Eyes on Ecuador
Thursday's aborted coup propped up socialism even as it shook South America and Ecuador to the core, concludes Gamal Nkrumah
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Ecuadorian President Rafael Correa thunders from the balcony of the Carondolet Palace, Quito, as hundreds of supporters gathered to pay tribute
Ecuadorian President Rafael Correa is South America's North Star. He is a man with an astonishing breadth of intellect and insuppressible charisma. Correa is the first Ecuadorian leader in three decades to win two successive terms in office. He is also the first Ecuadorian president to take the extra trouble to master the Quechua language of the indigenous population of the Andean regions of the country. Correa in an unprecedented move two years ago defied the international bankers by refusing to slash spending on social programmes to pay them $3.2 billion, much to the chagrin of his Western creditors.
Small wonder then that many Ecuadorians believe that the United States Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) was behind the plot that took place last Thursday to overthrow Correa's democratically elected government after a cabal of his own security forces attempted to assassinate him. Some 51 per cent of Ecuadorians voted for Correa in a presidential poll that fielded eight candidates. Correa declared unequivocally that there would be "no forgiving or forgetting", not quite in character with his Christian beliefs.
The rightwing generals are at it again. The army dissenters' despicable move has strengthened the grip of President Correa on Ecuador's 15 million people, 40 per cent of whom live below the poverty line. He describes himself as a "Christian Socialist" -- a shrewd self-styled classification in an overwhelmingly Catholic country. The generals' foiled plot is part of a broader offensive, a desperate bid for power.
While there is certainly a debate to be had about Correa's credentials in the economic arena, the Ecuadorian president's methods of quelling unbridled capitalism and cowing his belligerent regiments are arguably more effective than the schemes of his sworn enemies. The US- educated leader -- after obtaining his masters degree from the Université Catholique de Louvain, Belgium, went on to acquire a PhD from the University of Illinois -- has been a thorn in Washington's flesh, seriously obstructing Pax Americana in the Western Hemisphere.
"The market left alone concentrates on creating wealth," Correa, the Western-educated economist, complained. Upon election in 2006, Correa launched what he called the "Citizens' Revolution" and pledged constitutional reforms which included the nationalisation of the oil and gas industry, the backbone of the Ecuadorian economy. In July 2010, Correa instituted a new law that stipulates that the Ecuadorian state must own 100 per cent of the oil and natural gas produced in the country. More than 65 per cent of Ecuadorians voted in the referendum to approve the new constitution.
The world's top banana exporter, Ecuador under Correa's leadership is determined not to remain a proverbial "Banana Republic". The world often forgets what is happening in South America. It is a political tsunami. Leftist leaders are coming to power not by the barrel of the gun, but by democratic means, the ballot box.
Correa understands his people's concerns. The country is dependent on the remittances of hundreds of thousands of Ecuadorians who work in Spain and the US. In spite of its abundant oil wealth and other natural resources, the bulk of the Ecuadorian people, and in particular the indigenous Native American population live in abject poverty.
It continually amazes me, the ability rightwing generals in South America have to take on the neuroses, absurdness and anxieties of US neo- conservatives -- keeping so many balls in the air and being so ruthless themselves.
Correa stuck to his guns. When his army mutinied over pay cuts, and threw tear gas at him, he sought refuge in a military hospital where troops loyal to his arch-foe ex-president Lucio Gutierrez held him hostage. Leaders across South America rushed to rescue Correa and threw their support behind him in an unprecedented show of solidarity. There is still hope for the Bolivarian Alliance for the Americas led by Venezuela's President Hugo Chavez and of which Correa himself is a dedicated member -- and of which the forcibly and unfairly removed Honduran leftist leader Manuel Zelaya was also a member.
The loss of face the Ecuadorian army generals loyal to Gutierrez -- in the pay of the CIA, USAID and the disreputable National Endowment for Democracy -- now suffer is nothing compared with the steady loss of legitimacy they have been suffering since Correa miraculously emerged alive and determined from their attempted coup.
The doom-mongers were wrong. The political horse-trading was not conducted within the rules of the democratic game. The generals' putsch triggered a constitutional crisis. Correa's ultimate triumph, however, provided civic certainty and served a political purpose.
