Yesterday there was an huge amount of political unrest in Ecuador that saw the country collapse into chaos. If you are worried then I can tell you with 100% certainty its all over now, order has been restored and its perfectly safe to travel.
The unrest started when elements of the police force started nation wide strikes to protest against a new law passed on Wednesday that changed the way public servants are paid. President Rafael Correa tried to negotiate with the police at their headquarters in Quito yesterday morning to explain the new laws which to my understanding means they will lose a bonus that gives them $1,000 USD for every year they have worked in the force given to them on their 25th year as well as a bonus for any police decorations they may receive.
In compensation the police and military will see their salary triple: a police officer that earned $450 in 2008 will now earn $1200. The compensation was not enough to stop the police protests however and as the President left the police headquarters after the failed negotiations a crowd surrounded him that turned violent as elements of the police fired teargas bombs at their own president. Correa was forced to flee to a military hospital which the police forces surrounded and kept him their against his will for twelve hours.
This is where things get convoluted and its hard to know exactly what was happening out there because in circumstances of emergency a law allows the state run television channel Ecuador TV to broadcast an uninterrupted news feed over all other channels stifling opposition views.
President Correa was able to make a statement to Ecuador TV by telephone from where he was being held and he said the police were trying to get into his room to ‘maybe attack me’ said: “If something happens to me remember my infinite love for my country, and to my family I say that I will love them wherever I end up.”
With the President held incommunicado elements of the opposition who mostly comprise of the super wealthy elite class started to work behind the scenes to sow more chaos and discontent with the president. This elite class are bitter enemies with Rafael Correa because for generations they have ruled Ecuador like a ruthless mafia that were all powerful and untouchable no matter how much they ransacked and plundered the country for its riches.
In the past the President of Ecuador almost always came from this elite class and in power would enact laws to benefit their cronies and enrich themselves at the expense of the people. President Correa has spent most of his two terms putting a stop to this corruption and limits on the power of the elite class in what is called the Citizens Revolution. This made him many powerful enemies.
With the president held against his will the unrest amplified as the police seized the airports in Quito and Guayaquil as well as the bus terminals and set fire to tires on the main roads to shut down the transportation system. They also stormed the congressional assembly where laws are made as well as other establishments of power. This is where things could have gone either way – the restoration of democracy or a police coup.
As news of the presidents kidnapping traveled tens of thousands of people took to the streets of Quito to protest against the police in defense of democracy and surrounded the hospital where President Correa is being held. In a break from history the Vice President of Ecuador Lenin Moreno made a statement on Ecuador TV that he would not betray President Correa and would defend the “Citizens Revolution” until the end.
Ecuadors turbulent history has seen four military coups in the last fifteen years and in three out of the four coups the Vice President has been instrumental in usurping the power from the President. After the vice president backed Rafael Correa other political leaders, mayors, and universities also threw their support by behind the president as well as a chorus of Latin American countries and the United States.
Then Ecuadorian Military backed President Rafael Correas government and started to police the streets (while the police were too busy sowing chaos) because at this stage five banks in the countries largest city Guayaquil had already been robbed.
With tens of thousands of people protesting against the attack on democracy on the streets as well as the backing from the countries most powerful organizations meant the inertia towards a coup was dead in the water even though Correa was still being held against his will.
At a last ditch attempt to swing things the other way the police and opposition attacked the state run Ecuador TV to stop its uninterrupted pro-goverment broadcast. It was interesting to watch the channel as the newsreaders kept on reading even as the glass doors of the station were smashed and it was taken off air.
It was at this stage the military stepped in and decided to forcibly remove the President from the police hospital where he was being held. Two police died in the firefight and the President was shuffled to the presidential palace where he made a speech against the attack on democracy to the media and the thousands of people that had gathered there. He was understandably incredibly pissed off.
It will be interesting to see what happens over the next couple of days but President Correa is no doubt stronger politically and in the eyes of his enemies after surviving what may have been the first attempted coup on his power.