The Ecuadorian Revolution

Owen Jones owen.jones at
Thu Jan 27 11:50:29 MST 2000


 Here is an article on the revolution in Ecuador from the Socialist Appeal
lot (from Note how it debunks the idea propagated
by the bourgeois media that this was a military coup. I think it's also
interesting that this is the first revolution since Indonesia in 1998; but
despite the fact in both cases the masses were radicalised and the ruling
class intensely split, there was no presence of a mass revolutionary party
to allow a proletarian revolution to occur. This is the main problem we face
in this epoch of reaction - the absence of revolutionary leadership. What it
leads to is a very confused and unfocused anger on the part of the masses.
In Latin America, this has led to the election of populists with
anti-neo-liberal rhetoric who have too often betrayed the masses.

 I do not believe it is conceivable that the new Ecuadorian regime, which is
in essence identical in character to the previous once except with a new
face as leader (just as in Russia) can survive when its reactionary policies
face universal hostility from the masses. But unfortunately in a time of
extreme reaction what has happened in Ecuador will be bound to happen again
and again across the world. -- Owen

("In Defence of Marxism" -
The uprising in Ecuador marks the beginning of the 21st century

  "At those crucial moments when the old order becomes no longer endurable
for the masses, they break over the barriers excluding them from the
                   arena, sweep aside their traditional representatives, and
create by their own interference the initial groundwork for a new regime"

Trotsky, History of the Russian Revolution

After a week of mass mobilisation, demonstrations, strikes and clashes, on
Friday 21st of January, tens of thousands of Indians,
peasants, workers and students in Ecuador took over one by one the buildings
of the Parliament, the Supreme Court and the National
Palace and established an alternative government.

Faced with these events the world¹s mass media, which had remained silent
for the whole week, started to scream that a military coup had overthrown
government of president Jamil Mahuad. It is therefore necessary to clarify
first of all that what has happened in Ecuador in the last week is a
revolution, the main
feature of which is, as explained by Trotsky, "the direct interference of
the masses in historic events".

In order to understand the magnificent mass movement in Ecuador in the last
few days we must go back to the beginning of the 90s when a whole series of
governments, both of the right and of the "left", started to apply
faithfully the structural adjustment plans dictated by the IMF. The results
are now clear for all to
see: two thirds of the population under the poverty line, hyperinflation and
mass unemployment.

In 1995 Ecuador waged a short war against Peru with the main aim of
diverting the masses' attention from their social problems into a wave of
nationalist fervour.
But this lasted for a very short period of time and a few months later there
were mass workers¹ protests against the economic policies of the government.
generalised discontent of workers and peasants expressed itself in 1996 with
a massive vote for Abdalá Bucaram who won the presidency on the bases of
demagogic promises. In a few months he had broken all his promises and
adopted the same adjustment plans dictated by the IMF, including massive
price hikes for
all basic products. Overnight, electricity went up by 500%, gas by 340%,
telephone charges by 700% amongst others. This was the spark which ignited
accumulated malaise. The trade unions called a national strike on February
5th and 6th, 1997, which then became an indefinite strike. Bucaram tried to
hold on to
power using repression, declaring a state of emergency and taking the troops
onto the streets, but this did not stop the protests. He then tried to
withdraw the whole
package of economic measures, but this did not work either, and finally
Bucaram "the mad" had to flee from the country.

The Ecuadorian bourgeoisie, gripped by panic by the magnitude of the
movement and their inability to stop it by repression, quickly patched up a
compromise and
appointed Fabián Alarcón as an interim president. Already at that time the
trade union organisations warned that the aim of the strike had not been
only to force the
resignation of the president but the rejection of his economic policies.

