Demonstrators in Ecuador Call for Nationwide StrikeAugust 14, 2015 in Ecuador
In Ecuador demonstrators have called for a nationwide strike to protest moves made by President Rafael Correa to secure a fourth term in office and increase taxation. In response, Correa has called out his own supporters and hinted darkly that a coup attempt organised by his political rivals may be in the offing.
In office since 2007, Correa is not presently able to stand for re-election in 2017. He has, however, lent his support to a constitutional reform package that would would enable him to hold office indefinitely. This, in addition to an economic slowdown brought about by declining crude oil prices has hit the South American country hard and caused widespread discontent. Nevertheless, Correa remains a relatively popular figure, especially amongst the nation’s poor. Over the last eight years, Correa has been publicly feted for re-investing the country’s oil wealth into infrastructure projects like new roads, schools and hospitals, and for dramatically reducing poverty. As recently as 2013, he was re-elected with a large majority after embracing the ideals of Venezuelan-style 21st Century Socialism. A divisive figure, Correa continues to maintain that his fiscal reforms will promote more effective wealth distribution throughout the country.
On Thursday, union leaders, workers, business owners and indigenous Ecuadorians blocked roads to the capital Quito, united by their opposition to Correa but motivated by often conflicting principles. From the business sector, protestors demonstrated against the introduction of import tariffs and a 75% tax on capital gains from inheritances and real estate sales. At the same time, union leaders were angered by the introduction of a labour code that they claim would criminalise dissent by removing freedoms of protest and association. Indigenous protesters, who have been amongst the most vocal critics of Correa, blocked roads in six of Ecuador’s twenty four provinces, including the Pan-American Highway near the Cotopaxi volcano, a popular tourist attraction. According to Carlos Perez, a protest leader and one of the many indigenous Ecuadoreans who journeyed 800 kilometres to Quito to take part in the demonstrations said “We have declared an uprising. For us, Correa has fallen from grace. He doesn’t represent us anymore…We don’t want indefinite reelection because we’re going to end up in a dictatorship.”
Police have been deployed in key cities throughout Ecuador, including 5,000 officers in Quito, but so far there have been no reports of serious violence breaking out. By and large, the protests have not succeeded in galvanising the kind of grass root support necessary to force Correa from office. Despite the call for a nationwide strike, education, transport and health services were all functioning normally in the country’s largest cities. On Twitter, Correa called the strike a failure, saying “Situation normal in all major cities.”