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Ecuador-Lucio Gutierrez opens a new revolutionary stage

by JC Monday, Dec. 02, 2002 at 11:06 PM


Ecuador - Lucio Gutierrez victory opens a new revolutionary stage

By Julian Costas

The final results of the Ecuadorian elections have meant the victory of the left-supported candidate Lucio Gutierrez. Abstention which reached 33% in the first round, went down to 28.8% in the second round, in which Gutierrez received 55.5% of the votes. His opponent, the right wing billionaire and banana magnate Alvaro Noboa, the richest man in the country, has been defeated despite having spent massive amounts of money in his campaign. Noboa stood on his own, outside of the traditional bourgeois parties, and tried to offer an image of being "against the system" and used all sorts of demagogic promises trying to fool the country's poor. He combined this with strident denunciations of Gutierrez as a Communist and a coup organiser, with the aim of winning the support of the most backwards and reactionary layers of society. Despite all he only got 45.5%. This result is a further indication of the shift to the left and the recovery of the popular movement that we are witnessing in the whole of Latin America.

As was the case with Hugo Chavez in Venezuela, Gutierrez has come to power pushed by the most oppressed and exploited sections of society in Ecuador, that are in this way trying to change their situation, having already tried in several occasions through mass mobilisations in the last few years. The new government will, from the very beginning, be subjected to the pressure of the masses on the one hand, demanding that it solves the pressing problems of poverty and social injustice the country is faced with, and on the other hand, to the pressure of imperialism (through the IMF, the US government and the Organisation of American States) and of the Ecuadorian ruling class. These are already taking positions in Parliament, the state apparatus and even within government in order to push him in the opposite direction and ensure the maintenance of the current policies which have forced 60% of the population into poverty and a large section of the people to emigrate. It is completely impossible to conciliate these two sets of opposite interests and this will necessarily lead to a new heightening of the class struggle.

Who is Lucio Gutierrez?

Contrary to what the media constantly repeat, Lucio Gutierrez is not a "coup organiser Army officer". He is a former colonel who, during the January 21 revolution in 2000, under pressure from the mass movement, entered into conflict with the then president, the right wing Jamil Mahuad. Instead of obeying his orders of charging against peasants and workers who were filling the streets of Quito, he joined the revolutionary forces together with some of his fellow officers and many of the rank and file soldiers. After the revolution was de-railed popular pressure forced his release. He resigned from the Army and following Chavez's steps he founded a political party, together with the officers who participated in the revolution with him, so that he could stand in the elections, under the name of Patriotic Society January 21.

In Parliament, Gutierrez has the support of his own Patriotic Society January 21 and of the peasant and Indian leaders of Pachakutik-Nuevo Pais, an organisation which could be described as the political front of the CONAIE (the main organisation of Ecuadorean Indians which led the January 2000 revolution). Both parties have 17 members of parliament and are therefore in a minority, but they also have the support of the 3 MPs elected by the Maoist Popular Democratic Movement (MPD), which had its own lists for the parliamentary elections and supported Gutierrez for the presidential elections.

The new president has stated that his aim is not to polarise and divide society, but rather to reach a grand national partnership. In this respect, the former colonel has included in his team, together with a number of former army officers which compose his Patriotic Society and some known leaders of the Indian and peasant movement, the President of the Private Banking Association, Mario Canessa, in a gesture aimed at appeasing big business. He has also made statements disassociating himself from Chavez, recognising that there are common elements between the processes in Venezuela and Ecuador, but making it clear that he will not have a confrontational attitude towards the employers and that the social climate will be different. He forgets that at the beginning Chavez also included sections of the Venezuelan ruling class in his government and even within his own Patriotic Pole.

The cause of the current clash between revolution and counter-revolution in Venezuela is not Chavez's alleged radicalism or intransigence but the crisis of capitalism internationally and in Venezuela which forces the capitalists to increase their attacks on the working class and leaves less and less room to apply even the most moderate social reforms. Chavez government, as it is under the pressure of the masses and also relies on these for support, is not only not able to carry out the policies that imperialism needs but represents a risk factor for the capitalists. It is pushed by the masses to the left and could either be overtaken by the revolutionary movement or even be forced to move further to the left. It was precisely the revolutionary movement of the masses what kept him in power defeating the counter-revolutionary coup of April 11.

Gutierrez's programme

In his programme, Gutierrez proposes a whole series of measures which would mean an important step forward for the Ecuadorian workers and youth. Amongst these, there is an increase in old age pensions, a universal social security system for the poor, extend and improve health an hospital cover, distribute free food and school material to children from poor families and extend and improve the educational infrastructure in order to eradicate illiteracy. He has also promised the building of houses for the people in government-owned unused land and the provision of cheap credit for self-building of houses and to small producers. These proposals, and the hopes of millions of youth, workers and peasants in Ecuador for a thorough-going social change, for an end to corruption, for the return of their family members who have been forced in their hundreds of thousands to emigrate to other countries, that there will be land, food an work for all, and that there is an end to social injustice, are what has guaranteed Gutierrez's victory.

