In recent weeks Ecuador’s President Rafael Correa, has experienced one of the more turbulent periods of his administration as a series of protests against him, led by opposition groups, have rocked the Andean nation. Correa’s tough spell looks set to continue as a collection of different groups have announced a national strike set for August 13.
The strike has been called by unions, social movements and indigenous groups, each with separate agendas and grievances against Correa’s government. The action will comprise groups including the Workers Front (FUT), General Union of Ecuadorian Workers (UGT), Ecuadorian Confederation of Workers (CEDOCUT), Teachers National Union (UNE) and the Confederation of Indigenous Nationalities of Ecuador (CONAIE).
Leaders of the national strike have promised it will be peaceful, unlike several previous protests, with only some road closures and no interferences to public services or damage to private property.
News agency teleSUR, however, reports that some sectors will aim to be more disruptive. According to the news group, inside sources at CONAIE’s National Assembly meeting said the organization has plans to block roads and prevent food entering Ecuador’s major cities.
CONAIE, a historic and outspoken critic of Correa, has in the past aligned with center-right politicians such as ex-banker Guillermo Lasso who fell 35 percent short in the last presidential elections.
Some CONAIE representatives have suggested the strike may be ‘indefinite’, with the group’s President, Jorge Herrera, saying “we [CONAIE] will not deviate from our position until we achieve our desired results and we [will] remain in the streets as long as necessary.” CONAIE representative, Severino Sharupi is recorded as saying in Ecuadorian daily, El Diario, “It (the strike) has a start date but not an end date.”
Amongst CONAIE’s complaints are a new set of rural water management rules, mining rights, cuts to governmental social security contributions and a proposal to eliminate some subsidized gas.
Other groups striking include workers’ unions which are also calling for the appeal of a law that revised state pension contributions. Medical professionals are opposing the creation of a new healthcare monitoring agency that, they claim, is just more government interference. Teachers meanwhile, are demanding Correa reinstates their unemployment fund.
The national strike comes after several weeks of protests that were initially against proposed increase to inheritance tax brackets but soon turned into an anti-government movement openly calling for Correa’s removal.
Leaders of the national strike, however, have attempted to distance themselves from these previous protests. Among them, Sharupi, who said “there will be a few protesters of the right but I think 98 percent will represent the left.”
A political coup?
Despite this, Correa, in similar reaction to earlier protests, has been quick to denounce the national strike as part of ‘soft coup’ against his administration. Speaking in his weekly address, he said what opposition groups “could not achieve at the ballot box they want to achieve through force.”
Foreign minister, Ricardo Patiño went as far to suggest CONAIE were complicit in trying to overthrow the democratically elected government in an interview on Ecuador TV.
The National Assembly also addressed the issue, passing a resolution, by 84 to 30 votes, which supports freedom of expression but condemns violent actions of certain groups. The resolution called for a national dialogue as a “democratic means to resolve differences and advance towards the construction of more just, equal and united Ecuador.”
Correa addressed those striking in a typically emotive speech to his supporters in southern Quito.
ANDES news agency reported him as saying, “go ahead, go on strike, the vast majority of the country will reject such irresponsible attitudes.”
Despite the relatively broad spectrum of groups striking, Correa has evidence to support his belief that the majority of Ecuadorians endorse his administration. Since becoming President, Correa has maintained consistently high levels of public support and even though this has dipped in recent months, pollsters like PerfilesOpinion record current approval levels of around 63 percent.