Ecuador: from the dream of the Montecristi Constitution to the “Panama of the Andes”?

Irene León speaks about factors behind the recent loss of progressive forces in Ecuador and what to expect with Guillermo Lasso in office

April 28, 2021 by Lautaro Rivara, Zoe Alexandra

Irene León is an Ecuadorian sociologist and analyst, director of the Foundation for Studies, Action and Global Participation (FEDAEPS) and a leading member of the Network of Intellectuals and Artists in Defense of Humanity (REDH). Shortly after the run-off elections in Ecuador, she shared with us her views on different aspects of the country: the evaluation of the government of the Citizen’s Revolution, the social uprising of October 2019, the causes of the defeat, the situation of social movements, and the expected policy under the future government of the banker Guillermo Lasso.

Background: soft coup and lawfare in Ecuador

Many of the questions and many of the answers of these times allude to the Citizen Revolution (CR). Perhaps the first point is: what happened to the CR? And the first answer is that there was a very well organized soft coup in Ecuador.

We can go back to read [US theorist] Gene Sharp and see that there was a combination of several elements that effectively took a process that once had the support of the majority of the population and made it stigmatized. The CR had an organized force, typical of the new political movements that emerged in Latin America in the last 20 or 30 years.

This is how Alianza País came into being, as a confluence of proposals on the basis of which a programmatic agenda was elaborated. In 2006, movements, organizations and political fronts came together to build a progressive movement. The agenda carried forward focused on income distribution and, in the medium term, on the “de-neoliberalization” of the country. This was also happening alongside other long-term visions, such as prioritizing and working towards Latin American integration. And further on the horizon, the constitutional proposal of the socialism of buen vivir (good living).

This project proved unbeatable in elections, other methods were used to destroy it. Betrayal was provoked from within the very ranks of the leadership of the process, and the implosion of the movement was provoked. In less than six months the previous political scenario was destroyed and the transition to a radical type of neoliberalism began.

A central aspect was judicial and political persecution that affected and affects many people today in exile. This persecution also had a big impact on the project itself and the population as a whole, creating a generalized atmosphere of restriction of rights like freedom of ideas and freedom of expression. There has also been explicit censorship with the virtual disappearance of Ecuador’s public media.

“The tipping point”: the October social outburst

In spite of everything, during the four years of Lenín Moreno’s government, a resistance group was built around the CR proposal. This was the only force that mobilized the country against neoliberalism. During 2017 and 2019 there was here a mobilized action by this pole that dared to take to the streets. October is in that sense a tipping point, and there [in the social outburst] diverse forces with different interests managed to converge, without which it is impossible to understand the current process of political accumulation.

We saw there a sector of the peasant movement that has been active against neoliberalism all this time. We also saw a sector of the indigenous and popular movement, active in the resistance to the policies of Lenín Moreno and the IMF.

CONAIE (the Confederation of Indigenous Nationalities of Ecuador) was also mobilized, which had not prioritized mobilizing on the agenda against the dominant model. However it was this organization that was able to capitalize on the political result, through the mobilization of the indigenous communes, not necessarily aligned to its leadership, throughout the country.

The final result was a negotiation with the Moreno government that led us to dilute the neoliberal strategic agenda that was placed in the streets during October. The reality is that there were no conclusive results in the face of the imposition of the policies of the International Monetary Fund [referring, in particular, to the increase in fuel prices, the attempt to limit public employees’ vacations and other fiscal adjustment measures].

The agreement between Moreno and part of the CONAIE leadership, with the presence of international organizations that acted as moderators, weakened the most energetic capacities of the uprising. This sector [of CONAIE] has hegemonized the voice of the movement, ignoring all other indigenous sectors.

As a result of this negotiation, there was also a sort of anti-CR pact. All the actors present at the table concluded that the problem was, apparently, what they call “Correism”. There was a tacit pact to stigmatize the movement, which in fact resulted in a new process of political persecution against militants and leaders. That same day in October 2019 culminated in several arbitrary imprisonments.

