Part II: Ecuador Protests: The Microcosmic View
By Linda McFarlin
Don’t miss tomorrow’s column: The Macrocosmic View: Europe is Burning. You may widen your perspective considerably.
By bedtime Thursday night the police vs the president drama seemed to be just another chaotic event in Ecuador, and quite short-lived compared to other protests we’ve experienced since moving to Ecuador. It was just one of a number we have been peripherally involved with as expats in Ecuador, with the exception that the president had supposedly been tear-gassed, kidnapped, then saved by the military.
The Violence Wasn’t Country-Wide
Here in Cotacachi all was fairly tranquilo. People gathered around televisions to watch the news as it played out in Quito and Guayaquil. In both cities a few grocery stores, pharmacies and other buildings were looted within plain sight of film crews. Two banks were reportedly robbed. Banks and some schools were closed. But as one commentator mentioned, robberies are common in Guayaquil, so he didn’t see it as anything out of the ordinary.
A national strike was announced by the police and they blocked some roads, but it doesn’t seem to have been very extensive in much of the country.
Some portions of the military were protesting the new pay proposals, too. The Quito airport was shut down by the Ecuadorian Air Force for several hours. One of our employees had intended to go to the Quito airport Friday to meet a friend arriving from Holland and he was wondering if the airport would be open by then. It was back in full swing and he picked up his friend.
We went about our business, keeping an eye and an ear toward the newscasts and local gossip. Other than having an expat woman anxiously ask me if I realized that Ecuador was at war, there wasn’t a whole lot of upset here in town. Later I realized what she meant when I heard that there had been an attempted coup.
Genuine Coup or Camouflaged Creation by the Government?
While talking to others, I heard that Correa was calling the insurrection an attempted coup and blaming Lucio Gutierrez, a former president, as the main instigator who was urging police to riot.
Other news reports claimed that Correa had been obliquely blaming others for the riots all day without specifically naming names but that his foreigner minister was directly blaming Gutierrez.
(This link has been removed from MSN and a different article substituted for it.)
I had heard some chanting as I watched the news live from the presidential palace Thursday but I didn’t know what was being said. Locals told me that the rioting police and their supporters were repeating the name of Gutierrez, whom they still support for president and this angered Correa. This may have contributed to his claim that the presidency was at risk of being overthrown.
However, Andres Ochoa, a researcher at the Washington-based Council on Hemispheric Affairs, stated in Quito that, “There is no clear leader trying to topple Correa. This is a protest gone wrong.” He feels that Correa is simply trying to build support among his allies.
(Interesting note: If you click on the article above, the URL will morph into a completely different article from Businessweek with a different title. The information I am quoting is no longer there, nor can I find the previous article. I Googled – “Businessweek Correa vows to purge” and found a whole string of sites about the article, but the actual article is gone, replaced by a new article that stresses the coup attempt and Chavez’ strong words about it. The same thing happened for another article. The info I quote has been changed or updated. Curious. Anybody know what that is all about?)
Whether or not gaining the attention and support of his allies was one of Correa’s goals, it worked for him. In a show of solidarity for Correa, both Colombia and Peru closed their borders. The U.S. issued statements of support for Correa.
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton had a 10-minute phone conversation with Correa shortly after the event.
The idea may have further merit as well, since an emergency meeting of USASUR, a developing union of South American countries, was called by Evo Morales, Bolivia’s leftist president. The group met Friday in Buenos Aires.
Is This Event Being Blown Out of Proportion and If So, For What Reason?
On Friday, the whole affair seemed to have been pumped up with inflammatory rhetoric and accusations, true or not. There were some blaring internet headlines. Correa is quoted as saying, “They wanted blood. They wanted deaths.” Eight people including some policemen reportedly died in clashes with the military.
As I began to check out the reality in Quito, an expat friend there reported that Friday was just a normal day except for some gun-toting, uniformed army guards who are checking cars and cabs on the streets. She lives in northern Quito at the other end of the city from Old Town where the presidential palace is located.
According to my friend, television stations such as CNN are reporting as if from, “a different world.” She and her husband watched live Ecuadorian television reportage of events from the presidential palace yesterday. What they heard and saw is very different from non-Ecuadorian news reports.
She and her husband were driving in Quito from 11 to 1 p.m. Friday, going to grocery stores and their usual haunts. They found some stores and banks closed and saw only one small, calm demonstration in favor of Correa, with about 15 to 20 people.