But even in order to carry out these reforms, to maintain and widen them Gutierrez will have to clash with the parasitic and corrupt Ecuadorian oligarchy and with imperialism. The country's foreign debt has reached now 11.3 billion dollars and despite all the sacrifices imposed on the working masses of Ecuador this has only been reduced by 200 million frm its peak in 1999. As we said earlier, even the outgoing president, Noboa, has denounced that the IMF, as a condition for releasing a new line of credit which would allow the country to pay for part of the debt, has demanded further wage cuts and attacks on the living conditions of the masses. Noboa and Gutierrez have agreed to negotiate this new credit jointly with the IMF, but it does not seem likely that the IMF demands are going to change fundamentally.

Another aspect of Gutierrez's programme is to rejoin the OPEC in order to be more protected from fluctuation in oil prices (the country's main source of hard currency), the promotion of certain crops and a plan of public infrastructure in order to create jobs.

His position on the foreign debt has been to call for the IMF and the World Bank to have an understanding attitude and to exchange part of the debt for social investment projects. But it would be foolish to expect a caring attitude on the part of the IMF vampires, which are after all an imperialist agency serving the interests of the multinationals.

The only way in which the new government would be able to face the country's problems and fulfil even the most moderate reforms in its programme is to get the necessary resources. These resources are there, in the vaults of the big banks, Ecuadorian and foreign-owned, the multinationals (particularly oil companies) and the big latifundia. The nationalisation of these sources of wealth which is produced through the hard labour of workers and peasants, but which is concentrated in the hands of a handful of capitalists who decided when, where and how these wealth is invested, would be the only way to improve the conditions of the masses of the people in Ecuador.

If these wealth was under the control of workers and peasants it would be possible to democratically plan the economy in order to solve the problems of the country: to eradicate illiteracy and hunger, put an end to poverty and to guarantee the return of all those who have been forced by hunger and unemployment to emigrate, as Gutierrez has promised.

No solution under capitalism

A section of the leaders of Pachakutik-Nuevo Pais and of Gutierrez's own movement think that this can be achieved under capitalism and by collaborating with some sections of the ruling class. They seemed convinced that there is no alternative to capitalism and that the economic recovery that the country has witnessed in the last two years (after the collapse of 1999 and the 2.3% recovery of 200, in 2001 the GDP grew by 5.6% and in 2002 by 3.5%) would give them enough margin to rule without the need to clash with the ruling class.

Gutierrez has declared that he is prepared to maintain the dollarisatio of the economy but with some socially friendly modifications, like a reduction of VAT to 10%. He has also said that he will not privatise publicly owned companies, as the capitalists are demanding, but that he is in favour of introducing private management in order to make them more profitable. In every country where these methods have been tried, they have in fact been a preparation for privatisation and have not benefited workers at all.

The truth is that the improvement in the macro-economic indicators of the country, apart from being very small and not having benefited the masses, has not got sound basis and cannot be maintained for too long. After the massive collapse in 1999 it was only normal to have certain recovery, but in order to generate employment and overcome the massive destruction of wealth of the last few years, the Ecuadorian economy would need to experience high rates of growth for a number of years. The world economy is clearly heading for a recession but has done so in slowly and that has allowed for a certain recovery in Ecuador. However the two main factors which have contributed to this economic growth (which is already slowing down in 2002) have been oil exports and, most importantly, the money sent back home by immigrant workers, whose numbers have multiplied in these years of crisis. This is now the second source of wealth in the country even more important than the exports of bananas and other agricultural products and only surpassed by oil exports. This is a clear indication of the weakness of the Ecuadorian economy.

Against the framework of the US recession which will have an impact in the whole of the world economy and the crisis in the rest of Latin America, the Ecuadorian economy will be one of the hardest hit. The increase in unemployment in the US and Europe (many Ecuadorian immigrants are based in Spain) will hit first the weakest sections of the class, amongst them migrant workers, which will reduce their ability to send money back home. The general fall in investment will put an end to Gutierrez's dreams of attracting foreign investment. The Ecuadorian capitalists, a weak and parasitical class, will find that in order to compete in the world market they would demand lower wages and cuts in social spending. This is particularly the case since the dollarisation of the economy puts them in a very uncompetitive position.

Revolution and counter-revolution

In these conditions the heightening of the class struggle, of the clashes between the workers and peasants who have put Gutierrez in power and the capitalists that pressurise him not to break the limits of the capitalist system, will be inevitable. The new president will have to choose: either to base himself on the popular support he has to carry out a programme which benefits the interests of the majority of the people, something which means to attack the interests of the rich and clash with them; or to disappoint the masses and allow the ruling class to go on the offensive after having discredited his government.