The new Alarcón government followed exactly the same policies as Bucaram's
and so did Jamil Mahuad since he was elected in 1998. A poor and highly
country like Ecuador has very few room for manoeuvre as far as economic
policies are concerned. As long as the logic of capitalism is accepted there
is only one
possible way out: to unload the burden of the crisis on the shoulders of
workers and peasants. They have resisted every single one of the attacks on
their living
standards launched by the government and in a number of occasions defeated
them. In March last year a 48 hour general strike forced the government to
its adjustment plan and the same was the case in August of the same year.

Dollarisation of the economy

The year 2000 started in Ecuador with 62% of the population below the
poverty line, 70% of the workforce either unemployed or underemployed, a
fall of the
economy by 7.2% and an inflation rate of 70%. Faced with this situation the
Mahuad government decided to decree the dollarisation of the economy at a
rate of
25,000 sucres per dollar.

The dollarisation of the economy, which has already been applied in
Argentina, represents a desperate attempt by the Latin American bourgeoisie
to find a way out.
The argument is that this will increase the "confidence" of foreign
investors. Far from solving the economic problems of the country, tying an
economy in deep
recession to the US economy will only mean further austerity plans. By
losing their autonomy in monetary policy, the only measures which a
government could use
to get out of recession would be more cuts in public spending,
privatisations, cuts in wages and subsidies, etc. This, far from being a
recipe for the recovery of the
economy, would further contract the internal market, plunging the country
into an even deeper recession. In the short term dollarisation might have
the effect of
controlling inflation, but only by paralysing economic activity almost
completely. It is clear that in the midst of a deep recession it is
difficult to increase prices.

In the concrete case of Ecuador, dollarisation at 25,000 sucres per dollar
is also a nice gift for capitalists and bankers who have dollar denominated
accounts which
they bought at 15,000 sucres!

On the basis of these past experiences the labour and peasant movements of
Ecuador decided to go for this week¹s uprising. The National Confederation
of Indian
Nationalities (CONAIE) and the Coordination of Social Movements (CMS) set up
the National People¹s Parliament and announced a national indefinite
from January 15th, and the taking of Quito by thousands of Indian peasants
coming from all over the country.

The character of this movement reveals a qualitative change. The struggle is
no longer just to change president or to force new elections. Now the open
aim of the
struggle is a "national insurrection", the establishment of people¹s
parliaments at national, regional and local level as the sole bodies of
power, and the abolition of
the three branches of state power (executive, judiciary, and legislative).

The Ecuadorian paper El Comercio described it in this way: "The Indian and
social movements changed what had been their leadership and political
platform since
they first appeared as a resistance force in the early 90s. This change, in
the form of the current uprising, led them to break completely with the
established forms of
power. ... They are looking to set up a parallel state, with their own rules
and representatives ... the ultimate goal of this movement is not to
overthrow president Mahuad or to take their demands to Congress. This they
have already done and they did not achieve any results... This is why they
raise the
need to establish new forms of organisation. The path they have chosen is
not only the continuation of their so-called provincial parliaments and the
national one,
but also the creation of new ones at county level. A democracy which they
call direct, without asking anyone for permission, and without resorting to
middlemen. In
the past they already used them but failed to get any results" (El Comercio,

The challenge to the bourgeois state and the setting up of organs of worker
and peasant¹s power represents a very significant step forward in the
consciousness of
the masses in Ecuador, which is the direct consequence of the previous
years¹ struggles.

The uprising started on January 15th with the declaration of the state of
emergency by the government and mass arrests of trade union and student
leaders. It is
important to make clear that the movement was started by the Indian
organisations but had the support and the participation of the working
class. The workers at the
national oil company, Petroecuador, declared an all-out indefinite strike to
support the Indian movement and against the government¹s economic and social
According to the Agencia Pulsar: "the secretary of the Petroecuador Trade
Union, Diego Cano, said they are not afraid of the presence in the streets
and roads of
more than 30,000 soldiers and police and that their intention is to protest
until Jamil falls with the whole of his government". The United Workers
Front and the
Ecuador Confederation of Free Trade Unions also joined the insurrection. In
the words of Saltos Garza, spokesperson for the Social Movements
"this is not an Indian uprising, it is an uprising of the peoples of
Ecuador, of the social movements and of the citizens who are being hit by
inflation". (El Telegrafo,

A national uprising

The insurrection acquired a truly national character and mass demonstrations
took place all over the country. The common feature is the taking over of
buildings and the setting up of local and provincial popular parliaments. In
Cuenca for instance an impressive demonstration of 50,000 people clashed
with the
police and the army and took over the government building.