She has a rental unit in Old Town Quito only a few blocks from the presidential palace. When she called her renters to get their perspective on events, they didn’t even know there was a strike. For them it was a quiet day, only one store closed. While there were lots of people out on the streets, they didn’t hear anything or observe any violence and thought it was just another festival.
She also talked to a real estate agent in Old Town who walked down to Plaza Grande from Calle Montufar around 6 p.m. Friday. He said that there were people in the Plaza but that all was quiet. He saw nothing going on at all.
People on the road outside Quito around 2 or 3 pm. reported one road closed but others open. They had no difficulties at all returning to the city.
Watching Ecuadorian television, my friend saw Correa leave the presidential palace to meet with police at their headquarters. Following a verbal confrontation between Correa and a few police in the crowd, he was physically accosted and a tear gas grenade went off near him. She wasn’t sure exactly who took him to the police hospital for treatment, but there was shooting at the hospital between men in different uniforms.
News sources say Correa was taken to the hospital by his security guards. Members of the army tried to get to the hospital room where the president was recovering in order to rescue him from policemen who had surrounded the hospital and who were trying to get to Correa. The president gave an interview from the hospital and was then rescued by the army after a shoot-out.
They took Correa back to the presidential palace where he delivered a speech from the balcony. He blamed Gutierrez, saying that he recognized Gutierrez supporters in the crowds. Gutierrez was reportedly in Brazil at this time.
Correa stated that he will not negotiate with the police. He said that the administration has treated them very well and they don’t appreciate it. He called the police demonstrators cowards and said that he will neither forgive nor forget what they have done.
Watch this video of the rioting in Quito- Ecuador’s Rescued President: “Let This be a Lesson”
Here are photos of the police protest – “Ecuador Unrest.”
Here’s another expat’s take on what is happening: “I watched much of the demonstration on Ecuador television. It was said that some of the police who were rioting never even read the new proposal and were simply following the others “like donkeys.
“A camera man was struck by a rubber bullet and passed out, then kept filming. He reported that he felt much of what was going on was make-believe.
“In the middle of shooting at the hospital where Correa was taken after being gassed, a car arrived, driving through a hail of bullets to escort the president out of the hospital. The military seemed to have no strategy at all and were running here and there. Usually the military are much more organized than this. I found this all kind of suspicious or at least odd.
“About ten minutes after Correa was out and safe, he gave a speech, seemingly not too upset by events of the day.
The whole balcony was filled with press, not good security or protection for him at all. He could have been shot.”
The National Police chief resigned on Friday and was quickly replaced.
Strange Happenings at the Banks
Another bit of speculation is occurring among the Russian community in Quito. Some Russians think that this could all be a manipulated event. A number of them are in the lucrative flower business, arranging shipments of Ecuadorian roses and other flowers to Russia. They say that something strange has been occurring for the past week.
Financial transactions from Russia are not being completed through Ecuadorian banks. Either the money is being bounced back to Russia or the Ecuadorian banks don’t accept the money. Or perhaps the money is accepted but not being posted. This is causing much concern among the Russian community in Quito.
So some Russians in Quito surmise that this whole affair was created and that the banks knew about it. The banks in Ecuador were closed Thursday, but most were re-opened Friday.
As we all ponder what is really going on in Ecuador, as seen on television, reported on the internet and speculated behind the scenes, keep in mind that there are a great many things going on in the world today that are not what they seem on the surface.
Each of us can stop taking things at face value alone. We can dig deeper, research more, widen our perspectives and then use our intuition as well as our intellect to make informed decisions.
As a footnote, my son Scott called me from the states today. “What’s going on down there in Ecuador, Mom? They’re making a big deal of it here in the states.”
Our friend Daren from Vilcabamba in the south of Ecuador wrote this: “Vilcabamba, the valley in which I live was unaffected by the unrest…… remaining tranquil and peaceful place that it is. The issues that were a problem are now resolved and life is normal in Ecuador.
“Since my girlfriend lives a 5-minute walk away from the Presidential Palace, I have a pretty good source as to what is happening and all things look very stable as of now. My opinion, this is just a little practice drill for things that are coming on the global level.”
This is a good lead-in for part 3 in the series tomorrow: The Macrocosmic View: Europe is Burning . Check out this quote from tomorrow’s column: