ecuadorian society.
The difficult future
The significant achievements of the Citizens' Revolution have come with some big shortcomings.
Positive outcomes have included big cuts in poverty levels and inequality, and improvements in the standard of living and workers' rights. But there have also been widely noted contradictions and conflicts over the environment, indigenous struggles and grassroots organising.
A major challenge facing Correa and his political movement is the entrenched economic power of the business elite, as well as the fragmentation and divisions within some of the country's social movements.
But there is also the big and complicated challenge of moving toward an economic model less dependent on extracting and exporting oil.
The reality of Ecuador's economy is similar to that of other left-leaning countries in the region, such as Venezuela and Bolivia. The export of raw materials is a big source of tax revenue that has funded the government's vast social programs and fight against economic inequality and social injustice.
At the same time, the traditional ruling class remains heavily entrenched in economic sectors such as media, banking, food production, and others. A large-scale media campaign waged by the private outlets has contributed to the scale and ferocity of the opposition campaign.
Correa said in a recent talk to trade unionists: “It is not a coincidence that the governments of Argentina, Brazil, Ecuador, Bolivia and Venezuela are currently facing alleged social unrest in a particularly difficult year in economic terms, following the fall in prices of raw materials and the appreciation of the dollar.”
A big challenge for the Citizens' Revolution is confronting the disunity and division in the social movements.
The process of change has proven to be popular among the population, but key parts of the indigenous movement, such as CONAIE, and traditionally left-leaning political parties, such as Pachakutik, have increasingly become disillusioned with the process. This lead them to fail to oppose the failed 2010 coup against Correa.
More recently, CONAIE leaders decided to back the August 13 opposition protests and strikes – leading some important figures within the movement, such as Miguel Lluco, to warn against the indigenous movement becoming a stepping-stone for the right-wing opposition.
CONAIE, among others, has often accused Correa of disregarding indigenous communities and environmental concerns to pursue mining projects that have helped fund the government's social policies.
Other indigenous groups, such as the National Confederation of Campesino, Indigenous and Black Organizations (FENOCIN), have rejected CONAIE's strategy as divisive and instead voiced support for Correa and the Citizens’ Revolution.
Overall, the current round of destabilisations and right-wing protests offers a chance to defend and extend the gains of the Citizens' Revolution within the country.
The April 2002 failed coup against the Chavez government in Venezuela gave birth to new structures and methods of grassroots organization, such as the civic-military union, that were able to advance that country's Bolivarian Revolution.
Similarly, the attacks by the right wing in Ecuador can help to usher in new methods of militant and grassroots organisation need to overcome some of the Citizens' Revolution's most pressing weaknesses.
The role of the United States in backing right-wing forces and destabilisation attempts is as key in Ecuador as in other countries – such as Venezuela and Bolivia in recent times. For that reason, international solidarity, from both Latin American countries and all progressive groups around the world, is also needed – especially to counter the media war to which Ecuador is being subjected.
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