“Programmatic confusions”: progressivism and the indigenous movement

There is a programmatic confusion between the anti-neoliberal struggles -which has expression in the popular movements, part of the indigenous movement, the urban movement- and the accumulation of progressivism, in particular the CR policies implemented during a decade. In this sense, there are these two fronts of experience and action.

But the sector that capitalized on the October process expresses itself closer to the right than to the programmatic proposals of the left. This includes the presidential candidate Yaku Perez [of the Plurinational Unity Movement Pachakutik]. He is part of a space that does not necessarily come from the popular and indigenous movement, but from what the indigenous intellectual and politician Carlos Viteri conceptualizes as figures constructed by the big media.

These sectors express, for example, anti-extractivist theses and theses on “Chinese imperialism”, as part of an environment refractory to progressivism and the left in the region. In Bolivia, in Brazil, we found similar discourses. We could even see a “decolonial” version on the part of figures who never name capitalism, imperialism or the really existing corporate world. Of course, these discourses have a basis, given that, for example, extraction has been a practice since the beginning of the Colony, it exists. But extractivism is not in itself a model: the model is capitalism, and it has different phases such as the current globalized one. Another idea they express has to do with the idea that the left is outdated, and that it is no longer necessary to speak of left or right, or even of social classes.

In any case, these are just discursive lines, given that in the formal political agenda the Pachakutik movement acts in alliance with sectors of the right: it is enough to see the votes of its legislators in the National Assembly.

“The manufacturing of public opinion”: electoral defeat

It should not be forgotten that the CR came to the elections without a political party, since it could not be registered due to the political and electoral judicial persecution by the National Electoral Council and other actors. So who was in the campaign of Andres Arauz? The social movements, the peasant movement, the indigenous movement and some parts of the workers’ movement (only a part since other sectors of the union movement operate directly with the right wing). We also saw the feminist movement, the LGBTI movement. Each sector issued their respective declarations, supporting the CR candidacy.

The popular forces of the extremely poor neighborhoods and the informal workers of Guayaquil, the main capitalist port of the country, were also mobilized, so that for the first time they managed to win with such a big difference in [the province of] Guayas. Why is this not recognized in the media, and why does this sector of the elite say that the popular movements were against Arauz? Once again, I believe that it is necessary to study these figures of the soft coup and Gene Sharp, to understand how sensations of discomfort are constructed, how common sense is fabricated without which it is impossible to explain the victory of the [Movimiento Creo candidate Guillermo] Lasso.

The right wing managed to position the idea that the CR only built bad roads, that it was a band of corrupt and outlaws that escaped before being imprisoned, that Rafael Correa is a dictator and that he persecuted and assassinated I don’t know how many people, and other fabrications. Right now we see, for example, an operation that seeks to deny that the CR is the primary political force in the country, positioning Pachakutik in that place instead. In the same way, in the first round, even when Arauz won the elections with an important difference [more than 12 points over his immediate rivals], the next day the dispute between Pachakutik and CREO took center stage, which in the end was settled as an agreement between friends.

A neoliberal revival: from Moreno to Lasso

Lasso’s electoral “gain” -it cannot be conceptualized as a victory- is part of this process of retaking of the state by conservative forces. A reconceptualized state that defines itself constitutionally as plurinational, that promotes a popular economic system based in solidarity, and works towards a model of socialism of el buen vivir. This soft coup we are experiencing is against this whole legacy. It is not against [Rafael] Correa, nor against Andŕes Arauz. It is against this proposal. The models in dispute today are neoliberalism or the plurinational refoundation of the State.

In the first period of this coup, the return to hard neoliberalism was set in motion, under the anti-leadership of Moreno. For the achievement of this there were two key actors: on the one hand the international financial institutions and with them all the forces of capital. And on the other hand, the return of the United States and its allies to the political management of the country. The primordial dispute has to do with being a sovereign country part of the Latin American integration proposal, or going back to being a satellite-state under the North American command.