The perspectives in Ecuador are the same that we are already witnessing in Venezuela: a decisive clash between revolution and counter-revolution. It is likely that Gutierrez will be forced, sooner or later, to take measures which will enrage the capitalists. In any case his own movement will be divided in class lines and if he does not shift to the left others amongst his supporters will.

Gutierrez will be faced with a Parliament in which he has no majority, this is another of the arguments used by many of his collaborators in explaining the need for agreements with sections of the ruling class and to proceed slowly. The capitalists know this and some of their parties, like the PSC, have already said that although they will remain in the opposition they are open to dialogue and negotiations as long as the government guarantees its respect to the "basic principles of democracy". For them this means respect to their ownership of the banks, the land and the big industries, and as a result their right to continue exploiting and oppressing the workers. Other sections of the ruling class, like the populist PRE seem to be prepared to participate in a coalition government.

This represents the "embrace of the bear" for the left, since it is clear that such an agreement would only be used to paralyse the government elected by the people and as an excuse for a its shortcomings. The masses of the people who support Gutierrez, and particularly those sections which are more to the left, will have to draw conclusions from what is already happening with the Bolivarian revolution in Venezuela, and start to organise a revolutionary mass current which can offer a leadership and a Marxist alternative to the workers and peasants in the revolutionary process which will inevitable open in Ecuador in the next period. The experience of the Ecuadorian revolution of January 2000 is also very enlightening as to the need to fight for a leadership which can lead the revolutionary movement to the taking of power.

The January 2000 insurrection

The decision of the right wing Jamil Mahuad government to dollarise the economy at the end of 1999 meant a massive attack to the living standards of the masses which had already been hardest hit by the economic crisis the country had been in since 1998. In 1998 the economy fell by 0.4% and in 1999 a further 7.3%. In those years, the peasants (mainly the Indian peasants led by the CONAIE) and the workers (mainly in the oild industry, transport and teachers) had forced the government, through mass struggle, to withdraw a number of IMF-imposed adjustment plans. The ghost of the 1997 insurrection, when a social explosion forced the exile of the then president Abdala Bucaram, was haunting the ruling class which feared that the use of the army against the masses could have the effect of further radicalising the movement. Mahuad had already tried to use the army to stop a number of peasant mobilisations with not very good results.

But the deep economic crisis and the need to win back the initiative from a forward going popular movement finally convinced the government to go for a decisive clash. Further to the announcement of the dollarisation of the economy the government decided to face the wave of popular mobilisations with repression, arresting worker and peasant activists, and announcing that there would be no concessions. This had the effect of further radicalising the movement, and in this occasion we saw the emergence of "people's parliaments" in different areas of the country which finally unified into a national people's parliament which was defying the legitimacy of the official bourgeois parliament and its government.

These popular parliaments were the expression of the will of the masses for a revolutionary change and to organise their own democratic power structures alternative to those of bourgeois power. It was only because of the lack of a mass revolutionary party with a socialist programme that the process did not end up in the complete replacement of bourgeois state apparatus by a government of the workers and the oppressed based on representatives elected by the people themselves and with the right to recall. Sine such a mass Marxist point of reference was lacking the people's parliaments and particularly the national parliament of the people were led by middle class layers or reformist leaders who did not have as a perspective a revolutionary transformation which would have put the banks, monopolies and the land in the hands of the people. The leaders of the movement defended the need to reach a grand national agreement to get rid of corrupt and "anti-national" politicians and businessmen and replace them for others who would be more honest and patriotic.

The strength of the movement was show by the fact that in just one day, January 21, 2000, the mass uprising took over power from the bourgeois government and put it squarely in the hands of the leaders of the peasants of the CONAIE. The Army was split and a section of officers, led by the now president Gutierrez, decided not to obey the orders to shot on the people and joined the revolution. A junta was formed composed pf Antonio Vargas, then the leader of the CONAIE, Lucio Gutierrez, representing the army officers supportive of the revolution, and a third member representing the judiciary.

But the bourgeois put pressure so that the representative of the army would be replaced by general Mendoza, someone who was more under their control, and finally so that the Junta would transfer power back to the then vice-president Noboa.

The bourgeoisie took power back but did not smash the revolution

Finally the ruling class, taking advantage of the vacillation of the revolutionary leaders, went on the offensive, showing clearly how all sections of the bourgeoisie in Ecuador have the same interests and their only aim is to maintain and increase their profits and privileges on the basis of the exploitation of the majority of the population. They proceeded to dollarise the economy, put Gutierrez and the other colonels in jail (though after a few months they were forced by popular pressure to release him after he had agreed to resign from the Army), etc.

