In defence of Rafael Correa

President Rafael Correa of Ecuador, the leftist former economist whose popularity and rise to power emerged to coincide with a rapid change in the political landscape of Latin America, is currently under threat from protesting police on the streets of Quito.

Neighbouring ally Hugo Chavez, with characteristic bombast, reported to his followers on twitter that a coup is taking place, and that protestors are trying to kill him.

But Correa looks defiant. From the video of him addressing his supporters, praising them for coming out in the tense streets, and advancing democracy and socialism, to news agency clips of him being wheeled from the hospital, where he was trapped in by police, to a car ensuring his safety.

It is alien to viewers in the UK to see such passion in a politician. In 2007, his relationship with the media was put on rocky roads, to which he, during a press conference, paraphrased Tony Blair by calling them “a group of wild beasts”.

Though, as evidenced by Blair’s recent pullout from touring his autobiography, worried at the implications of rioting protestors, the similarities between them end there. Faced with angry dissenters, Correa is reported to have said “If you want to kill the president, here he is! Kill me!” – as if to anticipate his demise.

The protest is down to money disputes. As part of an austerity package, Correa has put stop to police celebratory functions paid from the public purse, and has extended their promotion period from five to seven years.

Others, such as President Evo Morales of Bolivia, have noted the similarities between this and the recent scare in Honduras. As scenes from inside the hospital show, likening the events to the coup d’état in Honduras is no exaggeration.

Since his re-election in 2009, some have accused Correa of going back on his promises, for the advancement of socialism. His popular revolution, which was helped by his fluency in Quechua, the majority language of indigenous tribes in Ecuador, through to Peru and Bolivia, had been kickstarted by his aim to redistribute Ecuador’s oil wealth to poorer communities. In 2009 he said:

Socialism will continue. The Ecuadorian people voted for that. We are going to emphasize this fight for social justice, for regional justice. We are going to continue the fight to eliminate all forms of workplace exploitation within our socialist conviction: the supremacy of human work over capital. Nobody is in any doubt that our preferential option is for the poorest people, we are here because of them. Hasta la victoria siempre!

Around the same time Correa’s economic minister Maria Elsa Viteri took a trip to Europe in order to re-purchase global bonds, successfully claiming back 91% of the bonds, in order to further commit to a social and economic revolution.

On the current issue, Correa claimed his administration has always been at the side of the police, and expressed outrage that protestors have gone to such lengths to endanger the President’s life.

It is not relativism, but when cuts are administered by the UK Tory government, we tend to look at them as ideological; because that is what they are. It is against received wisdom to draw the axe in the way which George Osborne has been doing so, and there is little or weak evidence to show vindication for his masochism. The quango cull, for example, is very telling; especially since it has been justified as waste cutting – something patently untrue in many cases.

When Correa takes measures to cull waste, to ensure not everyone takes a hit, particularly the most vulnerable in Ecuadorian society, we ought not to draw parallels.

Arguably, the limiting of police ceremonies is one way to ensure not everyone suffers disproportionately for the mistakes of the few, and so it appears as if the police have acted out of hand.

Correa’s “citizen revolution” will not please all the people, all the time, and sometimes protestors can be wrong. This, after all, appears to be a coup attempt.

But the main reason to defend Correa is his heroic fighting talk, almost inimitable in politics today. In the faces of the angered police, armed with flairs and tear gas, the premier said:

I will not take a single step back. I will not sign any agreement under pressure. I would die first. I thank my compatriots for their support and ask citizens to remain calm.

Update 02/10/10 (10.32)

The Guardian are now reporting what Correa, and the foreign minister Ricardo Patino, have been telling the media in Ecuador; that a coup is being organised from within the dissenting police protesters by former president Lucio Gutiérrez, of the centre right nationalist Patriotic Society Party.

The main police chief in Ecuador has stepped down from his position over the disarray.

TVE, the Spanish news agency, are reporting that neighbouring Peru and Columbia – both on the right politically – have closed their borders out of sympathy with Ecuador and Correa, so as to stop coup perpetrators from leaving the country.

Furthermore, the US and the UN have both condemned the coup attempt, while Brazil is the only country in South America which has not taken an official position against agitators.

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