Cracks in Correísmo?

Protests are growing in Ecuador, where radicals must contend with both the Right and Rafael Correa.

Ecuador's President Rafael Correa in 2007. Presidencia de la República del Ecuador / Flickr

Interview by
Jeffery R. Webber

Rafael Correa was first elected president of Ecuador late in 2006, assuming office in 2007. Under his rule, Ecuador has commonly been characterized, together with Bolivia and Venezuela, as representing the harder left within South America’s more general anti-neoliberal “pink tide.”

As early as 2009, however, various ruptures between the government and the social movements that initially enabled Correa’s rise to office — above all the indigenous movement — began to surface. Now, in mid-2015, it appears that those initial ruptures, together with the recent collapse in oil prices, have crystallized into a serious political and economic crisis for the Correa administration.

Alejandra Santillana Ortíz, executive director of the Institute of Ecuadorian Studies in Quito, Ecuador, is a prominent socialist activist in the country, member of the Feminist Collective Las Lorenzas, and author of a number of important sociological articles on the indigenous movement, the contemporary Ecuadorian left, and socialist strategy in contemporary Latin America.

I met up with her in Quito on Wednesday, just before yesterday’s major indigenous march arrived in the capital, and a coordinated “people’s strike” began. We talked about the principal political dynamics at work today.

Jeffery R. Webber

Tomorrow, an important indigenous march will arrive in Quito as part of what activists are calling an indigenous uprising and people’s strike. How would you characterize these mobilizations? Who are the principal actors? What are the principal demands?

Alejandra Santillana Ortíz

We need to situate the march in a much larger context in order to understand its significance. Over these eight years of the “citizen’s revolution” of Rafael Correa there has been an increasing intensity of social conflict. The facts laid out in systematic studies of social conflict conducted at the Institute of Ecuadorian Studies show that in the neoliberal period, prior to Correa, there was a very high level of sociopolitical mobilization.

This high level of activism diminished in the years of the Constituent Assembly, between 2007 and 2008, that is to say, the opening years of the Correa administration. That initial period appeared to offer the opening of political opportunities and heightened expectations. You could say it was a moment in which people were waiting to see what was possible under the new administration.

But beginning in 2009, accelerating into 2012, and quickening still more rapidly between 2012 and today, the levels of social mobilization have increased. This high incidence of mobilization is precisely a response to the economic model and political project carried out by the government of Correa’s Alianza País (AP). It also has to do with the gradual recovery of the capacity for self-organization among the principal social organizations of this country over the last eight years.

One thing to emphasize is that over these years under Correa, a constitutive part of the project of Alianza País — not something marginal its political-economic model — has been the systematic criminalization of social protest, the control of popular organizations, and the delegitimation of independent social mobilization.

So what we are seeing today is not a product merely of events developing in the last year, but rather is the outgrowth of something much more profound. It cannot be reduced to a product of the manipulation of protests by a new Right in recent months — a real phenomenon related to the introduction last June of a tax on capital gains and inheritance.

Instead, the situation of mobilization in the current moment has to do with the growing capacity of popular movements over the last three years to attempt to dispute the central political terrain of the country, to push forward an alternative agenda, to recapture the momentum and capacity that popular organizations had lost in the opening years of the Correa administration.

Until recently the Correa government had been entirely capable of determining the political agenda. And this hegemony had meant that popular social movements were reduced to a reactive role. There was little initiative on the part of the popular movements, very few moments where the social movements won the initiative in terms of setting the political agenda.

And when social movements did temporarily take the initiative, they were quickly placated by various cooptive measures of the government. Therefore, looking at tomorrow’s events through the perspective of the medium term, of the slow rebuilding of social movements over the last three years, can better help us to understand the present context than merely identifying the proximate catalysts.

Jeffery R. Webber

How would you characterize this government and its different phases since 2007?

Alejandra Santillana Ortíz

The initial phase of expectation lasted roughly between 2006 and 2008. This phase of the Constituent Assembly was characterized by social movements incorporating themselves into the political project of the Correa government with the expectation that they could genuinely be a part of building that project.

The second phase begins roughly in 2009 and closes in 2012. This was a much more complicated and conflict ridden phase. In this phase it became patently clear that the political project actually being carried out by the government had nothing to do with rhetorical commitments to communitarian socialism or buen vivir (good living, or sumak kawsay, in Kichwa).

Instead, the new socioeconomic model reaffirmed many of the elemental structures of previous economic models in the country’s history. The regime of accumulation in Ecuador has not changed, for example. It continues to be a rentier, primary-export model, in spite of partial and futile attempts of industrialization.

Likewise the idea of bio-knowledge, promoted by René Ramírez, the Minister of Higher Education, Science, Technology, and Innovation, has gone nowhere. Instead, Ecuador continues to suffer from an extreme dependency on oil, at the same time as other elements of the primary-export economy have been extended and intensified — mining, hydroelectricity, and agro-industry in the countryside.

Between 2011 and 2012 it became even more evident that what was transpiring was the consolidation of a model of capitalist modernization. And as we well know, capital reconfigures territories to meet its needs. Territories are subsumed into the logic of capital, displacing peasant farming, for example, with agro-industrial intensification, pushing peasants off the land and into unemployment and the informal economy.

Another part of this dynamic is related to natural resources, and the tremendous socio-ecological impact of the intensity of the capitalist modernization project under Correa.

Jeffery R. Webber

So, capitalist modernization assumed the form of an intensified and extended extractive economy, generating socio-ecological conflict. What were some of the other areas of clashing interests that help to explain the uptick in social conflict registered in the investigations carried out by the Institute of Ecuadorian Studies?

Alejandra Santillana Ortíz

A further terrain of conflict has been the government’s project of education reform, which began its initial stages back in 2009. The education reform was based on the ideology of meritocracy, that the country’s existing education system was backwards, and that we needed therefore to push forward a knowledge economy and all of its attendant potentialities.

Since 2009, high school students and, to a lesser degree, teachers have organized in their high schools and through their organizational federations against the education reform. They took to the streets to protest the elimination of free access to universities that accompanied the introduction of the meritocratic system.

They saw the redesign of education planned by the government as being functional to the interests of capital. They argued that it would create, on the one hand, a layer of uneducated laborers for manual work and, on the other, a layer of skilled workers trained in technology. The education model was designed, in this sense, to accentuate inequalities already present in the country.

Another sector that was clearly being targeted by the government after 2009 was the urban labor force, and their unions. Capital in every country requires a certain configuration of its workforce, and Ecuador, from the vantage point of capital, required juridical and institutional changes to existing labor law in order to facilitate smoother extraction of surplus value and higher rates of profitability through its activities. The introduction of a new Labor Code by the Correa government, in limiting the right to strike and organize, sought to realize some of these objectives.

Between 2009 and 2012, as these various conflicts developed, and social movements began to reassert themselves on the scene, it became increasingly plausible to imagine contesting the political project and agenda advanced by the Correa government from the Left. It became possible to imagine that the political initiative could be regained from below in the streets.

This had to do with our collective short-term memory as well. Under neoliberalism, we learned very well that the only way to achieve anything was through mobilization.

Jeffery R. Webber

So the first phase of the Correa government, full of expectation, lasted for the two years of the Constituent Assembly process (2007-2008). After this, a second phase (2009-2011) is characterized by initial ruptures with social movements across various sectors and the unveiling of the real bases of the capitalist modernization project at the core of Correa’s vision of development. What happened next?

Alejandra Santillana Ortíz

A third phase of the Correa government begins in 2012 which might be best characterized as conservative restoration. The government began to show its worst face, in politics and economics, beginning in 2012. One important signal that reflects this conservative restoration is the bilateral free trade agreement between Ecuador and the European Union.

The free trade agreement represents an aggressive assault on the countryside in terms of the acceleration of mono-crop agro-industry across various territories. It also opens up new opportunities for capital in terms of hydroelectricity and mining.

Another dominant economic feature of the third phase has been a massive indebtedness to China. Much of the capital behind the extension of the oil frontier and other initiatives is Chinese capital. China has become a powerful, determinant player in Ecuadorian politics.

This third period also featured the debacle of Yasuní. Initially, Yasuní, one of the most biodiverse regions of the world, was held up by the regime as an example of its commitment to the environment and indigenous peoples. The idea was that the government would not allow drilling for oil in the area if the international community donated sufficient money to cover the lost profits. Correa abandoned the prohibition on oil drilling in August 2013.

At the same time, the theme of labor rights started to intensify further. This has been an important development because in Ecuador labor unions have not been important political actors since the 1980s. In the 1990s, the indigenous movement played a more advanced role in leading popular movements than the urban labor movement.

But over the last two years, especially, labor unions have started to organize a significant struggle against the new labor code that was eventually introduced by the Correa government in April 2015. The workers argued that there was nothing progressive about the new labor code. To the contrary, it limits rights to organization, to strike, to demonstrate.

Returning to your original question, it’s necessary analyze the current moment through this sort of medium to long term perspective in order to properly comprehend its dynamics. Over the last three years popular movements have been attempting to recover their capacity for self-organization and mobilization and to contest the political agenda in the streets.

The objective of the moment from the perspective of the social movements is not to dispute directly the political rule of Correa, but to take the initiative in determining the political agenda, to recover the political initiative from below.

Confrontations on the electoral terrain in recent years were also important to shaping the current political moment. In 2013 Alianza País won an important electoral victory with Correa reassuming the presidency. The Left — organized under the banner of the Plurinational Unity of the Lefts — lost decisively in its effort to articulate a united project in the elections, a united project that had come out of the March for Life and Dignity, originating in the indigenous zones of the Ecuadorian south.

The Left decided during that march to dispute the 2013 elections on a united platform, but the initiative was a failure due to a number of internal errors. One error was to underestimate the capacity of Alianza País to continue its reconfiguration of hegemony. The themes of anti-extractivism advanced in the electoral campaign of the Plurinational Unity of Lefts did not have a sufficiently deep resonance with a popular base.

And, clearly, unity of the Left cannot be based merely on electoral fronts. It can only be achieved through programmatic unity, organic relations, and extended united actions. This never happened. Correa won the 2013 presidential elections and a majority in the National Assembly.

All of this meant that the immediate period after 2013 was a hard one for the Left, insofar as it tried to recover from its decisive electoral failure, and to rebuild itself and determine precisely what its central axes of rearticulation would be.

Jeffery R. Webber

As social movements have tried to recover their ability to organize and mobilize following the brief interregnum of the Constituent Assembly years, which social actors have been most important?

Alejandra Santillana Ortíz

The Confederation of Indigenous Nationalities of Ecuador (CONAIE) continues to be an important actor, but with less capacity for mobilization than it once had, and with acute levels of internal conflict. The historical orientation within the indigenous movement of open dialogue and cooperation with the Left remains a latent but weakened force, and the currents which argue for a more closed organizational form are more powerful at the moment.

Workers and the various labor federations are important actors in the current conjuncture, which, as I suggested, have begun to rearticulate themselves in interesting ways.

The students, the youth, and the teachers are other notable players.

There are also a number of other spaces that have yet to take off politically, but which are important areas of social power. The doctors are one example. Another is the environmental movement, which in certain moments has played an important role in projects of left unity and social mobilization.

Again, in the third phase of the Correa administration what we have seen is a decisive and systematic effort to delegitimate social organizations and criminalize social protest. One example of this is that every time there is a social mobilization of popular movements, the government circulates its thesis of the golpe blando, or soft coup.

Correa says repeatedly that “what is occurring here is that these social movements want a coup d’état, because we’re a government of the Left, and these social movements are actually a part of the Right.” Therefore the option becomes you’re with the Left, which is the government, or you’re with the Right.

An important development in the last two years in Ecuador is a strategy of unity, called the Collective Unity, with labor unions playing a leading role. Collective Unity has been meeting on a permanent basis, and what it has been attempting to produce is a process of accumulation of forces in the streets, capitalizing on popular discontent, and the fall of oil prices. There have been a series of promises made by this government that have not been fulfilled. And on top of this the cost of living is rising. And every popular sector has its demands in this specific context.

Jeffery R. Webber

Explain the role of the middle class in the current conjuncture.

Alejandra Santillana Ortíz

There is a perception in some areas of the country — in Quito and Cuenca especially — that there are non-reactionary sections of the middle class that are extremely discontented with the Correa government for democratic reasons. They are not properly part of the Left, but they are democratic forces. And in Quito, this theme of democracy has social weight. And it is not a subject manipulated merely by the Right.

There are sections of the middle class in Quito that put forward the argument that we are living under an authoritarian regime in many ways, a regime that has made various efforts to close down independent social organizations and spaces, a corrupt regime that is becoming more corrupt by the day, and a regime that has resolutely failed to resolve a whole range of central themes facing the country. There is a reaction then to the aggressive and violent politics of this government.

Middle-class sectors of the feminist movement are also pissed off by the Family Plan promoted by this government, which follows the line of Opus Dei, and which is, in general, extremely conservative. In addition, there are sectors of the independent press, journalists — not just those working for the big media corporations — who demand a different politics around access to information.

So this is an interesting scenario. This is not a situation comparable to Venezuela, where the opposition utilizes the discussion of democracy, and where the opposition is clearly on the Right. There are sections of the middle class in Ecuador who use the language of democracy who not on the Right, who have no connection to Guillermo Lasso, the largest shareholder in the Bank of Guayaquil and presidential candidate for the Right in 2013, or to Mauricio Rodas, the conservative mayor of Quito. They are responding, instead, to the increasing conservatism and reactionary bases of this government.

This is an unorganized middle class, which you find in the same public spaces of unity — a part of Collective Unity — in which the students, the unions, the teachers, and the doctors are moving. On a political level it’s quite complicated because there are various political projects attempting to win over the unorganized middle class.

In a tactical move last year, Collective Unity put forward a series of clear dates on which to organize people. This occurred not only in Quito — in the neoliberal period Quito was the epicenter of political struggles — but in various other parts of the country as well. The mobilizations on May 1, Labor Day, last year were the biggest mobilizations on Labor Day in the history of Ecuador. This was particularly notable because until 2013 the government had been able to use mobilizations on May 1 to its favor. Beginning in 2013, however, the character of these mobilizations became more complex.

It was really in 2014, however, that popular movements were able to transcend what here in Ecuador we call chuchaqui — a sensation after drinking where you feel slightly inebriated. In 2014, then, social movements were able to overcome a certain moral chuchaqui which accompanied the electoral loss of the Left in the last general elections and to organize a series of important mobilizations — May 1, July 17, others in September, October, and November.

What’s significant is that these mobilizations have been occurring all over the country, generating the sensation that Ecuador is waking up, that it’s not only Quito, that each important popular sector has been able to mobilize around something, and have been able to develop concrete demands.

This way of contesting socio-political terrain and public opinion developed in an important way in 2014, and, above all, as I suggested, on the May 1 mobilization. After that there was an important gathering of multiple popular sectors in Riobamba, in the province of Chimborazo, in late May 2014. That’s where and when the decision to organize the People’s Strike was made.

There was a debate on whether we should attempt a people’s strike or a general strike or various other potential actions. All of the organized sectors involved in that discussion ultimately agreed that there was still insufficient capacity to pull off a successful general strike. Organizing a general strike has to be taken very seriously, with assessments of the really existing conditions, assessments of the situation of workers in the principal areas of production.

We decided a general strike would be impossible and to instead build a “people’s strike.”

Jeffery R. Webber

What is a people’s strike?

Alejandra Santillana Ortíz

First, it’s not the same as the mobilizations that we saw in 2014. The main thing is to paralyze daily activities, to paralyze highways, to take over symbolic spaces, to paralyze certain spaces of production, or at least parts of commercial trading. We recognized the fact that under present conditions we weren’t in a position to paralyze production across the country in the form of a general strike. This would require another level of social capacity.

But we recognized that we would be able to assume another form of protest, to mobilize marches, and to paralyze parts of the major cities and the highways. The idea, then, is to build a day in which it is clear that we have social power. That we have arrived at another level of struggle, and one which will permit us to better build conditions for negotiation in the electoral sphere, in the social sphere with other national actors, and in our capacity to capitalize on widespread social discontent among all the unorganized sectors.

Jeffery R. Webber

What are some of the limits of the present moment?

Alejandra Santillana Ortíz

The problem is that we should have organized this immediately, and not so late in the year. Now, in 2015, we are approaching the electoral period. In January 2016, all official declarations to run in the 2017 elections have to be made. This is directly in front of us, in other words, right around the corner. What are we going to do? The idea of the Left and all the social organizations involved in planning the People’s Strike was that we would build this huge mobilization and as we entered the electoral period our social power would be self-evident.

The issue, however, has been that AP has demonstrated once again its agile capacity to intervene in the interim period, its capacity to recover lost ground. It has repeatedly been able to carry out political maneuvers that put the Left on its back foot. And in this case the political maneuver was the creation of a scenario in which AP can point to a right-wing that is the immediate threat.

AP can win in such subjective conditions, when the choice is seen to be between the far-Right or AP, rather the reality of the situation: there is a left, there is a right inside Alianza País, and there is a right outside Alianza País. AP has been able to create a situation where the choices appear to be the Right or Alianza País, and the Left finds itself trapped in that scenario.

The way AP achieved this most recently was by introducing, in June 2015, taxes on capital gains and inheritance. This created an image of this government outside the country as once again a socialist marvel, an image in which Ecuador is advancing in its control over capital, and so on.

In technical terms it is obvious that these measures from June are not going to resolve any problems of inequality or concentration of wealth, much less reverse the processes of monopolization across several sectors of the economy that this government has facilitated.

But this was obviously not a technical move, it was a political maneuver. This last thesis I’ve been developing here isn’t mine alone. It’s a perspective that was developed in the annual seminar a few weeks ago of the Communist Party of Ecuador – Marxist Leninist (PCMLE), and other parties of the Left around the world.

One of the sensible hypotheses that they offered is this one — that the regime is constructing an image of itself as the Left and every sector outside the government is by definition on the Right. Such a scenario allows the government to marginalize and isolate the independent left.

And this is precisely what happened in June with the capital gains and inheritance taxes. In such a scenario, the country divides into two — there are those who are with the government and who support the redistributive policy, and anyone who doesn’t support the government in this context, ergo, is of the Right.

This type of situation is complex. Many of our close friends and colleagues fall into this kind of logic, and become ever closer to the regime as a result. The organized left needs to make its position much clearer in these scenarios. The Right has acted very intelligently, attempting to capitalize on these moments. In the wake of the new taxes they mobilized marches of the traditional right in rich neighborhoods in Quito (most importantly, Shyris). There were the mobilizations of Jaime Nebot in Guayaquíl (the conservative mayor of that city), and in various other sectors and places in the country.

At the ballot box this right is still likely to lose to Correa, but in the streets it has a certain capacity to capitalize on social discontent among the conservative, racist sections of the middle and upper middle class, those that have no commitment to democracy whatsoever, a layer that captures all that is conservative in Ecuador.

They are ready to go out into the streets and organize against what they see as this country becoming Cuba or Venezuela, utilizing a terrorizing, anti-communist language. The Right is able to capitalize this sentiment that exists within layers of the middle class. And you can see throughout the country every week the Right is there, in the streets, fundamentally in Quito and Guayaquíl, attempting to capitalize on social discontent.