The leaders of the CONAIE and the leaders of the trade unions had power in their hands and did not take advantage of the opportunity to start the transformation of society. But, despite the fact that the revolution was derailed the bourgeoisie was not able to smash an behead the revolutionary movement of the masses. This is a decisive factor which has played a key role in the situation in Ecuador since, and without which we could not understand Gutierrez's election victory and its meaning for the developing of the Ecuadorian revolution.

The bourgeois government of Gustavo Noboa has carried out policies against the people but has not been able to implement fully the policies which the oligarchy and imperialism are demanding, since it has been faced with mass mobilisations of workers, peasants and students. Just a few months ago Noboa publicly recognised that he could not reach an agreement with the IMF because the conditions attached to the new line of credit meant a massive attack on wages and conditions which he felt unable to apply.

The vanguard which has emerged from the process of increased class struggle from the end of the 1990s and which organised the revolution in 2000 is still present, growing and drawing conclusions from all these events and from the processes which are taking place in neighbouring countries like Venezuela, Argentina or Brazil. This process will be further accelerated with the election of Gutierrez and the inevitable clashes between the classes that will take place.

For a socialist alternative

The dead end of the Ecuadorian capitalism is what forces the capitalists to increase their attacks against the working class and means that even the shy and moderate reforms proposed by Gutierrez enter into contradiction with the interests of the capitalists and imperialism.

The Pachakutik movement and the Gutierrez's Patriotic Society have a minority of 17 MPs but they also have the leadership of the Indian and peasant movement, and the People's Democratic Movement (the election platform of the Maoist PCMLE) which also supported Gutierrez has another 3 MPs and a strong influence in a number of unions and the students movement.

The more left wing sections of these organisations and the student, worker and peasant activists - in this organisations or outside of them - who have been at the forefront of the struggles over the last few years, can have no illusions in the corrupt bourgeois politicians of the PSC and the PRE. No section of the ruling class (particularly those who now disguise themselves in sheep clothes in order to join the new government) will tolerate real fundamental change in Ecuador. They will try to derail any attempt at social transformation and will firmly keep the reigns of power. As long as they can do it through parliamentary means and through the other bourgeois institutions they will, but if the struggle of the people goes further they will not hesitate in using repression. The example of Venezuela is clear in this respect.

We must demand that the left wing leaders and members of parliament, the leaders of the peasant and trade union organisations, make no agreements with the bourgeoisie. They must adopt a socialist programme based on the mass mobilisation of the people in the streets to carry out the measures that the people of Ecuador need: the nationalisation of the banks, the multinationals, the oil and the latifundia, repudiation of the foreign debt, etc.

The January 2000 revolution shows that if a programme like this was posed in a bold manner, hundreds of thousands of peasants an youth would rally enthusiastically to it, and even sections of the middle class and the army -as happened in January 2000- would join the working class. The power of the ruling class is much less than what is reflected in its parliamentary majority, and would be weakened even further with a revolutionary mobilisation of the masses. Such a movement will take place sooner or later, whether Gutierrez calls for it or the crisis of capitalism and the attacks of the ruling class forces the masses into it.

The sooner preparations start the bigger the chances of victory. The left wing leaders must organise mass meetings of workers and peasants, the election of committees based on freely elected representatives and with the right to recall, so that they can lead and organise the process of social change which the people has demanded in this elections. This is also the best way to organise the fight back against the inevitable attempts of the bourgeoisie to prevent it.

But in the last analysis the only thing that can guarantee victory is that the most active and advanced activists in the movement get organised to struggle for these ideas and carry out this struggle armed with the ideas of Marxism.

The revolution in any Latin American country, particularly in a small one like Ecuador, is linked to the fate of the revolution in the rest of the continent. A successful revolution in Ecuador could only succeed in a decisive way by spreading to the rest of the continent: Venezuela, Colombia, Brazil, Peru, etc.

The working class in Ecuador, in the same way as the working class in Venezuela, Brazil, Argentina and the rest of the continent is entering a decisive period, one which will be marked by revolution and counter-revolution. In this period the workers will have many opportunities to reclaim the ideas of genuine Marxism and carry out the revolutionary transformation of society.

November 26, 2002

See also:

10 days that shook Ecuador (February 14, 2001)

Ecuador, 2 months after the revolution (March 14, 2000)

Bolivia: state of emergency to crush anti-privatisation protests (April 14, 2000)

The uprising in Ecuador marks the beginning of the 21st century (January 23rd, 2000)

Y tambien en castellano:

El siglo 21 ha empezado con la insurrección en Ecuador (Enero 2000)

Ecuador: la revolución ha comenzado (R. Rivera, Militante, 22 Enero, 2000)

América Latina: La lucha de clases llama a la puerta (Miguel Campos, Marxismo Hoy, Octubre 1999)

[Back to In Defence of Marxism] [Back to Latinamerica]

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