In Guayaquil, the country¹s economic capital, thousands of workers, peasants
and students demonstrated every day from Monday in support of the
The demonstration got the support of sections of the petty bourgeoisie
(mainly small shop owners) which joined the movement all over the country.

In Loja, in the South, there were daily demonstrations and clashes with the
police. The army occupied the university campus and arrested 150 students.

Despite the impressive police and army deployment to prevent the entry of
the Indians in the capital Quito, by Wednesday there were more than 20,000
of them in its
streets. CONAIE leader, Antonio Vargas "said that the Indians and their
urban supporters will not kneel down in front of the thieves and corrupt
people who have
the economic and political power. He appealed for the formation of a united
front, as only the people can save the people. He appealed to the police and
the army to
aim their guns at those who are looting the country and not at the Indians
or the people, who are their brothers." (PULSAR, 19/1/00)

In Chimborazo province "some 50,000 Indian peasants blocked all the roads of
the province. The army talks about a red tide because of the colour of the
traditional to the Indians in this region". At the same time the provincial
people¹s parliament in the Amazonian region announced the taking over of the
oil wells by
workers and Indians.

The insurrection acquired a more massive character as the days went by and
its was not stopped by repression nor by the lies of the government which
even printed
fake communiqués in the name of the CONAIE threatening to kill all

On Thursday the army occupied the oil refinery of Esmeraldas, one of the
biggest industrial complexes of Ecuador, but failed to get the workers back
to work.

Tens of thousands of Indians, workers, students, and small shopkeepers
participated in the demonstrations in Quito. For days they surrounded the
institutions of
state power with the aim of taking them over. The government organised the
defence of these buildings with the army and protected them with barbed
wire. But
there is no force able to stop a whole people when it has decided that
enough is enough, and finally on Friday 21st they took over the parliament.
This is how Pulsar
describes it: "The Indian and peasant movements of Ecuador, together with
the organised urban sectors and with complete support of the middle layers
and soldiers
of the three branches of the armed forces have set up an alternative power
in this country. This took place when the big mass of Indians and peasants
in Quito broke
the siege of the Parliament building and took it over. At the beginning
there was resistance by the soldiers but suddenly hundreds of soldiers
arrived in armoured
cars, coming from the Military Academy and supported the occupation". A
group of 70 young colonels led by Lucio Gutierrez declared that they were
joining the

The role of the army

When analysing the fact that a section of the army joined the insurrection
we must take into account a number of factors. On the one hand it is clear
that an important
section of the soldiers, NCOs and even some officers identify themselves
with the struggle of workers and peasants who after all, as Antonio Vargas
said, are "their
brothers". Fraternisation of soldiers and NCOs with the revolutionary
workers and peasants is a feature of every revolution, be it Russia in 1917
or Spain in 1936.

On the other hand it is also possible that sections of the Army officers
feel honestly disgusted by the economic policies of the Quito government
which favour just a
handful of bankers and which at the end of the day amount to the "selling
out of the country to imperialism at throw-away prices". This section of
"patriotic" officers
who want to rid  the country of corruption and foreign intervention have an
example to follow in the Chavez movement in Venezuela which has precisely
these same
features. It is significant that it is the first time in years that we see
the entry of sections of the army into the political arena on the side of
the most oppressed layers
of society.

