Ecuador: the struggle against the US, state repression and neo-liberalism – an interview with Orlando Pérez Sánchez

Lenin Moreno and Pompeo
President of Ecuador Lenin Moreno meets US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo

In October 2019 a massive uprising against neo-liberalism erupted in Ecuador. After 10 days of protests, the social movements leading the mobilisations forced Ecuador’s President Lenin Moreno to the negotiating table.

As a concession to the protesters, the Ecuadorian government dropped the measure which initially sparked the protests – a cut to fuel subsidies. However, despite this concession Moreno’s government remains committed to a broad austerity offensive under the auspices of the IMF. Negotiations between the government and social movements have since been put on hold because Lenin Moreno’s government is persecuting the leaders of the indigenous movement he was in negotiations with.

I interview Ecuadorian writer and journalist Orlando Pérez Sánchez to find out his perspective on the huge crisis and struggles taking place in Ecuador at the moment.

Orlando is the former editor of El Telégrafo, an Ecuadorian state-owned newspaper. He currently reports for the Latin American news outlet TeleSUR.

How would you describe what is going on in Ecuador at the moment?

Orlando: This is a critical and sensitive moment for all. The government of Lenin Moreno cannot disobey the IMF if it wants to move forward with its plans to liberalise the economy. Social movements opposing the government and IMF cannot go backwards because the pressure from the people could be even more severe than on other occasions. Meanwhile the economic situation of the working class and for small- and medium-sized businesses is very complicated. Lenin Moreno was forced to remove the fuel subsidies – but this is only a small part of the entire neo-liberal economic plan.

Why has there been such a strong reaction against President Lenin Moreno’s deal with the IMF and austerity programme?

Orlando: The people’s reaction is an explosion of built-up tension of a need to demand answers to unemployment, the loss of social well-being and the poor quality of social services. The tension has arisen from the government’s actions and because they have not been able to respond to social demands. It is also due to a President of low credibility and a government that’s been handed over to powerful groups.

What is the movement demanding?

Orlando: The social movements, in general, demand a new economic model, perhaps the same that existed during Rafael Correa’s government which left the country with high levels of welfare and public policies created with the poorest social sectors in mind. In the short term, it does not want an agreement with the IMF.

How has Moreno and his government responded to this popular and broad movement against austerity?

Orlando: Moreno’s response has seen repression, persecution and above all a campaign that discredits the popular protest. It accuses Correa, Nicolás Maduro and the Sao Paulo Forum {an annual gathering of left and progressive political parties in Latin America} of being the perpetrators of the protests that were triggered after the rejection of the IMF deal. Now added to that is a military strategy to allege that rebel groups are behind the protest. What they are trying to do is ignore discontent and instead persecute social leaders by accusing them of being insurgents. Consequently, they will apply measures and trials to those being accused of organising unrest on the basis of terrorism charges.

Where do you think the situation in Ecuador is headed?

Orlando: Ecuador will face weeks of uncertainty and tension because the government will not be able to disassociate itself from its agreement with the IMF. Consequently, there will be even more social pressure as well as repression.

Lenin Moreno is widely described as a “traitor” by the left in Ecuador. In 2017 he stood for President and was elected on a progressive basis with the backing of his left wing predecessor Rafael Correa. Once he was elected Moreno proceeded to distance himself from Correa and dramatically shift to the right wing. What impact has Moreno’s betrayal of the left had on the political, social and economic landscape in Ecuador?

Orlando: Moreno’s betrayal of Correa is not the biggest problem because it would be a personal problem; what is worse is that he came to power with a left plan, but in government he applied that of the right wing – winning the elections on false premises. If the Code of Democracy were applied, he would be subject to dismissal because he did not apply the program with which he won. On the other hand, the implications of applying a different economic program also distances his left-wing allies who have now taken to the streets to protest. Changing a model and a plan that won him electoral support from the majority will place him in history as a heinous character.

What role is the US and IMF playing in Ecuador today?

Orlando: The United States of America is the main protagonist of Ecuador’s foreign policy. Not only for withdrawing Julian Assange’s asylum or Ecuador’s departure from Unasur, but also because many of Ecuador’s diplomatic actions are taken literally from what the US has said. And this is fully consistent with the anti-Chavista and anti-integrationist discourse and in favour of a free market, without any filters.

Is there anything that the left in Europe can do to support the Ecuadorian people that are rising up against austerity?

Orlando: For now, the global left should denounce the persecution of social leaders, the loss of guarantees and the rights of the Ecuadorian people. Note that, for example, what happened with Assange could happen with Rafael Correa and other leaders for the mere fact of having challenged the great hegemonic powers.

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