Ecuador: Air Force and Navy Reluctantly Backed President

By Gonzalo Ortiz

HAVANA TIMES, Oct 7 (IPS) — Besides the hundreds of police who were rioting, Ecuador’s air force and navy were the biggest headaches for the government of Rafael Correa in the 11 hours that the president was held captive on Thursday, Sept. 30, IPS was told by civilian and military sources close to the action.

The uprising ended at 9:30 PM local time when the president was rescued from the police hospital where he was being held, next to the police station he visited that morning after hearing that a revolt had broken out, where he was insulted and attacked by angry police.

The media reported that 10 people were killed and 274 injured that day, although the government says five people died. The uprising, or attempted coup — the heated debate on which one it was continues — also left doubts as to how strong a grasp the government has on the security forces.

The rescue, which was broadcast live to the world, was carried out amid gunfire by elite soldiers and police loyal to the government.

A high-level government source who asked to remain anonymous told IPS that “while the army showed loyalty to Correa from the very start, things were more complicated in the other two branches, and it was necessary to negotiate.”

Defense Minister Says He Wasn’t Held Captive

However, Defense Minister Javier Ponce said in an interview with IPS that “I spent the entire day with the military brass, but without negotiating a thing. We evaluated the situation as the hours went by, and then we focused on planning the rescue operation.”

Ponce expressed surprise when IPS told him a senior official had stated that “The defense minister was the second person held captive on Thursday.”

The defense minister said “That’s not true; the high command was meeting with me, and I decided not to leave their side, not even for a moment,” said Ponce.

But he acknowledged that “There were problems of misinformation among the air force and naval troops.”

The stated reason for the revolt, which included police barricades around Congress and roadblocks, was the approval the day before of a law on public services that eliminated some of the bonuses that accompany police and military promotions, and extended the period between promotions from five to seven years.

Police Well Paid

But journalist Juana Ordsqez, assistant director of the economic publication Gestisn, told IPS that Correa “was right when he said he has doubled police wages, because rank-and-file police earned 355 dollars (a month) in 2006, and today they earn 750 dollars.”

By comparison, the minimum monthly wage is 240 dollars.

The defense minister, who confirmed on Tuesday, Oct. 5 a raise for captains, majors, sergeants and corporals in the armed forces and the national police, insisted that there was no relation between the Sept. 30 police mutiny and the salary adjustments, which he said were being studied since August.

But an army colonel who did not want to be identified said “It was obviously one of the measures demanded in Thursday’s negotiations with the military brass. (The authorities) had offered the salary increases several times, but they were taking too long to implement them, and there was discontent.”

The salaries in question will be increased by between 400 and 570 dollars a month. Captains, who previously earned 1,600 dollars a month, will now earn 2,140 dollars. And a major’s salary will go up from 1,870 to 2,280 dollars. The raises are retroactive to January.

The salary increase “was the officers’ and non-commissioned officers’ problem,” the military source told IPS. “The main problem for the troops in the navy and air force was the question of promotion bonuses.”

Air Force Personnel Shut Down the Quito Airport

“The revolt by the air force technical experts was completely different from the police uprising,” Correa said in a press conference with foreign correspondents Wednesday.

“That was a peaceful, apolitical demonstration. Their signs, which had been made earlier, clearly stated ‘We are not against the government’,” the president said.

But air force personnel shut down the airport in Quito, which receives 75 percent of the country’s international passengers, and all flights were cancelled.

And although the protest by the air force technicians “was different, that doesn’t mean it’s not going to be investigated,” Ponce said.

“The army promotions had already taken place, and the air force promotions are due in October, and worries had spread that the public services law had eliminated the bonuses for promotions and medals,” the defense minister said.

But the bonuses remain in place in the 2010 budget, he clarified. The same reason seems to have been the source of difficulties in the navy, where promotions will take place in December. “That’s why the troops and the non-commissioned officers had different but parallel demands,” the military source said.

The tardy broadcast of armed forces chief Luis Ernesto Gonzalez’s message of loyalty to the government, which was not reported until the afternoon, was due to “an error of coordination among the press,” Ponce said. “That statement was recorded much earlier, and I don’t know why it wasn’t broadcast then.”

Some sources say the delay was due to internal negotiations in the Defense Ministry.

One sign of problems with the armed forces was the lack of military patrols — while the police were rioting — until the middle of the afternoon in the rest of the country and until nightfall in Quito.

“The state of emergency was declared by the president at 1:50 PM. Until then we couldn’t do anything,” Ponce said. “It was immediately arranged for troops to take to the streets, and in Guayaquil (a city in the southwest), for example, they already had the entire city under control by 3:30 PM.

“The decision (as to when the rescue should take place) was completely in the hands of the high command,” the minister said.

“At first the idea was to wait for the armored vehicles, but they were taking too long to get here,” because they were coming by land from cities over 100 km away, he added.

“The tanks that were coming from Riobamba (165 km from Quito) were kept from arriving because the police had blocked the Pan-American Highway by placing buses, anti-riot vehicles and trailers across the road,” Ponce said.

“After ruling out waiting for the armored vehicles, the scheduling of the attack for 21:00 was entirely the decision of the operation’s commanders,” he reiterated.