Nobody in contemporary South America wishes to draw rightwing generals into the political fray. This, as it turned out, was another good week for the pragmatism and common sense of South American democracy. Keeping the spotlight on Correa will only strengthen the resolve of the Ecuadorian masses to emancipate their country from the economic stranglehold of foreign transnational corporations.
Correa has had a tough run of luck with his detractors because he has stuck to his principles and is moulding his country according to his ideological convictions. He is acutely aware that Ecuador's history has been typical of South and Central America and the Caribbean. There were bouts of low politics when the country's leadership connived with US capitalism to cream off the country's wealth leaving the people destitute. Former Ecuadorian president Lucio Gutierrez, who challenged Correa and lost the presidential race of 2009 is in disgrace. Gutierrez has made no bones about his implication in Thursday's attempted coup. He is known to have been a key figure in the deplorable plot.
Also implicated in the failed coup is Heather Hodges, appointed US ambassador to Ecuador in August 2008. She served in the US State Department's Cuban division and also worked with the United States Agency for International Development (USAID). Hodges was dispatched to Guatemala purposely to prop up the dictatorship of Rios Montt and played a prominent part in the ousting by the CIA of the democratically elected left-leaning leader Manuel Zelaya in Honduras.
Correa was up against a cruel and callous cabal. Yet the Ecuadorian president's daring actions came from somewhere deep in the Ecuadorian national psyche and shook the country to the core. After facing down the conspirators and making them blink, he has become one of the most influential and inspirational political figures in South America.
Correa closed the US airbase in Manta and earned the enmity not only of US neocons and hawks in Washington, but of the pro-US elite at home, the local Ecuadorian oligarchy and the army officer corps, the primary beneficiaries of US largesse and handouts.
Correa's defiance was exemplary. "If you want to kill the president, he is here," he told his adversaries. "Kill him if you want. Kill him if you can."
Tellingly, they could not. They did not dare do so. "I will not step back if they want to seize the barracks," he thundered. Melodramatically loosening his tie in a motion reminiscent of a movie star, he vowed to destroy the corrupt " partidocracia " and do away with the neoliberal economic policies that impoverished his people.
Ecuador has thus far doggedly avoided catastrophic political disaster and chaos, thanks in large measure to Correa's firmness of mind, tenacity and resoluteness. His political acumen and moral courage stand out as a shining example of anti-imperialism in an age of multi-party democracy and political pluralism.
The army has been reluctant to turn its guns on ordinary Ecuadorians. But its forbearance cannot be relied upon forever. The disgruntled right-wing generals must stop posturing once and for all.
In the best of the nascent democratic South American constitutional tradition, existing conventions were stretched to fit the circumstances. Rightwing leaders and their leftist counterparts rallied behind Correa in an unprecedented show of solidarity.
Yet the coup that failed hinted at the flaws of the susceptible democratic process in South America. It reminded the world of the overwhelming sense of fragility of democracy in South America. The leftist governments of the continent feel vulnerable in the face of renegade rightwing elements -- trained in the US to loathe socialism -- that refuse to admit that this ideology has triumphed by popular approval in South America.
The subtext is interesting. The rightwing army generals want to ruin everything for everyone but a tiny elite in Ecuador. Correa is right to give the army such concerted attention. He is passionate about the political waves he is creating in Ecuador and South America. The failed coup was the work of an army that has lost sight of the national interest. It has exasperated Ecuador's friends and incensed Correa's enemies. At any rate, the Ecuadorian president does not suffer rightists gladly.
The fiasco gave Correa political kudos at a time when chronic power cuts and other travails have led to protests by indigenous groups in some of his own strongholds such as the Andean city of Cuenca and the Amazonian town of Macas rocked the nation.
The crux of the matter is that the CIA and its local lackeys miserably failed to make the most of the global economic downturn and the resultant popular disenchantment with Correa's Citizens' Revolution that propelled him into office in the first place.
All this, anyhow, is an own-goal in extra-time. By behaving as though it was above the law, the top brass of Ecuador's army has alienated regional and international public opinion and eroded its own legitimacy, and therefore the country's security, leaving democratic-minded Ecuadorians looking over their shoulders. This they manage even as the pace of their struggle to institute socialism is propelling them forward.