A neoliberal ‘redesign’ of the State is underway in Ecuador, activated since 2017 through different surreptitious tactics, especially “lawfare”, known for resorting to judicial and media plots as ruses to reverse alternative projects. Also on the scene are different expressions of authoritarianism, which are con-substantial to the pursuit of the neoliberal model, to impose the dominance of the market over the interests of society. It is a programmatic agenda, which is made possible by the conversion of State institutions into minimal operational agencies, in charge of executive aspects to attend primarily to private actors, especially transnational and national corporations, financial capital and related.
In this case, the imposition of a radical neoliberalism brings with it the destruction of a sovereignty project, constitutionally based (2008) on a perspective of the common good and the public, with a horizon projection that places Good Living as a counter-hegemonic proposal, aiming at the primacy of life rather than the reproduction of capital.
The repercussions of the regression of this emerging historical horizon project (2007-2017) towards a neoliberal ‘business plan’, are palpable in the prolongation of extreme inequality indexes: 80% of the country’s patrimony is in the hands of 10%, at the same time, with the privatization of everything, unemployment, corruption, poor quality of public services, insecurity, discrimination, and a large etc.
As part of this neoliberalizing onslaught, transnational corporations have been repositioned in strategic sectors, while the prescriptions of the International Financial Institutions, especially the International Monetary Fund (IMF), have supplanted the Constitution. State assets and resources are being auctioned off, while security and defense are being transferred to foreign repressive models. Moreover, Ecuador is trying to become the spearhead for a U.S. initiative for hemispheric control.
With the dismantling of the public sector, the lack of protection of the people is extreme, this was explicit on the occasion of the Covid-19 pandemic, when thousands of people died, many of them in the streets, due to the lack of attention in public services resulting from the shrinking of the State. When it was believed that there was no worse pandemic than Covid and the bad government of Lenin Moreno (2017-2021), in 2021 the banker Guillermo Lasso came to power, with an agenda of private interests, often contrary to legislation, but very attentive to the business of the financial sector and business groups.
In this order of priorities, not only redistributive policies disappeared, but also planning and initiatives oriented towards the common good, while prices were liberalized and subsidies were eliminated. In June 2022 the basic food basket at US$ 751.00 surpassed its historical ceiling, while the minimum wage is barely US$ 425.00 and only 34% of people have access to adequate employment. In the countryside, 22.7% of people are affected by extreme poverty and 42.9% by poverty. It is not surprising then that it is indigenous and peasant organizations who lead initiatives to claim socioeconomic justice, formulate substantive anti-capitalist critiques and mobilize against neoliberalism, as happened in October 2019 and June 2022.
Rurality: complexities and anti-neoliberal disputes
Ecuador is a singular country. It is a unique case, because it recognizes food sovereignty in its Constitution of Good Living (2008), it also has an Organic Law of Food Sovereignty (2010), which protects not only the rights of the peasantry but also their ways of life, in a plurinational State, which includes economic and productive diversity. But, these and other advances, which even came to be considered internationally avant-garde, have been halted and reversed by the aggressive neoliberal onslaught underway since 2017, which has led the country to a crisis of great magnitude.
The countryside is the most affected by neoliberal measures, there poverty affects almost half of the population, especially the small and medium agriculture sector, which registers 86.2% of multidimensional poverty. Gone are the policies and plans for the construction of a productive model based on food sovereignty and the popular and solidarity economy. The construction of a plurinational and intercultural State is a dead letter, as are the twenty-one collective rights of communities, peoples and nationalities, set forth in Article 57 of the Constitution.
Likewise, the application of articles 281, 282 and 283 of the Constitution, which have to do with the redistribution of the means of production, land, water, seeds, as well as labor and social rights, in order to maintain and promote small and medium agriculture, which represents 64% of agricultural production and 60% of the food consumed in the country, has been forgotten.
The government of Guillermo Lasso, with its eyes on agribusiness, even threatens the reversion of lands that were legally awarded to the peasantry, in the framework of the policies associated with the Food Sovereignty Law, in the period of the Citizen Revolution (2007-2017). The Ministry of Agriculture and Livestock has not institutionalized the National Land Fund, which is also a constitutional mandate and is far from complying with the adjudication of land to peasant organizations that are in possession and fulfilling a social and environmental function.
Lasso has deepened the historical debt of relegation that the country has with the peasantry, taking it to extreme levels of dispossession. But, just as the peasantry is put aside, the large agricultural and agro-exporting businessmen, who together with the financial sector are a priority, are taken care of.