Ecuador went through eight presidents in the decade before Correa was first elected in December 2006. The left-leaning U.S.-trained economist was re-elected in 2009, in elections held under the new constitution.

4 thoughts on “Ecuador: Air Force and Navy Reluctantly Backed President

  • cimarron: Thanks for your incisive words on this matter.

    The first task of a social transformation of course is for the leadership to get into a position of state power. Without state power the socialist transformation cannot proceed, much less be defended. I think the fundamental question in any country–and it relates directly to state power–is winning the support of the masses. With mass support the old state apparatus can be purged of its reactionary elements and used for socialist transformation. When Hugo’s government was threatened by the 2002 coup, the masses reversed the coup and saved the Bolivarian process.

    But the acquisition of state power, like the acquisition of and continuation of mass support, depends on what is done in a programmatic sense. For example, the Cuban revolutionaries have had state power for over half a century. Although many wonders have been accomplished, the genetic disease of a state monopoly socialist program has stopped and reversed the process of socialist construction. What this means in real terms is that what is done after state power is in the hands of a sincere leadership is more important than the original overthrow of the old regime.

    I think you are right when you say: “The leadership of Ecuador’s Citizen’s Revolution has its work cut out for it in deepening its ties and communication with the people, social movements and all patriotic and progressive sectors of the population.” Let’s hope this deepening process continues and that Ecuador–like Bolivia and Venezuela–is not ultimately a repeat of the Allende mis-judgment in Chile.

  • There is a certain amount of truth in what grok says about such administrations as Correa’s for remaining in “administration,” not really in “power.” The real power is the armed state forces, and these are subservient to the domestic and to some extent the foreign capitalists. But grok’s analysis reveals a common but erroneous political line with regard to socialist state power. This line is what is known as “ultra-leftism,” and ultra-leftism is, as Lenin said, an infantile disorder.

    Ultra-leftism screams its head off about the need for smashing the bourgeois state. Is this screaming-off-of-the-head how a socialist revolution might or can be made? Of course not. It has never made a revolution and it never will. It will only cocoon enthusiastic people like grok until, through chronic isolation from the masses of the people, they grow discouraged and depart from the Leftist scene.

    A socialist transformation can be accomplished however by the leadership understanding how to bring about a sea change in the consciousness of the people. This sea change is building mass socialist consciousness, and this is the fundamental task of socialists. Grok and people like him can never build this pre-requisite to socialist transformation because they are bound and tied by a false idea of what socialism truly is, on the one hand, and how it might or must be achieved, on the other.

    Ultra-leftism believes that capitalism has these internal, irreversible contradictions that will lead inevitably to economic collapse. When this collapse happens, the workers will rise up, stride forward in their rugged work boots, and take control of society through a revolutionary state apparatus. This is a fairy tale, fit only for those with a infantile state of mind.

    A viable socialist state can come about only by growing naturally out of the old society. This will occur differently in different countries and in different conditions, of course, but it must occur. Capitalism will not break down and Whamo! the workers waltz into power. Socialism is an organic growing up of both the masses and the socialist leadership of the new state and society.

    The old idea of the Left organizing trade unions and getting ready for the inevitable collapse of capitalism is an old and thoroughly discredited strategy. It’s an old, frothy-mouthed idea that is the quasi-religious substance of ultra-leftism. What is needed in Ecuador, Venezuela, the U.S. and other capitalist countries is a concept and a political program of socialist transformation via worker-owned cooperatives on the Mondragon model.

    When socialism is understood correctly as direct worker ownership of the instruments of production, coupled with non-controlling co-ownership by the socialist state, the world will have a chance at putting monopoly capitalism out of existence.

    By understanding what workable socialism truly is, Cuba could transform itself in short order. Transformational leaderships in other countries could take power in short order. It takes a political program that is correct, clear and attractive to the masses, but this is lacking–for the present–in all countries, including in Ecuador.

  • “grok October 7th, 2010 6:57 pm :

    This is the problem when supposed and self-described “socialist” governments continue to rely in fact on the armed organs of the bourgeois state for their power …”

    It’s always easier from the armchair to know the “real” revolutionary policies needed! Historically and objectively speaking, every revolution has inherited and had to use / incorporate structures from the previous state power. The approach to re-organizing the state only comes from objective conditions particular to each country and through struggle and not by preconceived ideas, theories etc. Aristide of Haiti abolished the Duvalierist Haitian army and saw its members regroup in the Dominican Republic where they were trained by the CIA to launch a successful “revolt”. It’s not an easy matter but perhaps, in hindsight , it would have been better to purge the Haitian Army of extreme Duvalierist elements while building a new national army and people’s militia. In the end, no army can defeat a united and determined people. The leadership of Ecuador’s Citizen’s Revolution has its work cut out for it in deepening its ties and communication with the people, social movements and all patriotic and progressive sectors of the population.

  • This is the problem when supposed and self-described “socialist” governments continue to rely in fact on the armed organs of the bourgeois state for their power — rather than on the might of the armed and organized workers and farmers (and in this case, indian nation organizations as well), as would be the case in a *real* socialist revolution. Here, in the case of Ecuador, we see the obvious fact that such a government has to continue to bribe the police and military with higher pay, etc. than the rest of the populace — a sure sign of political weakness; and it will be seen as such by imperialism and acted upon further.

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