The neoliberal agenda is imposed with no facade, and is part of a global capitalist proposal. But for that to happen, a coup had to be carried out, institutionality had to be broken, the Constitution had to be put aside, all existing rights and guarantees had to be violated. In other words, neoliberalism, not only here but everywhere, is imposed. When it needs to, it is imposed with violence. It is not a proposal that can generate happiness, it is not the Sumak Kawsay, the proposal of a harmonious relationship between people and nature.

Undoubtedly, in the remaining days of Lenín Moreno’s government, they will finish up the dirty work, such as the recent privatization of the Central Bank and the reform of labor legislation.

Likewise, all the privatization of strategic resources and state assets will be completed. The dirty work is far enough advanced for the country to become the headquarters of the financial capitalism proposed by Lasso and his people. The aspiration is to become a Panama of the Andean region, but for that they must erase the constitutional controls to the actions of financial capital. They may even reinstate the 1998 Constitution or propose a new, more radically conservative one.

For us it will not simply be waiting around to be elected again, we will be resisting the entrenchment of hard neoliberalism and the plan to eliminate any vestige of the CR. There are even those who have even suggested the physical disappearance of militants and leaders. Behind these policies appear the Social Christian Party or [former Minister of Government] María Paula Romo, responsible for the repressive policy of October. They have been highlighted in the report of the Truth Commission, as being directly responsible for what happened.

The main ally of Lasso, as he already announced, will be the United States. They will immediately try to sign a free trade agreement, which more than an agreement, will be a capitulation that will respect neither the laws nor the constitution.

From sucre to SUCRE: ghosts of regional disintegration

One of the most powerful attacks against the CR candidacy was against the regional integration proposal. Andres Arauz was very clear, pointing out that he had an economic agenda of reorganization and redistribution, and then one of revitalization of Latin American integration, which implied, for example, the restitution of UNASUR and its headquarters in Quito [abandoned during the Moreno administration].

A dirty campaign was mounted against this, suggesting that Ecuadorians would be deprived of the dollar in order to use the SUCRE [the Unitary System of Regional Compensation of Payments, a Latin American common currency project promoted by Hugo Chávez and the ALBA-TCP]. Before the dollar, we had a currency that was also called sucre. It was assumed that the demonized socialism of Venezuela and Cuba was going to take Ecuador to its worst historical moments. Instead, it was suggested, since we already have a dollarized economy we should aspire to one day be like the United States.

The regional alliances that will be strengthened are not new, they are those that already placed Ecuador, under Moreno’s government, in the Pacific Alliance. That is why we saw that the first exchanges of diplomatic sympathy were with [Juan] Guaidó and [Álvaro] Uribe. In the Andean context, relations will undoubtedly become closer with Colombia, which is even taken as an example in terms of flexible labor legislation, with 48 or 50-hour working weeks.

In addition, with the financial sector at the forefront, strategic goods will be privatized with the presence of transnational corporations, once again enthusiastically invited. Foreign investment will no longer be viewed as necessary to diversify the economy, but necessary to be able to live, to be and to exist.

The Indigenous movements

I believe that the right-wing sectors of the indigenous movement have aspirations articulated to Guillermo Lasso’s project. It is not a question of deception, but there are certain sectors that are neoliberals and believe in this project.

Of course, it is not the indigenous movement as a whole, but a right-wing fraction. The communes, the indigenous bases, have been mobilizing in another direction. The indigenous right wing moves in an environment of foundations, of NGOs with social but not popular ideas. Its immediate challenge will be to displace the CR in the legislature, given that according to the law it has priority to preside over the National Assembly. Pachakutik is making alliances with the right wing in order to remain at the head of the body. Surely we will see them supporting the proposed neoliberal legislation, as they did in this period.  As a movement they will surely be able to recompose themselves, given that they are historical organizations.

I have seen analyses that say that the Ecuadorian left did not unite: then what about the programmatic agenda supported by 500 or 600 movements from all over the country, urban, peasant, indigenous, women, students? I think it is a unity that must be valued in this context of persecution.