In the period after the Second World War the impasse of capitalism in the
colonial world forced sections of the officer caste to take power in a
number of countries
in an attempt to get them out of their backwardness and free them from
dependency from imperialism. In some cases, taking as a model the Soviet
Union¹s Stalinist
model they nationalised the economy expropriating imperialism and the weak
national bourgeoisie. The Stalinist model was useful for them as a planned
allowed the economic development of the country and at the same time the
absence of a workers¹ democracy allowed these officers to give themselves
all the
privileges of a ruling caste. This is what happened in countries like Syria,
Burma, Ethiopia and Afghanistan amongst others.

Now the model of the Soviet Union is no longer there to be followed, but the
complete impasse of capitalism in a number of countries still forces
sections of the
officer caste to enter into politics with a very confused programme, a
mixture of populism, anti-imperialism and rejection of the "neoliberal"
economic model, i.e.
the policy of "structural adjustment", privatisations, etc. The most clear
example of this is Chavez in Venezuela.

It is not clear how far will they go under the pressure of the masses. But
it is the duty of the Marxists to stress that the revolution must be carried
out by the working
class leading all the oppressed layers of society, otherwise at most we
would see the establishment of a Stalinist regime under the firm control of
this officer caste.

Probably the group of 70 officers who decided to support the uprising on
Friday morning belong to this category of discontented "patriotic" officers.
It seems that
the contacts between the peasant leaders and the social movements and this
section of the army already started back in December. After the taking over
of the
national congress a National Salvation Civilian-Military Junta was set up.
The composition of this junta and its first statements clearly reflect the
shortcomings of the
movement. The Junta is made up of CONAIE leader Antonio Vargas, former
Supreme Court president Carlos Solórzano and colonel Gutierrez.

In his first statement, Lucio Gutierrez appeals to: "former presidents of
Ecuador, honest politicians, the Church, the media, honest businessmen and
workers, the unemployed and the women to support a change in the country.
(Pulsar 21/1/00). In the same guise Carlos Solórzano states that: "We want
to invite
good willing businessmen and honest bankers to participate in this
government. The only thing we want from now on is that the country is not
looted. Enough of
stealing. We want an Ecuador free of thieves. I think this is the main
slogan." (Pulsar 21/1/00)

Confusion of the leadership

Here we can see clearly how the main weakness of the movement is precisely
its leadership. After the workers and peasants had taken power, their own
were already thinking about how to handed it back to the bankers and
capitalists (although only "honest" ones for now). The confusion of the
leaders of the
movement led them to rely on elements of the old state apparatus in order to
create a new one. The power was already in their hands but they did not
realise it. Thus,
the movement which was very radical in its character and organisational
forms was very weak and confused in its political programme.

On Friday evening, the "communards" (as they are called by the press) with
the support of sections of the military finally took over the Supreme Court
and the
National palace, from where Mahuad had already fled.

Then, the supreme commander of the armed forces, general Carlos Mendoza,
seeing power slipping from his hands decided to join the insurrection (after
it was
already victorious, and only to be able to betray it from within), and
replaced colonel Gutierrez in the Salvation Junta.

This closed the first chapter of this revolutionary movement. The masses had
proved once again that when they start to move there is no power on earth
which can
stop them. This time their goal was clear: the overthrowing not only of a
government but of the whole of the state apparatus and its replacement
by another one based on the peoples¹ parliaments. In just five days the
peasant and worker masses of Ecuador, using their traditional methods of
the general strike, the insurrection, the mass mobilisation, and winning
over a section of the army to their side, succeeded in taking power.

The problem is, as in so many other revolutions, the lack of a genuinely
revolutionary leadership able to carry through the movement to the end.
Thus, as in Russia
in February, in Germany 1918 and Spain 1936, the masses took power and their
leaders handed it back to the bourgeoisie.

