Conaie march, Quito. Photo: wikimedia commons Conaie march, Quito. Photo: wikimedia commons

Ecuador says no to neoliberalism and austerity. Jonathan Maunders suggests why

On Sunday representatives of Ecuador’s government and indigenous groups held initial direct talks with a view to ending the recent protests in the country.

Protesters have been rallying against IMF-demanded austerity measures ushered in by President Lenín Moreno as he continues to shift the country towards neoliberalism and away from the popular socialist policies of his predecessor, Rafael Correa.

While Moreno initially promised to defend Correa’s policies, over the last two years he has consistently moved Ecuador further down the path of neoliberalism and looked to encourage US involvement in the country, even inviting the US air force to use the ecologically precarious Galapagos Islands.

Much like the gilets jaunes movement in France, the initial spark that set off these vast street protests was the withdrawal of fuel subsidies, effectively hiking transport costs and food prices across the country. First transport union members took to the streets, before being joined by indigenous communities and students. In the weeks that have followed, thousands have repeatedly lined the streets of Quito demanding the government back down.

Moreno also announced severe cuts in public spending, culminating in an attack on public-sector worker conditions, including halving holiday entitlement, and mass public-sector redundancies. 

Reacting to the furious response these measures garnered, Moreno declared a state of emergency in the country. As part of this decree, the Ecuadorian constitution has been suspended, the armed forces have been called in to maintain order, the right for free assembly has been withdrawn and the government is able to censor the media. The government has also fled the capital city, Quito, and is temporarily operating from Guayaqil, the country’s primary port city.

Indeed, the meeting between government representatives and indigenous groups comes just a day after the former imposed a curfew in Quito and the surrounding areas, enforced by the Ecuadorian armed forces.

In the clashes over the last few weeks, hundreds of protesters have been detained and there have been numerous reports of deaths. Horrifying scenes of policy brutality have become a regular occurrence, with mass beatings and aggressive use of flares and tear gas.

Amnesty International has recently come out with a statement demanding that

“the Ecuadorian authorities must put an immediate end to the heavy-handed repression of demonstrations, including mass detentions, and conduct swift, independent and impartial investigations into all allegations of arbitrary arrests, excessive use of force, torture and other ill-treatment of those who have been detained in the context of the protests.”

Despite the mounting pressure on Moreno, he has angrily rejected calls to resign and has blamed the current situation on Correa, in effective exile in Belgium and potentially planning another run for office, and on Venezuela’s Nicolas Maduro.

While CONAIE (the umbrella group for the angered indigenous peoples) had previously declined any potential negotiations with the government, they reportedly agreed on the proviso any such talks would be made public, and potentially televised.

Whatever comes out of these talks, the people of Ecuador have spoken. They will not blindly swallow the pro-austerity policies of Lenín Moreno and his pursuit of IMF-enforced neoliberalism.