Is coup the appropriate term for what is happening in Ecuador?

The very nice Naadir Jeewa, in a comment he left on my blog, notified me of a recent debate between two bloggers on whether the current events in Ecuador can be rightly called a coup or not. The debate has been taking place by Greg Weeks who has defined coup d’etat and has come to the conclusion that instead of a coup, the ongoing events are more an example of dissent which has gone awry, but owing to the absence of military support, should be differentiated from a coup. Miguel Centellas, on the other hand, disagrees saying that the assault which Correa has experienced, are “illegitimate means of expressing discontent” akin to a coup attempt.

I feel now I want to offer my own take. Their argument, as stated by Centellas, is on the semantics of coup (or indeed the “golpe”). There is an obvious difference between a coup d’etat and a military coup d’etat, but according to Weeks’ definition the former, in order to be a coup at all, must have the backing of the military, or at least hope the military joins side. Practically speaking, it would be difficult to organise a coup without the backing of the military because it is their role to protect the national government, but it seems the question becomes more trivial when we consider that former President Gutiérrez provided co-ordination to the dissenting police.

In my opinion, we cannot refrain from calling this a coup attempt on the grounds that the army did not join the other side – the police, the former President – bur rather we should refer to this as a failed coup. The violence which Correa endured, and his being trapped inside a hospital by dissenters trying to intimidate him is one thing, but as there were figures present leading the rioters, such as Gutiérrez, who is not affected by the measure to extend the promotion time period for police, the definition needs to go one level further. I suggest that term is coup.


3 Responses to Is coup the appropriate term for what is happening in Ecuador?

  1. Bob says:

    This is an interesting question, and I think that your analysis is correct. There is a danger that we (the left) rush to quickly to old frames of analysis, re-living previous more clear-cut coups in various Latin American states.

    Although Correa should be defended unconditionally from coup attempts, and has broadly been a Good Thing, we should take him with a pinch of salt. First, the new constitution he got passed contained the potential for very authoritarian executive rule. Although it was on one level about reducing the legislative deadlock when the president and Congress clash, it gives an awful lot of powers to the president in times of emergency. (There is, therefore, a cynical argument saying he might not be averse to half-hearted coup attempts that can legitimate his taking the powers the constitution offers him.)

    Secondly, like many populist presidents in Latin American countries before him, he has had to implement austerity measures that are not so socialist – not so much under pressure from the IMF and neo-liberalism’s other heavies, but he needs to service his huge debts to China. The police and armed forces, as public servants, have been victims of this austerity; their rank and file are not well paid, and the coup attempt represents economic grievances as well as political reaction. Indeed, Correa has now raised army and police pay, claiming rather hollowly that he was going to do so anyway.

    By the way, one of the most miserable months of my life was spent in Ecuador under the rule of Jamil Mahuad, the neo-liberal democratically elected president whose intense austerity policies were then causing some (for me very scary!) civil unrest. Gutierrez, the military leader involved in Mahuad’s popular overthrow, is now, as you note, involved in this incident.

    • Carl Packman says:

      I’m torn over the measures taken in times of civil unrest, as taken by Ecuador to give Correa executive rule – but to naysayers I say, is it revolutionary to be anti-revolutionary – something every far leftist has to come to terms with eventually; if the workers rise under the watch of a leftist, is it worth promoting.

      Unfortunately, as you say, the workers are being underdone by the austerity measures, but my sympathy softens with the inclusion of Gutierrez; as you well know, he’s a dangerous character – no stranger to overthrow – perhaps it’s because of people like him that preident’s in the area seek further imunity. I can see good and bad if I’m honest, but it’s not perfect.

  2. Bob says:

    The latest news:
    A state of emergency in Ecuador has been extended to Friday, the country’s government announced, as investigators watch videos and review photographs to identify officers involved in last week’s police uprising. It was originally set to expire Tuesday.
    The state of emergency was prolonged because of “shameful acts and protests” by some national police officers in front of the headquarters of the National Assembly, in an effort to impede its work, the state-run Andes news agency reported.

    I’m worried about the state of emergency. If we want to make comparisons with the Honduran coup, the suspension of the rule of law by the Golpistas in Honduras was proof that they were carrying out a coup and not defending democracy – we need to be wary of Correa’s motives here.

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