I received an e-mail asking if the recent instability and “coup” attempt had changed my mind about heading to Ecuador. The answer is a resounding NO!
First of all, I was never under the illusion that Ecuador’s political system is as stable as ours in the US or other first world nations. “Relatively stable,” yes, but the fact that it still has a lot of development ahead is one of the reasons it is attractive to me. So a bit of political drama is not something that negatively affects my plans nor my outlook.
As for the drama being characterized as a “coup d’etat,” I just don’t see it. The first reports I read were of a police strike affecting many parts of the country. That fact doesn’t seem to be in dispute. So what happened from there? And how might I expect a real coup to take shape?
If the police were involved in an actual attempt to seize power, one would expect that they would take some action to actually attempt to seize power. I know, it sounds pretty basic. From all reports I have read, there was no police action at all outside Quito. Everywhere else, there was a decided LACK of police action… you know, a strike… NO work. Predictably that led to increased levels of lawless behavior. It happens virtually everywhere.
As for the action in Quito, the police and President did have a confrontation, but the initiative was from President Correa. One can argue the wisdom or bravery of his actions, but again, the facts don’t seem to be in dispute. President Correa, showing bravery, bravado or both, went to the strikers, they didn’t storm the Presidential Palace or attack him.
When the President did confront the strikers, he not only received the support of the Armed Forces but his National Police Chief resigned in disgrace for allowing the strike to happen… again not what you expect from an attempted coup.
Anyway, during President Correa’s confrontation with the rebellious police, things got out of hand. At that point the reports become confused and foggy. But certainly there was some violence and it seems to be fact that he was exposed to, and affected by, tear gas and his security detail took him to the hospital for treatment. As President Correa had just had knee surgery, there was added confusion about the extent of any injuries he may have endured. Confusion about the nature of the confrontation, confusion over the timeline, confusion over whether or not he ripped his shirt open and invited them to kill him. Yes, there was much confusion and much drama. Someplace I read a comparison to antics preceding a professional wrestling show. But whatever one thinks of the specific actions, the facts remain: President Correa went to face the renegade police, there was violence, he went to the hospital, he left the hospital and triumphantly appeared on TV.
While in the hospital, the rebel police put up burning tire barriers and more taunts were exchanged between President Correa and the disloyal police. Around the country, schools banks and businesses closed, though not all of them, and in places where the police were conspicuously absent, looters took advantage. But there was no move on any other government people or institutions. Even the opposition leader, the mayor of Guayaquil, Jaime Nebot voiced his support for the President.
So because there was no leadership, and most importantly, because there was never any attempt to actually seize power, I can’t see any way this can be considered an attempted coup d’etat.
I don’t know enough to comment on the wisdom of his actions but certainly President Correa acted decisively, and I’d argue bravely. By first confronting the renegade police and by quickly and forcefully asserting his leadership he took the initiative and gained command of the situation. Especially in second or third world nations, leaders must be decisive and assertive, and President Correa was. But, as always, the real question is, “What’s next? What is his next step?”
Does he respect democratic political institutions or does he move in ways that one would expect someone like Hugo Chavez to do? That will be the matter most interesting to me. Does he, as I think he will, keep the Ecuadorean people in mind, or does he think more of himself and move to consolidate his own personal power? Does he respect that the people freely give him their allegiance or does he demand they give it?
Ecuador is facing some daunting political and financial issues, and my hope is that President Correa stays true to his roots, I believe he will. This fight with renegade police was over money, and President Correa represented the responsible and reasonable point of view… in fact his history with Police pay can only be seen as generous. You may argue that he acted brashly, but his actions were swift and effective without being oppressive. THAT is a fine edge to balance upon and thus far he has deftly managed it.
At any rate, this incident will likely increase his popularity, and it will help to solidify his political position. It will be fascinating to watch things develop, especially since I believe him to be exactly the type of leader that Ecuador needs. In fact I think Venezuela would be well served to have someone of Correa’s character in place of Chavez.
While watching the news over the next weeks and months, I’ll be pulling for Ecuador, I’ll be pulling for President Correa. I only wish I was there to see it first hand and to get a better feel for the way the Ecuadorean people are taking it all.
As I answered my e-mailer, “coup” is much too sensational a term for a confrontation with striking, renegade cops. And, No, my mind has not changed a bit.