Ecuador is an agricultural country and has everything to be sovereign, but the agrofood model is in dispute, between the capitalist agribusiness proposal that pursues profit and, on the other hand, the alternative model for the people, which proposes Food Sovereignty, with an agroecological peasant-indigenous production, as a basis for healthy food.
The latter is totally viable, especially in a country that has an experience of self-sustenance practiced for millennia from the Andean and Amazonian cosmovision. However, this experience and the associated knowledge have been put in check by the agro-export model and by the importation of agricultural products, favored by free trade practices, which lead to the bankruptcy of national production, especially that of small, family or community agriculture.
The June rebellion
In June 2022 the Ecuadorian people, led by the indigenous and peasant movement, mobilized on a national scale, for a simple motivation: the right to dignity. The National Strike, initially called by the organizations: CONAIE, FEINE, FENOCIN, FEI and FENOC, gathered a wide participation of women, diversities, youth, students, workers, teachers, intellectuals, artists and others, who mobilized to demand better living conditions, in all senses. Faced with the government’s lack of response, the mobilization expanded in a sort of successive waves of nonconformity, until it became a tsunami of indignation that was expressed everywhere.
The “National Struggle Agenda. June 13. The People Rise”, based on a critical analysis of neoliberalism and the government, raised issues that have to do with the daily realities of the majorities, such as: control of prices and speculation; reduction of fuel prices; moratorium and renegotiation of personal and family debts; promotion of employment and labor rights; budgets for health, education and effective security and protection policies. But it also included: the rejection of the privatization of strategic sectors and public patrimony; the defense of collective rights and the safeguarding of territories against oil and mining exploitation; and fair prices for peasant production.
The mobilization lasted 18 days, during which the Ecuadorian people demonstrated that it is unsustainable to live without the attention of the State, especially with regard to basic rights, such as education, health and security, which, as we pointed out above, have been literally dismantled by neoliberal policies. It was demonstrated that privatizations and the transfer of the management of society to the market only results in more socioeconomic polarization and, therefore, more exclusion.
For its part, the government used all its power to subdue the people, with three emergency decrees, states of exception and a forceful deployment of the police and armed forces that confronted the strike as if it were a battlefield. Guillermo Lasso himself made explicit his intention to subdue the indigenous people, the peasantry and those who show an opinion contrary to his erratic management. This resulted in six deaths, hundreds of wounded, dozens of kidnapped and imprisoned people. The report of the International Solidarity and Human Rights Mission, even evidences facts that could constitute crimes against humanity.
Likewise, in keeping with the leading role they have assigned themselves, the corporate media acted as spokespersons for the government and private interests, deployed a campaign of disinformation and criminalization of the mobilization, tinged with aggressive racism; they even echoed the government’s vexatious accusation that associated the strike with drug trafficking, offending the millenary struggles of the native peoples against colonialism. The alternative media, which transmitted the popular mobilization and its proposals, were the only ones to make reality visible, despite the repression to which they were also subjected.
These were days of great intensity that concluded with some achievements for the Ecuadorian people. The most outstanding achievement was the formulation of a consensual agenda of demands, together with the great capacity of popular mobilization, the scope of which left no doubt about the massive disagreement with neoliberalism.
The impeachment motion in the National Assembly
The strike made visible that the demand for change is a broad and multisectoral petition. This became ostensible in the scenario of the impeachment motion of President Guillermo Lasso, placed by the Movimiento Revolución Ciudadana in the National Assembly.
This parliamentary initiative, under Article 130 numeral 20 of the Constitution, was proposed as a solution to the “serious political crisis and internal commotion” affecting the country, in a context of repeated states of exception, which had already resulted in deaths, injuries and even disappearances. Meanwhile, President Guillermo Lasso, whose administration, after barely one year in office, was disapproved by more than 80% of the population, not only refused to respond to the demands expressed in the ‘National Struggle Agenda’, but even threatened to intensify repression.
In order to implement this motion, the consent of two thirds of the parliamentary vote was necessary. And the vote for the dismissal was a majority, but the required two thirds vote was not obtained. Lasso was saved and even, in spite of his very low popularity, he was strengthened.
