Ecuador socialist revolution ‘past destructive stage’FT.com / Americas / Politics & Policy

Ecuador socialist revolution ‘past destructive stage’

By Naomi Mapstone in Quito
Published: October 21 2010 19:16 | Last updated: October 21 2010 19:16

Rafael Correa mobbed by the public

Rafael Correa limps into a wood-panelled room in Ecuador’s presidential palace and sinks into a gold-leaf rococo chair beneath portraits of Latin American independence heroes.
Just weeks ago the US-trained economist, who has led a “citizen’s revolution” in this oil-rich Andean nation since 2006, was held hostage by police in what he says was a failed coup.
“We were all losers from September 30 – the country’s image, the image of police themselves and especially the five families who lost their loved ones and the dozens of injured,” Mr Correa says in an interview with the Financial Times.
This most paradoxical of presidents – he is a close ally of Hugo Chávez and Evo Morales, the radical leftist leaders of Venezuela and Bolivia, and yet friendly enough with Washington to call Hillary Clinton “dearest” on a recent visit – rubs his knee as he recalls the moment a mob turned on him “with such brutality, such savagery”.
“They fired tear gas at me, the president! … They tried to remove my gas mask; I was choking. I had 25 stitches in my knee because I had had a knee operation the day before … They tried to break my leg and one of my advisers took the blows for me,” he recalls.
Mr Correa had gone to face down rioting police officers after they closed airports and abandoned their posts to protest against cuts to their benefits.
Instead of seeing Mr Correa broker a peace, however, Ecuadoreans watched on live television as their president fled angry officers and later taunted them from a window, ripping open his shirt and daring them to kill him.


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Even for a society accustomed to volatility – seven presidents came and went in the decade before Mr Correa’s election – the subsequent wait was tense. It took almost four hours for the military to broadcast its support for Mr Correa, and about 10 hours for elite police and military units to rescue the president amid a hail of gunfire.
Mr Correa, 47, has since blamed opposition leader Lucio Gutiérrez, who was in Brazil and denies the accusation, leftwing groups and “corrupt” union leaders. He also believes extreme rightwing US groups were involved. “We have no hard evidence [of US rightwing involvement] but we are investigating. I trust fully in [US] president [Barack] Obama – he has nothing to do with this. These groups are also against president Obama.”
Opposition figures and many analysts contest the coup theory, saying no alternative leader was ever presented and that the government is using the uprising as an excuse for a witch hunt.
Scores of police and a former army officer have since been arrested and Ecuador remains under military control, with state broadcasts interrupting television programming to promote the government’s “coup” message.
Luis Hernandez, former commander of the special forces brigade that rescued the president, told the FT the revolt was intended to overthrow the law cutting civil servants’ benefits, not the president.
“There are always those who take advantage of a chaotic situation and try to put more wood on the fire, but who would have replaced Correa? There was nobody,” he says.
Before the police protests, Mr Correa had brought a measure of political continuity to Ecuador. His government spent heavily on education, health and infrastructure, widened the tax base and delivered on election promises to enact a new constitution and close down a US military base.
However, Mr Correa’s default on $3.2bn in foreign debt and the decision to renegotiate foreign oil company contracts alienated investors, and his domination of Congress by veto drew criticism at home.
He also faced opposition within his own party over cuts to police and military benefits, and had threatened to dissolve Congress if he did not get his way. But thanks to a post-revolt surge in his approval ratings, that threat is off. Now Mr Correa is forging ahead with his “21st century socialist” revolution.
“This is a revolution and a revolution is first a process of destruction … we had to destroy the old country with its institutions made for the few,” he says. Ecuador has now passed “its first stage of destruction” and “constructive chaos”, he adds, and has rules in place to attract investment.
The government wants to double investment by 2011 with the introduction of a tax cut of 3 percentage points for businesses, down to 22 per cent.
This does not indicate a softening of Mr Correa’s stance, however. Renegotiations with foreign oil companies are “progressing well”, he says, but if they are not finished by December the contracts will be cancelled.
“That is not our desire, but companies need to understand they should be governed by the rules of the game the country puts in place,” he says.

FT.com / Americas / Politics & Policy – Ecuador socialist revolution ‘past destructive stage’

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