Last week Ecuador came to a four-day standstill, as the first Latin American Pope returned for a regional tour of his home continent.
Pope Francis, originally from Argentina, concluded the Ecuador-leg of his homecoming visit on July 9 after drawing crowds of around 1.5 million people to Masses and bicentennial celebrations of Latin America’s independence from Europe.
The Pontiff’s arrival resulted in a momentary pause in protests which, in the weeks building up to his visit, had drawn a few thousand people and at times descended into violence in the country’s three major cities: Quito, Guayaquil and Cuenca.
“Banging drums, waving flags…”
Following the Pope’s departure for Bolivia, demonstrations returned last Thursday in an attempt to reignite opposition to the Andean nation’s Socialist President, Rafael Correa.
However, the protests which lasted for several weeks before Pope Francis’s visit, look to have now subsided with no further demonstrations over the weekend.
Protests were originally sparked following introduction of a bill in the National Assembly aimed at raising taxes through reforming inheritance laws, estimated to affect only around two percent of Ecuadorians. Since then, more open calls for Correa’s resignation have been voiced.
Opposition groups have touted the move as Correa’s continued stifling of the middle class, while Ecuador’s President has accused those involved of giving erroneous information and plotting a coup.
On Thursday night protestors gathered in Ecuador’s second city, Guayaquil, and the capital, Quito. A few hundred strong demonstrators concentrated outside Correa’s political party offices (Alianza PAIS), banging drums, waving flags and chanting “Correa out.” Accompanying the group was National Assembly member and key opposition figure, Andres Paez who told El Universo the demonstration was against “eight-and-a-half years of abuse.”
A little earlier on Thursday, Correa supporters also gathered outside Quito City Hall, at the offices of prominent opposition figure and Mayor of Quito, Mauricio Rodas. Protestors held signs which included slogans such as “no to coup leader Rodas.”
In the wake of opposition protests Correa’s supporters have lead counterdemonstrations in show of solidarity for his administration.
In a move to defuse tensions before the Pope’s arrival, Correa temporarily withdrew the bill from the legislature and called for a public debate on the reforms. During his visit Pope Francis echoed calls for dialogue between the opposing groups.
Ecuador has seen several large-scale protests in recent months, amid the President’s popularity taking a hit. Correa, an economist with a PhD from the University of Illinois, was first elected in 2007 and has consistently polled strongly. So far this year he experienced a dip in ratings, recording a drop from 60 percent to 42 percent.
Ecuadorian pollsters Perfiles de Opinion place Correa in better standing, with 65 percent of the population supporting his government. A CNN Twitter poll recorded electorate support of 60.1 percent if a recall referendum was held.
— CNN en Español (@CNNEE) June 16, 2015
Supporters of Correa say his popularity stems from his economic management following years of financial and political instability. Other successes come from tackling inequality through social programmes collectively dubbed Revolucion Ciudadana (Citizens Revolution), with the Pope giving his “best wishes for the achievement of your mission.”
Correa’s opponents claim he is becoming more authoritarian, citing a clampdown on media freedom and continued targeting of the middle class.
With presidential elections set for 2017, Correa is currently barred from another term. Still, his party have proposed constitutional changes, removing term limits for all elected officials, approved in the courts.
Changes are expected to be voted on by the National Assembly later this year, despite wide spread opposition calls for a plebiscite.