The right closed ranks, but also political actors that define themselves as of the center, such as the Democratic Left, were part of those ranks. However, if these adhesions were foreseeable due to their support for the neoliberal project and previous alliances with the government, the votes in favor of Lasso coming from the Pachakutik Movement, which is the political arm of CONAIE, the organization that led the national strike, were surprising. This duality is part of the explanatory elements of several important events in Ecuadorian politics, including the election of the banker Lasso as president (2021), who benefited from the so-called “ideological vote”, an anti-citizen revolution vote, called by the Pachakutik movement.
On the other hand, in Ecuador nothing that happens in politics can be explained outside the acute onslaught of “lawfare” or judicialization of politics in progress. The political, judicial and media persecution is expressed in an intricate scenario of machinations that disrupt reality in function of a known objective: the achievement of neoliberalism and the triumph of the private interests that sustain it.
Paradoxically, the Movimiento Revolución Ciudadana, which is the political actor most affected by the ‘lawfare’ and which practically survives repeated attempts of proscription and political persecution, was the one that dared to open the way to propitiate a democratic solution attentive to popular demands. The parties of the traditional left, on the other hand, maintained a discreet participation or did not exhibit a public position, while the trade union centers limited their support to communiqués related to the mobilization.
According to the economist Magdalena León T “…The weakness of the political front has different expressions but it refers to the configuration that neoliberalism seeks at this level, so that market authoritarianism prevails. Politics suffers a constant siege, democratic institutionality is undermined, the public is captured according to the interests of capital, relevant political actors are surrounded and persecuted by various means. These common features in neoliberal contexts, are combined in Ecuador with the singular phenomenon of an ‘anticorreismo’ of all colors, which has implied a widespread, systematic, perverse attack, inasmuch as it adds sectors that put themselves on the tail of the elites and their interests, and which ratifies the tangible potential for transformation embodied by the Citizen Revolution. …It is under these conditions, that in spite of having a clear and consistent line with the confrontation to neoliberalism, an evident mobilized popular support and an important legislative block, it did not manage to shape the presidential impeachment proposal.”
The announced outcome and deferred solutions
The president, Guillermo Lasso, had the 18 days that the national strike lasted to respond to the demands of the mobilized country, but he did not do so, nor did he show up at the call of the National Assembly, but he did exacerbate the repression and rather showed a strategy of letting time pass, hoping that the people would give up due to attrition. And attrition was probable, above all because the most substantial part of the national mobilization rested on the indigenous and peasants, who abandoned their rural world to demand justice in the capital, but the retreat did not happen, but rather firmness and loyalty was perceived, above all from the grassroots.
Faced with the government’s inoperativeness, the Ecuadorian Episcopal Conference was called upon to assume a mediation role. Under this format, a peace agreement was signed and a dialogue agenda was established to be dealt with in 7 work tables, the results of which were deferred for a period of 90 days.
Thanks to the popular mobilization, Decree 95 on oil management was repealed and the reform of Decree 151 on mining was committed, both of which have to do with the protection of ancestral territories and compliance with prior consultation. Some 20 mining megaprojects, especially those linked to metallic mining, already occupy 8% of the national territory and worse still, the extension of the oil zone and mega-mining are a key part of the executive’s ‘business plan’.
The mobilization achieved the declaration of an emergency for health, which has been seriously affected by the destruction of the public sector and the reduction of budgets. Likewise, price control was compromised, in view of the vertiginous speculation, fed by the dismantling of the control instances. One of the most sensitive points, the moratorium and renegotiation of personal and family debts, of great importance for rural people, whose levels of indebtedness to the financial sector, especially private, are directly proportional to the absence of economic and social policies, was postponed.
No form of reparation was included for the families of those who lost their lives. Nor was there any commitment not to prosecute the leaders of the strike or the mobilized people, which represents a great void in a context of judicialization of politics and human rights violations, even more so if, in the context of the disinformation campaign on the mobilization, the government made public a whimsical association between the Citizen Revolution and popular and indigenous movements with drug trafficking, crime and terrorism.
Current challenges and the future
A central accumulation of the national strike is the demonstration of strength, the capacity of mobilization, resistance and cohesion of an important group of organizations, around a common agenda that dialogues with the motivations of the people. A necessary step will be to maintain and expand this articulation, in terms of the future of an Ecuador that is being pushed towards a crisis of difficult return.
We are facing a complex scenario, mainly because the mechanisms to consolidate this extreme neoliberalism are activated by all means, including force. In the same days of the strike, contrary to the demands of ‘no privatization’ and even transgressing constitutional guidelines, the appeal to the auction of public goods, strategic resources and others was intensified. The “business plan”, which serves as the government’s line of action, is rapidly applied and, under the subterfuge of promoting investment, all the openings to free trade are underway, which operate contrary to the aspirations of strengthening national production, which is a decisive issue, for example, for the small and medium agriculture sector.
