Americas

Chaos and Anarchy in Ecuador

Wearing a gas mask, Ecuador's President Rafael Correa is escorted away from tear gas during a protest of police officers and soldiers in Quito, Ecuador on Sept. 30. (Photo: AP)

This morning, around 500 police officers revolted and seized control of the main police regiment in Quito. President Rafael Correa, unable to reach the leaders of the revolt, tried to reason with the rebelling police officers. During his confrontation with the regiment, Correa was booed by the policemen. Until that moment, the policemen were protesting peacefully with signboards. The president, seeing their hostile reaction, took off his tie and screamed, "Here I am. Do you want to kill your president? Kill me! I am not going to back off not even one step!" Chaos ensued and the police fired tear gas. The president was caught in the upheaval and could not leave fast enough to avoid the tear gas. He is reportedly being treated at the Police Hospital near where the confrontation took place.

The unrest immediately spread across the country. Police across the nation stopped protecting the population, and chaos spilled onto the streets. There have been assaults and looting in some parts of the country, especially in Guayaquil, Ecuador's largest city. There are several reports of major assaults on banks, malls and other commercial infrastructure around the country. The streets of the main cities are in anarchy. Businesses, schools and universities have been shut down. The main points of access to Quito have been closed, and the main arteries into and out of the country have been cut off in some areas.

It is unknown whether the armed forces are taking part in the revolt, but there are reports that a brigade of soldiers has taken control of Quito's airport and a military base located nearby. Quito's airspace has been shut down, and planes are not permitted to leave or enter the city. There are reports that police have forcibly entered and taken over the National Assembly in Quito. Also, some major news outlets have reported that at least one assemblywoman was assaulted and seriously injured.

Opponents of the government who have been protesting throughout the country in recent weeks have joined the police protest. There are reports of university students joining the protests in some cities such as Cuenca and Quito. Other public servants, including employees of Petroecuador, the national oil company, were spotted protesting early in the morning. Although it has not been confirmed, there are rumors that a national curfew will be set.

Although there has not been any major call for the president's resignation, the ministers and most important civil functionaries of the government have convened at the Presidential Palace. The president has said that he will come back to the Presidential Palace; however, there are reports that the police surrounding the hospital are not allowing him to leave the premises. It has also been reported that police personnel are trying to reach his room in the hospital and that there are some groups calling for the revolt to become a coup d'état. Thousands of people have gathered outside the Presidential Palace to support Correa.

The police started to demonstrate in response to Correa's recent veto of a law on public service in which he annulled many benefits that the police and military had previously enjoyed, such as economic incentives linked to medals, awards, decorations and promotions. Recently, the president also vetoed other important initiatives, including ones that had previously been negotiated with the opposition to take into consideration all the actors that were going to be affected. Instead, Correa pushed through the original proposals, dismissing all the hard-fought compromises incorporated by the National Assembly in the alternative versions.

Correa's imposition of his own will over the National Assembly subsequently sparked widespread protests. Once Correa vetoed the compromises, Alianza País, the political movement associated with the president, declined to override his presidential veto. This created a sense that all the National Assembly's efforts to reach an accord were nothing but useless theatrics because, ultimately, the will of the executive power was all that mattered. The next hours will be essential to President Correa, as they will determine whether he emerges a stronger or weaker leader. Before this day, Rafael Correa seemed an untouchable figure in Ecuadorian politics. However, his presidency might very well be defined by this outcome, with his political projects resting on the results.

This article was originally published by the Council on Hemispheric Affairs: www.coha.org/. Andrés Ochoa is a COHA contributor and reported this story firsthand from Quito.

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