We’ve recently lived through several days of profound political and social commotion in Ecuador, as a consequence of the measures demanded by the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and adopted by President Lenín Moreno, who has the approval of only 15% of the Ecuadorian population, perhaps much less by now.
El paquetazo (‘the big package’), as Ecuadorians call the set of economic measures proposed by the President, has two parts. The first one was implemented through executive order 883, which, by ending government subsidies to fuel, put fuel prices in the country on a par with international prices. In Ecuador, fuel is subsidised as a way to contain the increase in prices in the entire economy. The second part comprises a series of tax and labour reforms, contained in a bill which is about to be sent to the legislative body, the National Assembly, by the executive. Even though the bill hasn’t yet reached the National Assembly, it is known that it will go along the lines of the IMF demands to make the country more “attractive” to foreign and domestic investment, and to guarantee the payment of foreign debt. The government has had to admit that by May 2017, when Moreno took office, foreign debt was below 40% of GDP (the debt ceiling allowed by law). Right now, it is over 55% of GDP.
Ending fuel subsidies was not the only alternative available and President Moreno’s government knew this. Potential measures were discussed at the beginning of his administration: reforming Tax Credit rules alone would have provided $400 million; stopping under-billing in customs would have provided another $700 million; increasing 372 different tariff lines, within the framework of the World Trade Organisation (WTO) and the Andean Community (AC), would have provided yet another $400 million. Moreover, in a dollarised economy like Ecuador, the government could have avoided draining $800 million in nonessential imports. More would have been collected with only these three measures than the total savings obtained by ending fuel subsidies ($1.3 billion). Eliminating fuel subsidies was clearly a recessionary measure, since it took those funds away from the national economy to comply with the demands of the IMF and allocate them to foreign debt payment and to international reserves.
These were not the only alternatives, either. Sales taxes could have been gradually increased, maintaining the current 12% average. A similar measure could have been introduced with regard to luxury tax. Measures to recover subsidies from the rich, who do not need them, could have been taken. A windfall tax could have been enacted: the banking sector alone increased its profits, on average, by 40% between 2017 and 2018. Why wasn’t any of this done? Because, according to the IMF, one should not punish the “dynamic” sector of the economy. Therefore, the government decided to sacrifice the people.
Faced with this situation, the country exploded. At first, it was people in the transport industry; then, the indigenous movement, and, finally, the majority of the population rose up and paralysed the country for twelve days. Facing the fire, the government attempted to put it out with gas: it declared a State of Emergency, which allowed the armed forces to repress the popular mobilisation. Constitutional rights, such as the right to assemble, to associate and to protest, were suspended. A curfew was imposed, which had not happened since the dictatorship of the 1970s. The State of Emergency exacerbated violence and allowed a brutal response from police and armed forces. The result: eight confirmed deaths, so far; over 1,300 wounded and over 1,400 arrests. This brutal repression is the most violent that my generation can remember.
In addition, during the protests, the government saw fit to blame the uprising on “correísmo,” a term used to refer to Revolución Ciudadana (‘Citizens’ Revolution Movement’), the political movement led by former President Rafael Correa. The government went so far as to say that the protests were the result of a plot forged by Correa and current Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro to destabilise Ecuador.
What proof did the government have of the destabilising plot? It argued that, in the weeks immediately preceding the protests, Paola Pabón, Governor of Pichincha (a province in Ecuador in which Quito, the country’s capital, is located) who had been elected by popular vote in March, Ricardo Patiño, former Foreign Minister under Correa’s government, and myself, have met with Rafael Correa and President Nicolás Maduro in Caracas. First, Ricardo Patiño never travelled to Caracas. This can easily be proven. Second, we never had, nor was one ever scheduled, a meeting with Nicolás Maduro. Third, our visit allowed us to make an assessment of the situation in Ecuador and, encouraged by what’s happening in Argentina, to put forward the Coalición por la Esperanza (‘The Hope Coalition’), a proposal we publicly made. It was impossible to know then the measures the Ecuadorian government was about to take regarding fuel subsidies. Everything seemed to point to its leaning for an increase in sales taxes and other tax reforms, which do not have the same effect on the population.
During the twelve days of protests, the country heard the highest state authorities, on the national television network, blame us – without any proof whatsoever. The President, the Vice-President and cabinet Ministers did not shy away from proffering all kinds of epithets against the members of the Revolución Ciudadana: mobsters, terrorists, coup-pushers, drones, instability-mongers and other monikers used by the government to try to delegitimise the protests, even though the indigenous leaders themselves emphasised a clear separation between them and correísmo. So what is the reason for the charge of trying to destabilise the country?