The neoliberals and their entourage, in government or not, who came to power with trickery -such as Lawfare- are giving a blow of force and speed to consolidate their project, as much as to demolish any initiative that proposes redistribution and even everything that smells of the project of the Citizen Revolution, led by Rafael Correa. Moreover, their aspiration to unseat the progressive constitutional and legal framework is public.
Ecuador is a country in dispute, where the disparity of contents and interests between the neoliberal model and the popular projects is evident. Thus, the ineffective response of the Lasso government to the demands of the strike is not just a matter of ‘political will’, it is a programmatic issue, since all the demands of the strike have to do with the common good, which is the antithesis of the objective of individual accumulation of the neoliberals.
Thus, a scenario of far-reaching struggles is in perspective, in order to recover and substantiate a process of changes towards Good Living. In the immediate term, after the neoliberals, as in October 2019, got away with their tactic of deferring the response to the demands of the strike, postponing it to some dialogues at a certain time, there are doubts, both about the fulfillment of the commitments made to lift the strike, as well as about the consistency of the eventual results of the negotiation tables deferred to 90 days. Likewise, as the government of Guillermo Lasso usually resorts to subterfuges and delayed promises, it is possible to infer that as it has already failed to comply before, it could do it again and violate the agreements obtained by the mobilization.
Hence the importance of vindicating politics and strengthening the search for structural solutions, in the face of a dispute that has to do with the orientations and projections of society. To achieve this, in addition to deepening the joint agenda, all possible efforts will be key to achieve substantive convergences between movements and political actors that advocate for a common good approach, that advocate for a perspective that places life above capital, in line with the advanced constitutional definitions that the country has.
In this sense, the purpose expressed by those calling for the strike contributes in this sense: “…Not only the organizations calling for this day of mobilization have the obligation to build a great front where the most diverse knowledge and traditions of struggle against exploitation and capitalist domination converge, whose central axis is the socialization of the economy, the care of life, the conquest of dignified work and security for all equally”.
This is a relevant proposal for organizational growth, which could have significant projections if the fact that in Ecuador there are two main alternative movements is strengthened: the Movimiento Revolución Ciudadana in the popular and institutional political field and the indigenous – peasant movement in the movement scenario, while feminism and others are also being strengthened.
In pursuit of this effort of feasible convergences, a renewed approach of the Citizen Revolution Movement to the organizational dynamics of the movements is unavoidable, since institutional politics and organizational processes are not only complementary, but necessary in terms of change.
Concomitantly, the socio-political growth of an alternative front to recover the country, calls for a sincerity both in content and in the management of alliances. Thus, in order for the alternative front to develop in the widest diversity, it is essential to mark a demarcation from the interpretations of reality and agendas that the right-wing elites formulate, according to their interest in dismantling the alternatives. For, while it is understandable that the dominant sectors seek the ruin of Revolución Ciudadana, the main political force of the country, which they consider antagonistic for its anti-neoliberal proposal, it is hardly understandable that actors who identify themselves with the popular camp join and, even worse, are co-participants of the little nuanced agenda of demonizing progressivism, even becoming, in some cases, acolytes of the judicialization of politics.
For the peasant-indigenous movement, it is time to emphasize the agenda for an agrarian and agroecological revolution for food sovereignty. It is time to further deepen the shared cause of the right to land, water, economic resources, trade and marketing, for a reactivation in the constitutional framework of economic and productive diversity. The development of a qualitative agenda in the face of neoliberalism is also important for ancestral and Afro-descendant peoples, in view of their horizon of dignity. In all cases, it is urgent to strengthen the organizational processes, with their respective communicational capacities.
In this context, Fernando Daquilema’s historical mandate gains meaning: I was not born to be a slave and with it, it is worth highlighting the importance of the recovery of historical memory, of the legacy of great indigenous leaders such as Dolores Cacuango, Transito Amaguaña, Jesús Gualavisi, Ambrosio Lasso and others, whose struggle against injustice should inspire all efforts for unity, to resume in the near future, the horizon of Good Living and the prospects of a sovereign regional integration, which would allow the plurinational people to return to be subject of their history.
Irene León, Ecuadorian sociologist and communicator. FEDAEPS
This article was republished from Orinoco Tribune.