Ecuador today

Image: Romina Ordonez


The dispersed political and social forces of Ecuadorian progressivism are faced with the obligation and opportunity to confront the advance of a privatizing neoliberalism

The experimental period for the government of Guillermo Lasso is over, provided by the vaccination numbers that, in addition to the official report and contradicting its ultraliberal adherents, had much more public effort and intergovernmental cooperation than business success. Vaccination naturally attracted the attention of the population and the opposition was condescending, congratulating Lasso and abstaining from any kind of scrutiny. In any case, and even before the end of this experimental period, the first tensions and conflicts did not take long to appear in a country completely submerged in an unprecedented economic, social and health crisis. In addition to the social tensions with which the Lasso government has dealt poorly, there is the mismanagement of the relationship with the Assembly, the explosion of an unprecedented prison crisis and a new exposure - in this case with the international spotlight of the pandora papers - from the Web offshore with which Lasso has been hiding his capital and evading his tax obligations.

The first problems arose in agriculture, when several unions demanded that the government fulfill its campaign promises about the definition of support prices for various products, such as rice. There have been several weeks of protests repressed by the public force, Lasso has already appointed two Ministers of Agriculture and, even so, no solution is in sight. The unions of public education teachers also demonstrated early on to demand an increase in their salaries, while the government clings to the Constitutional Court so that it resolves, as a last resort, the conflict against teachers. After a first general decision that they considered favorable, the teachers suspended the hunger strikes, without the conflict coming to an end.

The rise in fuel prices and its undeniable impact on the purchasing power of the population triggered, in August, the first protests, led by the National Confederation of Indigenous Peoples of Ecuador (CONAIE), which has a historical capacity for mobilization. Lasso's first response was to call them destabilizing anarchistsas Have already done during the emblematic popular uprising of October 2019 against the policies of former President Lenín Moreno. Social organizations did not fall for Lasso's provocation, they insisted on their openness to dialogue and forced the president to dance this dance. Faced with the regime's attempts to divide them, the president of CONAIE, Leonidas Iza, insisted that the dialogue should be with a large number of representatives of the Parliament of the Peoples, in which CONAIE converges with various social organizations since the resistance of October 2019.

The meeting between the government and representatives of the Peoples' Parliament finally took place on 4 October. Lasso received Iza and several social leaders in a context that was very delicate for him: the trial period was over and with an increasingly negative balance in his relationship with the National Assembly, which recently rejected his urgent economic bill that sought to increase the tax burden. in the middle class.

Lasso had the opportunity to rehearse the path of political negotiation with the organizations of the People's Parliament. For their part, they felt that it was time to play hardball, both because of the country's unsustainable situation and because of seeing Lasso certainly hit by the situation of recent days and the negative balance of its political maneuvers. Although Leonidas Iza does not fully control his inner courtyard (there are tensions with various organizations and the relationship with the parliamentary group of his political arm, Pachakutik, has ups and downs), he arrived at the meeting with a firm stance and proposals for economic recovery. : repeal of the decrees that liberalized fuel prices under Moreno, financial relief for bank debtors, definition of strategies to cover the production mechanisms of peasants affected by the crisis, and rejection of the urgent economic bill, which seeks to making labor contracting more flexible, speeding up privatizations and deepening financial deregulation.

While Lasso was quick to highlight the benefits of dialogue and the diagnostic coincidences with his participants, it soon became known that the president chose not to budge, not even out of political calculation. From a tactical point of view, this was an opportunity for Lasso to release certain tensions at a time when many things are at stake, but he chose not to. This will certainly lead to a more tense relationship with the social organizations that, according to their communiqués, will define the next actions to be taken.

At the meeting with Iza and the Parliament of the Peoples, Lasso again despises political management and opts for a disagreement. Perhaps for this reason, the communication strategy emphasizes the use of “encounter” and includes a more ethereal idea of ​​“the country of opportunities”. It is clear, however, that those who access the opportunities offered by the government are an increasingly closed group, which benefits from the deepening agenda of a neoliberalism designed for financial capital.

In addition to tensions with social organizations, the luck that Lasso's Urgent Economic Law has had so far allows us to analyze other political mistakes. The devolution of this normative project called “Lei de Oportunidades” made it clear that its inaugural (and fragile) parliamentary alliance with the Pachakutik (PK) and the Democratic Left (ID) was a passing love that also cost these two legislative forces dearly, which are going through their own crises and collapses. The votes of the members of the PK, ID and UNES in the Legislative Administration Council (CAL) were fundamental for the bill not to be qualified, being returned. One of the PK's votes is from the President of the Assembly, whom Lasso reminded that he was in office thanks to her support and publicly demanded that the bill be approved. Furthermore, Lasso's tense relationship with the Social Christian Party (PSC) deepens after the rupture of the governance agreement in May, of which Correísmo (UNES) was also a party. The difficult amalgamation that formed in the campaign between right-wing rivals (the traditional oligarchy that the PSC represents and the financial capital interests that Lasso represents) gradually returns to the traditional framework of these right-wing forces. These four groups, UNES, PSC, ID and PK, signed a joint statement to say that Lasso must respect the law and democratic channels, and that they will be happy to discuss a project that does not violate the Constitution.