In my case, the day after executive order 883 was issued, I said that the government had a choice to make: “either the ‘paquetazo’ is repealed or the government falls,” which is obvious to anyone who knows any Ecuadorian history. Then, facing such bloody repression, the Revolución Ciudadana Movement proposed that early elections be called. This latter possibility is enshrined in articles 130 and 148 of Ecuador’s Constitution. It is worth remarking that this Constitution was adopted in a Constitutional Convention in which the current Interior Minister, Maria Paula Romo, one of the officials most responsible for the bloody repression, was a delegate.
Can calling for the application of the constitution be considered coup d’état mongering? Of course not. Unless that same constitution is the first to be assassinated by the State of Emergency. To blame the vandalism that took place during the protests on correístas is absurd. The state intelligence apparatus knows who we are. We have been under surveillance for months, if not years. It is well known that we firmly oppose the government within the constitutional framework.
Finally, on October 13, the government agreed to meet with the leadership of the indigenous movement and repealed decree 883. It announced the issuance of a new decree, as yet unknown, to replace 883, supposedly to focus on the benefits of the subsidies in better ways. It also declared that the President will send the new bill to the National Assembly, with the character of economic emergency, which mandates that Parliament considers it and resolves on it within 30 days without the possibility of extending that period.
During the protests, we had at least a hundred arrested and several injured among our activists (three of them severely injured and are still hospitalised). Former Mayor of the city of Duran, Alexandra Arce, and social media activist, Magdalena Robles, were detained in Guayaquil for investigation and are being prosecuted for criminal conspiracy and incitement.
In the early hours of Monday, October 14, the persecution against correísmo was unleashed. On that day, the home of the Governor of Pichincha, my home, and that of five other people, among them, former President of the National Assembly and current Member of Parliament, Gabriela Rivadeneira, were raided by state agents. Mine was destroyed. Gabriela Rivadeneira, along with three other Members of Parliament, have requested protection from, and entered, the Mexican Embassy in Quito. Paola Pabón, Christian González, also a leader of the Citizens’ Revolution Movement, and a third person were arrested. Warrants for arrest “to conduct investigations” of myself and three others were issued. I was not home, for basic safety reasons. It should also be remarked that the Governor had stated that she would be in her office working that day, and yet they chose to arrest her home in the early hours of the morning.
As for me, I’ve always said that I will remain in Ecuador and defend myself while in the country, and that all I ask for is the guarantees enshrined in the constitution. As has happened in the past when it comes to correístas, detention for investigation became arraignment, and then the precautionary measure of pre-trial detention, which should be a last resort, was applied to the elected authority of the province and to Christian González. Pablo del Hierro was freed on the condition of appearing every eight days and prohibition of leaving the country. The crime we are being accused of is rebellion, which carries sentences of between 5 and 10 years. The evidence: Twitter publications and advice to our activists on how to join in on the indigenous-led mobilisation, all within the law and publicly circulating in social media.
Moreover, the Governor is being accused of collaborating in the mobilisation with dump trucks, without showing a shred of proof which could substantiate the allegation, when paradoxically the Mayor of Guayaquil announced in traditional and social media that she did position dump trucks carrying rocks to block the entrance of indigenous protesters to Guayaquil. It should also be noted that in the arraignment of the Governor before the chief judge of the provincial court, the Attorney General of the country was present. How could the District Attorney and judge act in accordance with the constitution and the law when such an important person was seated in the court room and with the pressure from the press and social media?
Did the Attorney General not have other matters to attend to, more befitting of her high-ranking position? Can there exist even the bare minimum of objectivity with that kind of pressure? The accusation of rebellion is supported by the“devastating arguments” of publications on social media; but not one thing more to substantiate such a grave accusation. Regardless, this is enough to deprive the highest authority of Pichincha province of the exercise of her duties, as well as that of another leader of correísmo.
In my case, I confirm my intention to participate in the trial. I simply would like to be offered the guarantees of the constitution and international treaties on human rights, such as the right to be presumed innocent and be treated as such and that the norms of the appropriate process be applied; nothing more. My taking part in the process will also allow the President of the Republic and high-ranking officials to prove their serious accusations or be exposed in front of the entire country. I don’t expect apologies or indemnity, simply the truth so that my children, the youngest of which is fourteen years-old, may know that the things said about their father were nothing but an abuse of power.