Ecuador: A Revolutionary Situation Whose Perspectives are Still Uncertain
When the OAS, the U.S. State Department, all the bourgeois governments of Latin America, and the big finance capitalists of Ecuador itself pronounce in unison their repudiation of the "coup d'etat" of Jan. 21, we have indisputable proof that we are dealing with something else entirely.
And this is not only because those who today fulminate about the "defense of the constitutional order" have had a long history of coups and genocides, but also because we are talking about a coup in which the military, instead of repressing the insurrectionary peasant masses, is incorporated into the demonstrations and opening the way to taking the seats of power.
The first duty of revolutionaries, in the face of an event of this magnitude, is to consider all its elements, in order to achieve a correct characterization, a touchstone for correct political intervention.
This objective has a value which goes beyond the situation in Ecuador alone: as we will demonstrate in this article, Ecuador expresses in extreme and anticipatory form, the tendencies of development in all of Latin America.
A Revolutionary Situation
Lenin explained that these types of situation can arise relatively independent of the political consciousness of the exploited and the existence and development of the Revolutionary Party.
Revolutionary situations require an extreme aggravation of the economic situation, which has made the existence of the great majority of the nation insupportable. But not this alone: it requires that the exploited develop a generalized mobilization that is independent of the system's institutions and which provokes, through its magnitude, a fissure in the exploiters' regime, posing the question of power at the center of the disputes. "Those at the top can no longer rule in the old way."
History shows that a revolutionary situation does not necessarily result in a triumphant revolution. In a relatively objective formulation, in the irreconcilable clash between the productive forces that can open the way forward, and the old society that limits them, the result is an alternative between revolution and counterrevolution. History also shows that for a triumph, a revolutionary party is also indispensable, in order to lead the masses and to consciously express in its program, actions and organization the instinctive tendencies of the insurrectionary exploited masses.
The Ecuadorian Economic Situation At the Base of the Crisis
With inflation at 60.7% in 1999, combined with a brutal recession (GDP fell 7.5% in the same year compared to the previous year), the masses are suffering 17% unemployment and 62.5% of the population live in poverty conditions.
The currency fell 67% in the past year, which provoked the desperate measures of the fallen Pres. Mahuad in dollarizing the entire economy. (Jan. 9, 2000)
Previously, during the months of Sept. & Oct. 1999, the government took a series of measures imposed by their inability to pay: a moratorium on all Brady bonds, which encompasses Eurobonds and public external debt, totalling $13 billion.
In March 1999, Mahuad had frozen all bank deposits with the promise that funds could be withdrawn in a year (March 2000). Everything indicates that the degree of the state's bankruptcy and the speculative flight of finance capital have made it impossible to keep this promise.
Let us quote an eloquent columnist from the unquestionably conservative "El Comercio" in Quito:
"The great majority of Ecuadorians suffer hunger, are surviving on miracles. The basic groceries of a small family now costs 3.5 million sucres. Only a small minority has even this. Nevertheless, the government has consigned more that $200 billion to save its friends and financial helpers. It continues the unconstitutional freezing of the savings and deposits of millions of Ecuadorians. In plain language, this is a cowardly armed robbery perpetrated by President Mahuad and his government, including Miss Armijos, against countless Ecuadorians who candidly trusted in the soundness of the government and the banking system. They now have the cynicism to throw back for 7 or 10 years the savings of these poor people who in their desperation plead with Providence for the justice that has not been done in this unjust and corrupt country." (Humberto Vacas Gomez, in the "Opinions" column, Jan. 22)
And in the same section of the same paper, Raul Vallejo tells us: "In March of 1999 the government decreed an unexplained bank holiday and then froze all deposits. Whoever then had 100 million sucres is owed some $10,000, approximately, if they took on good faith Mahuad's assurances that it would be unfrozen in March 2000. But Mahuad lied: there will be no unfreezing in March of 2000, and the revaluation is a double robbery because the frozen sucrees will have been dollarized at the rate of 25,000 to one, so that whoever had $10,000 in March of 1999, now has only $4,000."
The rest adds that an external factor, relating to the world economy, decisively affected the Ecuadorian situation (in a manner similar to Venezuela): the fall in the international price of a barrel of oil stripped bare the submission of the country to Imperialism, toppling the principal source of revenue for the state.
The remarkable worsening of the economy (which, as can be seen from these testimonies, also affects the petty- and middle- bourgeoisie) is the fundamental engine of the political situation. The capitalist crisis has fissured the bourgeoisie's institutions. Nevertheless, these fissures will not mature quickly enough into a collapse of the regime without the powerful mobilization of the masses.
A Generalized and Independent Mobilization of the Exploited
The Mahuad government, which came to power on the 10th of August 1998, was born as a weak government, not only because of the remarkable economic crisis, but also because of the people's growing loss of belief in the institutions. This weakness was expressed in electoral results in which the president won on the second round with a puny amount of votes and with a very high abstention rate.
Less than a year later, it suffered a decisive defeat, provoked by its intention to increase fuel prices, when a powerful general strike with blockades of the roads paralyzed the country. The taxi drivers in the cities and the indigenous peasants in the rural areas were at the vanguard of this fight. (July 1999)
In the face of the growing uprisings by the masses, the union bureaucracy, in a bloc with sections of the national industrial capitalists and the bourgeois political opposition, started to agitate for Mahuad to resign, in order to allow the masses to let off some steam. (December 1999)
But the mass movement (especially the peasant communities, but also manufacturing sectors and the student movement in the main cities) continues onward, because of the regime's inability to effect an orderly change and to offer concessions that might take off some pressure.