In the National Assembly, Lasso is alone with the bloc of lawmakers from his CREO party, the independents and defectors he managed to recruit. The relationship started badly with the early break with the PSC and worsened with the permanent desire to circumvent the Assembly, as it did with the ratification of the ICSID agreement and with the delivery of its pro forma budget without having a development plan and ignoring the parliamentary observations from the UNES, PSC and PK benches, which he did not even bother to respond to. After the return of the “Lei de Oportunidades”, the signals given by Lasso seem to seek to generate more tension on this front: according to his own announcements and those of his Minister of Government (a specialist in generating tensions), it seems that he will seek to put pressure on the Constitutional Court to contradict the Assembly's decision to return his bill as being unconstitutional and not meeting qualifying requirements. Does this (new) move privilege mechanisms of direct democracy such as the plebiscite or the crusade as a threat to the legislature? Certainly, the scenario for a Popular Consultation becomes more complicated as the president becomes more self-centered. While knowing Lasso and those who now handle his government's political dealings (the old Christian Democracy), the popular consultation is a strategy that will remain in the bag and will not be discarded easily.

On the other hand, it is interesting to observe that even part of the business elites and economic spokespersons who traditionally support Lasso have shown their dissatisfaction with the bill and with a course that they consider “not liberal”. Bordering on the absurd, they even classified Lasso as a social democrat. What these elites don't like is that Lasso, a millionaire who evades taxes according to the pandora papers, dared to include a temporary tax on wealth and proposed that the income tax of the richest be rapidly increased. He certainly did this to fulfill certain cosmetic commitments to the IMF (the details of which are not yet known). It matters little to the ultraliberals that the bill, in its tax section, is really focused on charging the middle class more. They want everything to be budget cuts, state reductions and less taxes for the richest. Perhaps, with them, Lasso can rebuild relations if he abandons the idea of ​​including a few and symbolic taxes on the richest. That way he could regroup the flock of the elites and, of course, the media that defend him and echo the official discourse.

Finally, it is important to look to the left. The terrible situation in which the country finds itself and the political conjuncture that Lasso's government is going through become, respectively, an obligation and an opportunity to build strategic leadership and ensure the unity of a progressive opposition force. A Citizen revolution (RC), now with its own party after four years of ban, has refocused its forces on a national convention in the province of Manabí, its electoral stronghold on the country's coast. The reconcentration of forces seems to be read in different ways and with different interests within the leadership of the RC which, in the most visible dimension, makes a close bet that its battle horse is its legislative caucus (UNES). Regarding its ability and willingness to articulate at the level of civil society, at the moment the RC seems more concerned with the management of its social networks. In turn, Leonidas Iza, in the context of tension with the government, insists on the unity and articulation of forces of social organizations, although his own yard – as already mentioned – is not completely consolidated, having to measure the timing of the streets and also the framing of Lasso, who will look for any opportunity to show them as “destabilizing anarchists” and present himself as a dialoguer.

It is worth asking some necessary questions: will the indigenous movement be able to articulate with correismo in this new chapter that the country is going through? Will they be able to unite their respective political and social allies, as well as unite other sectors of the progressive spectrum? In the electoral campaign and in addition to CONAIE's formal position in the second round, the rapprochements between the UNES presidential candidacy and some important representatives of the indigenous movement were public knowledge. There were those who applauded the approximation and those who considered that it had a negative effect on urban and middle-class voters. What is certain is that those who fought clashes in the past showed signs of rapprochement months ago. Lessons learned and approach channels can certainly be recreated or reconstructed. Shared causes such as denouncing and combating the abuse of tax evaders, starting with the President of the Republic himself, should be joint causes.

The dispersed political and social forces of Ecuadorian progressivism are faced with the obligation and opportunity to confront the advance of a privatizing neoliberalism of a financial nature that, although it insists on consensual discourses, in fact disregards political management, the possibility of reaching great agreements, and becomes more and more closed in on itself. It is the moment of conducting and articulating a necessary democratic opposition to the government of disagreement, with its mistakes and its offshore.

*Andres Chiriboga is a doctoral candidate in sociology at the Max Planck SciencesPo (Paris). He was a permanent member of the Junta de Regulación y Política Monetaria y Financiera del Ecuador between 2015 and 2016.

Translation: Opera magazine.

Originally published on the website of Latin American Geopolitics Strategic Center (CELAG).

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