Protests in Ecuador against the IMF package

By Denis Rogatyuk.

“Se acabó la zanganería”.

With this phrase, President of Ecuador Lenin Moreno announced the end of the 40-year long policy of fuel and petrol subsidies that traditionally benefited the working class population. “Zánganos” (or drones) is a slang term traditionally used by the richer parts of society to refer to the workers and the poor as ‘mindless’ or ‘uneducated’, once again reflecting the neoliberal president’s classist attitudes of disgust towards Ecuador’s working class.

Overnight, the slang turned into a buzzword used by Moreno’s opponents to refer to themselves and the new movement as “la revolución de los zánganos” (the drone revolution).

Following this shock economic measure, the past week has seen a series of large demonstrations across the country, as a new package of neoliberal reforms was presented by the Moreno government in a bid to satisfy the demands of the International Monetary Fund (IMF).

The latest explosion of mass protests was caused by the government’s announcement on October 1 of a series of new economic measures designed to reduce “wasteful” public spending and further balance the budget. The most controversial measure of all has been the complete elimination of the fuel and petrol subsidies, in place since the 1970s, thus directly contributing to a 123 per cent rise in the price of diesel and similar increases for other fuels. Furthermore, the package introduces a 20 per cent cut to the salary of public employees, and the initiation of plans to privatise pensions and to remove safeguards to workers’ conditions and job security.

‘State of emergency’ declared

Foreseeing the likelihood and the magnitude of protests against his government, Moreno declared a “national state of emergency” and proceeded to deploy both the police and the military against protests in the capital Quito and other areas around the country.

Among the most visible political forces leading the protests have been the Citizens’ Revolution Movement (MRC) of former left-wing President Rafael Correa, as well as a number of social and trade union organisations, such as the United Workers’ Front (FUT), the CONAIE indigenous organisation and the Popular Front (FP) political party. Furthermore, both transport workers’ unions and the taxi drivers’ associations announced strike action on October 3, bringing several cities around the country to halt, among them Quito and Cuenca.

The province of Pichincha converted into the epicentre of popular struggle, with more than 10,000 taking in part in the strike and the protests. Although the transport workers suspended the strike action on October 5, the protests by other organisations, particularly the indigenous, have shown no signs of stopping.

Below: Police retreating from mass protests in Quito

Below: Police repression in Quito – “Police retreating after injuring a protester with ammunition”

The state of emergency itself has been severely criticised by Correa’s MRC as being unconstitutional, as it lacks any specific parameters regarding proportionality, legality, temporality, territoriality and rationality (as mandated in the constitution) and is widely considered as a measure of preventing mass-scale uprisings in major cities that overthrew the neoliberal governments of Jamil Mahuad in 2000 and Lucio Gutiérez in 2005.

A total of 350 arrests have been made since the protests began on October 2, including of several activists from the transport unions, while more than 20 people have been injured around the country. In the city of Caymabe, Pichincha, the police are reported to have used live ammunition against the protestors. During the transport workers’ strike of October 3-5, several delegates and local leaders were detained by the police in the city of Cuenca, and a further four members of the taxi drivers’ associations were arrested on October 4 in relation to the strikes.

Moreno’s right turn

The cuts to the fuel subsidies have only served to fan the flames of popular discontent that has been spreading across the country since Moreno’s neoliberal economic turn and the embrace of authoritarianism.

On the economic front, Moreno has attempted to consistently discredit Correa’s (highly successful and popular) economic strategy of combining increased social spending with public investment in major infrastructure and energy projects, and the diversification of the economy away from oil through the building of a new productive matrix.

Instead, his government has pursued an IMF-mandated package of reforms that included dismissal of thousands of public sector employees, reducing the size of the public sector, initiating privatisation of parts of the public sector (particularly the public banking services), and introducing cuts to education and healthcare sectors.

Consequently, the levels of poverty and inequality have seen significant increases over the past several years of Moreno’s government. According to the official numbers, the level of structural poverty has increased from 23.1 per cent in June 2017 to 25.5 per cent in June 2019, with some economists projecting that structural poverty will reach 30 per cent by the end of the year if the new economic measures are enacted.

Extreme poverty has risen from 8.4 per cent to 9.5 per cent during the same period. Furthermore, the Gini coefficient of economic inequality has increased from 0.462 in June 2017 to 0.478 in June 2019, reflecting Moreno’s policies of reducing social spending, principally benefiting the rich.

On the legal side, the country has witnessed a continuous breakdown of constitutional law, with the persecution of the former vice-president Jorge Glas on dubious charges, the censorship of various critical media channels, and the scandal of the INA Papers and discovery of secret offshore bank accounts linked to the Moreno family.

It has also witnessed the dismissal of the newly elected Council of Citizens’ Participation and Social Control (CPCCS), the withdrawal from UNASUR and OPEC and the continuous political witch-hunt against Correa and other leaders of the Citizens’s Revolution, such as the former Foreign Minister Ricardo Patiño and former deputy Sofia Espin.

Esther Cuesta, a member of the National Assembly of the Citizens’ Revolution Movement, explained her party’s position regarding both the new rebellion and the growing authoritarianism and repression by the Moreno government: “Millions of Ecuadorians, whom we join as the Citizen’s Revolution Movement, reject the neoliberal economic measures, dictated by the IMF and imposed to the Ecuadorian people by Moreno’s government, mainly because they will impoverish the vast majority of the population: the middle class, the working class and the poor, as well as small and medium-sized businesses, to the detriment of the future of children and younger generations.”

She further explained the significance of the Zánganos movement in the historical context of the Ecuadorian people’s struggle against neoliberalism: “Since the paquetazo [IMF package] announcement, what started as a transportation strike emerged as a growing social protest all over the country and from different sectors of the population.

“Ecuadorian people have memory. The adjustment policies applied in the country the 1980s and 1990s provoked massive unemployment, impoverishing of the population, and about 12 percent of the population emigrated.”

Denis Rogatyuk is a Russian-Australian freelance writer, journalist and researcher. Follow him on Twitter @DenisRogatyuk.

This article originally appeared in The Grayzone and has been reprinted by Irish Broad Left with the permission of the author.

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