Based on the information we have received it appears that the mass movement is independent in its methods, in its high degree of combativity, and in its rupture with past illusions in the institutions, but it has not defined an ALTERNATIVE GOVERNING PROGRAM.
It seems that what has oriented the masses who are occupying Quito and Guayaquil is a ROUND "NO!" AND REPUDIATION directed at the regime that embodies the impossible socio-economic situation. This limitation of the movement is a result of its lack of programmatic political independence which we consider fundamental in order to understand the events of the 21st and 22nd of January.
A Succession of Provisional Governments With an Uncertain Future
The assumption of the presidency by Gustavo Noboa (Mahuad's vice-president, who is not recognized by Mahuad) is the result of a feverish operation by U.S. Imperialism and the bourgeois establishments of all of Latin America, including Ecuador's, to keep an unsustainable situation within constitutional limits.
Independently of the capitulation of its members, both the Triumvirate and the Junta of National Salvation were the result of the masses in the streets, and ran the risk of being held hostage by the mobilized people.
The Junta emerged directly from the struggling masses who took the seats of government. This was related by "El Comercio" on the 22nd of January: "The Ecuadorian flag stopped flying on the roof of the Legislative Palace at 9:50. At that time a group of peasants raised in its place a huipala (Quechua national standart) and a shamanic standard (a white flag with a mulitcolored spiral in the center) to symbolize the seizure they had begun."
The composition of the Junta expressed the characteristics of the movement that produced it: Colonel Lucio Gutierrez, embodying the break of the chain of command from Mahuad, and expressing at the same time a host of contradicitions within the Armed Forces: on the one hand, its popular and peasant base, and on the other its class function as an expression of the national bourgeoisie.
The maximum leader of the peasants, Antonio Vargas, direct expression of the mobilized indigenous communities.
Finally, Carlos Solorzano, former president of the Supreme Court, supposedly embodying the fight against corruption, one of the focuses of the movement.
Between the night of the 21st and dawn on the 22nd a desperate maneuver was made which replaced the Junta with a Triumvirate, which later handed power over to Vice-President Noboa: Colonel Gutierrez had been replaced by General Mendoza, in order to prevent any possibility of a fracture in the armed forces.
The cover of "El Comercio" on Jan. 22 summed up the operation like this: "At 2:50 this newspaper learned that Gen. Carlos Mendoza retired from the triumvirate that had been presented to the country three hours before. The general explained his participation with Carlos Solsrzano and Antonio Vargas with two reasons: he wanted to avoid a fracture in the Armed Forces and bloodshed in the Plaza of Independence. According to the general, he was of the understanding that, faced with the armed rising of the colonels, it was necessary for someone to sacrifice themselves. As chief of the joint command, he assumed the task. At a moment when the demonstrations outside the Carondelet had dispersed, he called a meeting of the High Command and communicated to them his decision to abandon the triumvirate and to demand its dissolution. Also, he communicated to them his support of the presidential succession and that there would be no more doubt that the Armed Forces had to take the line of respecting constitutionality.
In this way was produced a paradox: the masses overthrew the hated government, but the precarious provisional regime born of their direct action handed over power, through its actions, to the same overthrown government under the cover of replacing Mahuad.
In truth, this maneuver to de-activate the masses and reduce their pressure would have been impossible if the leaders of the Junta had not shown their complicity. One need only observe what they told the masses upon assuming power for a few hours.
Colonel Gutierrez made "an appeal to the Church, to the media, to the bosses and bankers, to the pundits, to the workers, women and men who love this noble country with their hearts, to unite and move forward."
For his part, the indigenous peasant leader Antonio Vargas spoke in a triumphant tone, after the masses had returned home: "a revolution has been made without blood."
At the end of his speech, Vargas said in the name of the new government: "We will work with the ethics that we call 'amaquilla, amashua, amallulla,' [Quechua words] that will be the watchword of the Ecuadorian state from now on in all instances. It means, don't lie, don't steal, and don't be lazy."
It didn't last long: a few hours later Vargas gave power to the man chosen by the U.S. Embassy, Gustavo Noboa. He is lazy, a liar, and stole victory from his peasant followers.
Perspectives, Double Power and the Crisis of Revolutionary Leadership
As of the writing of this note, the immediate future of Ecuador remains uncertain. Noboa, as a faithful lackey of Imperialism, has to continue his plans, in other words, to do the same as Mahuad had intended. Yet the masses have not been defeated. We are faced with a usurped victory. The question is how long, given that the new government does not have much room for maneuver, with the straitjacket imposed by the socio-economic situation.
For the masses, the task at hand is to forge the United Front with the objective of building organs of power for workers and peasants, which also encompass the middle and impoverished layers of the cities, and the plebeian sections of the armed forces that, influenced by popular pressure, not only refuse to repress, but also make the way for and join in the mobilization.
The construction of this United Front, of this unity in action, is anti-imperialist, because now more than ever it is clear that it is Ecuador's semi-colonial submission to Imperialism that causes hunger and misery. This conception of the United Front is the way to root out the masses' in nationalism with a bourgeois content, like that of Chavez in Venezuela, which could be embodied by the likes of Mendoza or Gutierrez in Ecuador.
For all this it is inconceivable for the power of workers and peasants to develop without the elaboration of a clear anti-imperialist program, which places at the forefront a pledge of economic measures leading to the confiscation of large-scale bourgeois property, both national and foreign.
We have ignored the intervention of groups or parties that call for proletarian revolution in Ecuador, but from their actions their weakness is evident. In any case, revolutionary situations are the best schools for the forging of parties of this type. They surely exist and with them we will lead toward the forging of the Fourth International.
23 of January of 2000