Ecuador Internacional

Ecuador: The Streets Speak Out

Latinvex 02/07/2015

Foto: Latinvex

Foto: Latinvex

QUITO -- Late June 8, spontaneous street demonstrations erupted in Quito around a week after president Rafael Correa announced his latest plans for tax increases. Aimed at rallying his original leftwing following, the plan backfired dramatically. The protests were so large and numerous – from the Galápagos Islands, where residents demonstrated against a new special law for the remote archipelago, to the main cities of the Andes and Pacific Coast lowlands, to Macas in the southeast Amazon – that the Vatican considered canceling the July visit of Pope Francis given the confrontational situation, sources close to the church have informed us. After a belligerent Monday morning speech from the presidential balcony, in the evening, a subdued Correa announced that he was "temporarily" withdrawing the controversial legislation from the congress to allow for time to convince Ecuadorians of the wisdom of the higher inheritance and real estate taxes. It was one of the president's worst losses of face in his more than eight years in office.

The protests revealed the president's dwindling political power in parallel to the reversal in economic fortunes as the price of crude oil lost half its value from a year ago to December (recovering only moderately) and the dollar strengthened, making Ecuadorian exports comparatively more expensive. The power shift became visible in the streets. While not near the around 100,000 people who protested against the government on May 1, Correa's political movement, Alianza Pais, had to give up the defense of the highly symbolic grandstand on Shyris Avenue in northern Quito right across from AP headquarters. On June 8, AP demonstrators had to withdraw from the grandstand as they risked being overwhelmed by the far superior numbers of anti-Correa protestors. In the following days, AP resorted to desperate measures not to lose the Tribuna, including having police "save their seats" during the day, having it draped in a giant yellow-blue-red flag, and a public viewing of the Copa America soccer tournament (where Ecuador bowed out after a mediocre performance). At present, the grandstand has fallen to Correa's critics.

The protests have shown some signs of fatigue following the demonstrators' partial victories. They may be concentrating efforts however: labor and environmentalist groups and conservative banker-cum-politician Guillermo Lasso called for separate demonstrations at the state-run social security institute and the congress, respectively, on June 24, while conservative Guayaquil mayor Jaime Nebot called for a massive rally in Guayaquil the next day, with other protests called for Cuenca and Galápagos. "Ecuador is once again marching towards a great clash," wrote Cuban-born commentator Carlos Alberto Montaner.

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