Opinion – Sylvia Colombo: Ecuador plunges into tension that could lead to an explosion of protests


The political crisis that manifested itself in Peru in acts without a date to end is now also affecting Ecuador.

Although there has not yet been an explosion of street demonstrations, the Andean country is immersed in an environment of tension that opposes the president, the rightist Guillermo Lasso, to Congress and to an important part of society, such as indigenous organizations and unions. There is also his arch-rival, former leftist representative Rafael Correa, who, convicted of corruption, commands the opposition from abroad.

Lasso has been suffering a decline in popularity – it currently has a 16% approval rating, according to the Market institute – mainly due to the deterioration of security and the difficult economic recovery in the post-Covid period. Poverty in Ecuador affects 25% of the population, and more than 70% of workers are informal.

In recent years, the country has attracted international drug cartels. As a result, 2022 ended with a record number of murders, 4,539, more than double the previous year, 2,048. In addition to prison rebellions that have already caused nearly 500 deaths, homicides have been committed by criminal gangs to ensure control of territories. Kidnappings and extortion episodes have also become commonplace.

The homicide rate stands at 25 cases per 100,000 inhabitants, according to the NGO Insight Crime, a figure higher than that of countries with chronic violence problems such as Mexico and Guatemala.

To try to strengthen himself politically, Lasso called Ecuadorians to the polls to propose the amendment of eight points of the current Constitution, enacted in 2008, in Correa’s administration. The consultation included proposals to reduce the number of congressmen, which would increase the power of the Executive and decrease the representation of smaller provinces, the introduction of the mechanism to extradite criminals to the US and stricter regulation for the creation of political parties. Lasso also proposed doing away with citizen participation instruments that had become highlights of the Correist Constitution.

Lasso’s defeat was devastating. “No” won on all eight questions. In the same election, there were votes for mayors and governors, in which CREO, the president’s party, lost the country’s main electoral strongholds, such as Quito and Guayaquil, to names from Correa’s acronym, Citizen Revolution.

The Executive is now more isolated, with an opposition-dominated Congress and an indigenous movement that appears to be getting organized again. In 2019, Ecuador experienced protests led by this sector of the population, in weeks of fear and tension triggered by the increase in fuel prices.

At the time, the then president, Lenín Moreno, after days of repression, ended up withdrawing from the decision. The agreement reached to pacify the protesters, however, was fragile and did not touch on important issues for the indigenous people, such as the demand for greater political representation, the reduction of mining exploitation in their lands and the protection of water sources, among others. .

Analysts see in the current scenario the possibility of a new “crack”, a social explosion.

Indigenous peoples and the rural population are the ones who feel the advance of drug trafficking and the deterioration of the economy the most. Everything indicates that Lasso will have two difficult years ahead. Now, the blunt demands of the 2019 protests are more numerous, which could lead to a new wave of demonstrations.

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