From Conspiracy to Coup Attempts

A series of political and logistical errors occurred on Sept. 30 as Ecuador was plunged into a crisis as President Rafael Correa was attacked by protesting police officers, in what some called a coup attempt.

Nine people were killed in clashes — four in Quito and five in Guayaquil —  as a small group of police angry about a new law cutting their benefits clashed with other security forces.

The new public service law cuts an US$800-bonus for police officers that had been given when they complete five years of service, along with Christmas gifts and some honors.

But salary bonuses are much higher in the telecommunications and oil sectors, among others, and the new law cancels all of them.

Tensions brewed as the government was unable to properly dialogue with the police officers before the Sept. 30 chaos.

That morning, some officers started to strike in protest of the new law.

The protest had been planned from mid-September and no one in the government or within police or military forces had warned about the discontent among the ranks. Little, if any, information was provided, particularly about certain police leaders meeting with members of the opposition Patriotic Society party of ousted former president and retired Col. Lucio Gutiérrez, who governed from 2003 to 2005.

Conspiracy theories
The same unrest was stewing within military ranks, as some members of the air force took over the international airport in Quito, as the government pointed to conspiracy between the military and police forces.

When Correa was kidnapped from a police base, thousands of people marched to the presidential palace, and in the police hospital where Correa had been held they were met with repression from police.

“Innocent blood spilled, that of unarmed Ecuadorians who only wanted to rescue their president,” said Correa when he was released after being held for 10 hours following a shootout between police officers and military rescuers.
He promised to punish those responsible and ruled out any further dialogue with them.

Nevertheless, five days after the clashes, the government announced monthly pay raises of between $400 and $500 for police and military, raising the question of why this was not done before, a move that would have likely avoided the clashes.

Defense Minister Javier Ponce denied that the measure came in response to the clashes, but that the government had been studying it for several months.

Contradictory legislation
Tensions are also rising in the country as Correa´s government puts forth new legislation that contradicts the very constitution that he championed. The new charter, in force since 2008, conflicts with the recent mining and water laws — the latter of which is still being debated by lawmakers — since they will mean an attack on protection of nature and do not include a previous consultation by the potentially affected communities.

In the Amazon province of Morona Santiago in September 2009, one indigenous community member died and 14 people were wounded, including indigenous Shuar and police following clashes amid protests against these new bills.


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