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Walsh, Catherine. the Ecuadorian Political Irruption

Walsh, Catherine. the Ecuadorian Political Irruption

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Published by: guznstein on Feb 19, 2010
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The Ecuadorian Political Irruption
Uprisings, Coups, Rebellions, and Democracy
Catherine E. Walsh
n this article I present and analyzethe events that resulted in the overthrow of Ecuadorian president JamilMahuad in January 2000 and offer a brief discussion of what has tran-spiredsinceGustavoNoboaassumedthepresidency.Myintentistoactivelyinvolve the reader in “living” the crucial moments that emerged day byday during the week of 15 January and to illuminate the complexity of Ecuador’s political, economic, and social crisis, as well as the increasing po-litical force of the indigenous movement. By offering various ways to readwhat happened in the so-called coup, I hope to reveal the different motivesand interests behind the indigenous, military, and government roles in theevents of 21 January and make clear the present result: a strengthening of the neoliberal agenda and the consolidation of business and elite sectorswithin the government institution.
Lived and Televised Events
Saturday, 15 January. The people’s uprising announced by the Confed-eration of Indigenous Nationalities of Ecuador (CONAIE) begins. Thegovernmentemploysathirty-five-thousand-memberpoliceforceandsanc-tions the use of violence in order to ensure, on the one hand, that the mainroadwaysremainopenand,ontheother,thattheindigenouspeoplecannotreach Quito—the nation’s capital and the designated meeting site. There is
Nepantla: Views from South 
2.1Copyright 2001 by Duke University Press
no sign of the indigenous people on that day, and everything seems to beunder control.16 January, at daybreak. A labor union leader and two leaders of the social movements are arrested, forcibly taken from their homes by menwearing hoods. Despite the fact that no one is able to explain this arrestat the time of the event, the press later reports that the armed forces haveagreed to permit the indigenous march on Quito on the condition that thelaborunions,thesocialmovements,andtheDemocraticPopularMovement(MPD)—a political party with Maoist tendencies—not be involved.Monday, 17 January. The indigenous people begin to arrive inQuito,atfirstbythemajorhighways,someinbuses,someinrentedtrucks,others on foot, and in small groups so as not to arouse suspicion. Policecontrol and militarization on the roads are strengthened. People are forcedoutofthebuses;trucksandsuppliesareconfiscated.Manyofthe
choose to walk; women, men, and children dodge the police andthe armed forces, taking secondary roads or mountain footpaths in thedarkness of the night, or, when there is an opportunity, hiding under fruitsand vegetables in the back of produce trucks on the way to market. UponarrivalinQuito,theyscattertosmallneighborhoodssoastobeabletomoveunsuspectedtowardtheirfinaldestination:theParquedelArbolito,situatedbehind the Casa de Cultura (House of Culture), a place that, both in nameand function, ironically singularizes, homogenizes, and “folkloricizes” themillennial cultural diversity of the nation. On Tuesday, the press reportsthat five thousand indigenous people have arrived. Less than twenty-fourhours later, this number has more than doubled.Meanwhile, despite strong militarization, the indigenous peoplehaveblockedthemainroadsinmostoftheprovinces.Apparently,thearmedforces are giving their implicit support to the indigenous people—how elsecould the indigenous people take over roads and come by the thousandsfrom the countryside to Quito?In the principal cities and county seats, there are demonstrationsandmarchesthatcontinuallygrowinstrength.AndinQuito,sinceMonday,17January,thePeoplesPopularParliamentforNationalSalvationhasbeeninsession,presidedoverbyMonsignorAlbertoLunaTobar.
ThisPopularParliament intends to build a new political authority, an alternative to thenationalCongressandaparticipatoryspaceinwhichthepeoplecandiscusssocial, economic, and political problems and collectively make proposalswithouthavingtogothroughthebureaucraticmechanismsoftheelectoraland political party structure.
Its development began several weeks before,
The Ecuadorian Political Irruption
firstatthelocalandthenattheprovinciallevel,withsessionsintwentyofthetwenty-twoprovincesthatelaboratedproposalsandelectedrepresentativesforthenationalparliamentinQuito.Butwhiletheseparliaments’goalwasto build a representive base from all popular sectors, their success variedgreatly from region to region.
The week begins in Quito with armed policemen on every streetcorner. A heavy tension can be felt in the air, worsened by tear gas, theresult of student protests and small confrontations between the indigenouspeople and the police. The streets surrounding the Parque del ArbolitoandtheCasadeCulturaarecordonedoff,markingthemakeshiftcampsiteandterritorialspaceoftheindigenousarrivals.Fromtheircars,homes,andoffices, the white-mestizo city inhabitants wonder what’s going to happen.Butthereisalsouncertaintyamongindigenousorganizations,socialmove-ments, and allied groups not directly part of CONAIE’s inner leadership.UnliketheJuly1999protestsagainstthegovernment’shandlingof the economic crisis, which actively engaged a number of social movementsand sectors of civil society, this time there was a visible level of skepticismand apathy, particularly in Quito. This skepticism and apathy was largelyattributable to President Mahuad’s televised speech on 9 January—the eveofannouncedstrikesandtheindigenousuprising—inwhichheannouncedthe plan to dollarize the economy. According to Mahuad, this plan offeredthe only possibility of pulling the country out of the deepest economic cri-sis in its history and the greatest monetary devaluation in Latin America(348 percent between August 1998 and January 2000, and an additional 33percentinthefirstweeksof2000).
Moreofapoliticalstrategythananeco-nomicone,Mahuadsannouncementreflectedthebuildingofanewalliancebetween right-wing parties and powerful business people and bankers de-signed to directly benefit the oligarchy and to unite the dominant classes.Yet for the general public, this new alliance building was far from evi-dent. Despite the real poverty rate of 80 percent, the situation of bankruptbanks, lost funds, and frozen bank accounts, a lack of currency, general-ized corruption, and the probable inability of the Mahuad government toimplement dollarization, most read a new level of leadership in Mahuad’swords, placed hope in dollarization as the way to save the economy and thenation, and assumed that the government was somehow strengthened. Allthis had a somewhat calming effect, contributing both to a demobilizationof the social sectors that were about to unite forces in the strike and thenational uprising and to an overall lack of interest, particularly among themiddle class, in joining the indigenous-led protests.

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