On Saturday Ecuador woke up to the news that general Mendoza, supposedly a
member of the Salvation Junta, had handed back power to Mahuad¹s
Gustavo Noboa. His first statement affirmed that he "will continue mostly
with the economic policies of the deposed Mahuad" and that "dollarisation,
the banking
system rescue plan and the modernisation started by the deposed Jamil Mahuad
will continue unopposed". It is now clear that general Mendoza has acted as
a pawn
of those sections of the bourgeoisie who feared that Mahuad¹s attempt to
cling to power could have ended with the complete overthrow of their regime.
The decision
to hand over power to the vice-president was taken by general Mendoza after
visiting the US embassy. Jamil Mahuad who saw the power of the class he
miraculously saved, publicly declared his support for the new president

At the time of writing, the news is still confused. The group of colonels
who joined the insurrection feel betrayed and colonel Gutierrez has been
arrested. It seems
that in the early hours of Saturday the masses discussed the possibility of
retaking the Government Palace. Romelio Gualán, Indians and peasant leader
says that:
"the Indian people do not fear death, as they are already dying of
starvation in the fields, so they would rather die in the roads, on the
streets of the cities, seeking
for a change for the whole of the Ecuadorian people".

In the end, the leadership of the movement, which had based all its strategy
in the support of a section of the army, feeling betrayed by the generals,
abandoned the
field of battle. The truth is that general Mendoza did not betray the
movement, as from the very beginning he put himself at its front only in
order to behead it. On
Saturday morning the situation was not yet lost. If the leaders had based
themselves on the formation of soldiers¹ committees and the extension of the
parliaments to all levels and the purging from those of all bourgeois
elements, they could still have retained power. As the events of Friday 21st
showed, power was
not in the hands of its official representatives (parliamentarians, judges
and president) but on the streets of Quito and all over the country; in the
hands of the
peoples¹ parliaments and the national parliament of the people.

Who had the power?

But the leaders of the popular and peasant movement were disoriented by the
appearances of power and when general Mendoza, at the head of the Salvation
decreed its dissolution and appointed president Noboa, they did not know how
to respond and accepted it. They did not realise that general Mendoza had
very little
real power to back him as most of the army was on the side of the
communards. If they had made an appeal to the assembled masses of workers
and peasants to
take over the National Palace again and to the soldiers to aim their guns
against the generals and to join the movement, the situation would have been

The latest news seem to indicate that the Indian peasants have left the
capital and disbanded the peoples¹ parliament. Some provincial people's
parliaments have not
been disbanded and there are reports of the mass movement continuing in some
of the provinces. Thus on Sunday 23rd El Comercio reported: "In Riobamba and
Guaranda the Indian demonstrations continued with the slogan of continuing
the movement. There were also mobilisations in Ambato and Otavalo... In
some 15,000 Indians marched to the Condamine market and forced its closure.
Then they held a rally at the Indian House where their leaders ratified the
character of the uprsining... In Guaranda, at 10,30 a march of more than
3,000 Indians forced the closure of the market and the shops. The leaders
declared that
were disappointed by the course of the movement and ratified the
continuation of the uprising" (El Comercio 23/1/00) Despite this the general
trend seems to be the
disbanding of the local people's parliaments and the end of the movement.

Whatever the immediate outcome of this uprising, it is clear that the masses
of workers and peasants have learned a lot, about the role of the state, the
role of the
army commanders, their own strength, etc. The Ecuadorian bourgeoisie is
completely unable to solve any of the urgent economic problems of the
country and
therefore this is not the end of the process, just another important

Ecuador is not an isolated case in Latin America. Colombia, Venezuela,
Argentina, Honduras, Nicaragua, Costa Rica, Brazil, the whole of the
continent has
witnessed mass mobilisations, general strikes and peasant insurrections time
and again in the last few years. All the conditions are there for a
victorious revolution.
As soon as this takes place in one country it will spread like wildfire
throughout the continent.

The most urgent need for the workers in the cities and the countryside in
Ecuador and the rest of the continent is to forge a revolutionary leadership
firmly based on
the principle of class independence and a genuine socialist programme, the
only one which can offer a way forward for the masses of the continent.

Jorge Martín
January 23rd, 2000

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