Much of the Left has generated what are scarcely credible reasons for opposition to these taxes. Consequently, the Left has failed to distinguish itself sufficiently from the Right in the streets, that is to say distinguishing ourselves in the manner that we are neither with the AP nor with the traditional right.

The People’s Strike on August 13, then, is an opportunity for the Left to reactivate the forces that it accumulated in the last three years, and which the latest political maneuver of the government to create a polarized situation has sought to extinguish. The People’s Strike is a moment in which the Left has the possibility of recovering the political initiative. We need to view the events of tomorrow through this lens.

Jeffery R. Webber

How credible is the government’s soft-coup thesis – that is, that the march is supported by the Right and that its aim is to destabilize and even oust Correa from office?

Alejandra Santillana Ortíz

The position of the government, and of certain otherwise progressive people that view tomorrow’s march and strike with skepticism, who believe that what is happening tomorrow represents the planning of coup plotters attempting to overthrow Correa, has no credibility. The Left, according to this view, is lost and confused and is incapable of playing a role other than that of puppet of the Right. These are moralistic arguments.

I believe the argument that has to be made is that in politics it’s necessary to intervene in a way that allows the Left to regain the initiative, and not to decide beforehand that it will simply be capitalized by forces on the Right. The proposal to have a people’s strike is precisely such an intervention, an intervention to regain the initiative of the political agenda for the Left. And the indigenous march is also deeply connected to this initiative, in the sense that their mobilization is part of this attempt to regain popular initiative from below.

There was an article in El Comercio, a major daily newspaper, a few weeks ago which said something like, “the initiative has returned to the Left, the initiative has returned to the social organizations.” Why? Because in the rich neighborhoods of Quito, like Shyris, it’s already evident that they don’t have the mobilizational capacity that they had in June.

This is the “post-papa” scenario (referring to the pope’s visit to Ecuador in early July). The arrival of the pope froze everything in the country. Correa had been attempting to position himself to generate a series of good images with the pope, all the media was talking about nothing but the pope for a week and a half.

After the pope’s visit, the Right tried to mobilize in Shyris once again, and this time it failed completely. The wave of mobilization that we saw in June by the Right had lost steam. And this allowed the Left once again to regain space, and orient itself around the forthcoming People’s Strike.

Therefore, the key sectors in the People’s Strike are: the unions; street vendors, who are crucial in terms of controlling space in Quito; students; and, to a lesser degree, the indigenous movement, which has in recent years lost its earlier capacity to mobilize and the clarity of its demands, especially around the centrality of the plurinational state. What happens in the next few days in the march and the strike is going to have a determining effect not only on the political administration of Correa, but on who is going to capitalize on the current crisis.

Despite the relative decline in the mobilizing capacity of CONAIE, I think the indigenous march has been crucial, because otherwise the profile of the People’s Strike would have been weaker. A people’s strike is a new tactical initiative — the idea of paralyzing the cities. People are not necessarily accustomed to it. We haven’t seen people’s strikes since the 1980s and 1990s.

The indigenous march joining with the people’s strike has been crucial in terms of animating public opinion. There are more people in the present indigenous march than there were in the indigenous march of 2012 against the privatization of water. Still, it’s not a massive march. The central nucleus of the march, those people who actually walk from town to town, isn’t very large. But they’ve developed an interesting strategy. Logistically, they’ve been able to mobilize people to meet them for mass mobilizations at each point along the way.

For example, there were between 15,000 and 20,000 people mobilized two days ago when the march arrived at Latacunga, even though there were many fewer people actually on the march. The people marching in the nucleus are indigenous leaders skilled in intervening in public debate and addressing the media. The eruption of support and accompaniment in each locale has demonstrated a unity of purpose. There are more popular fronts opening up against the government.

So we’ll have to see tomorrow in Quito what our concrete capacity to mobilize actually is. The regime is facing the indigenous march and the People’s Strike and it isn’t sure how to respond. It’s been incapable of intervening in the immediate conjuncture so far.

Tomorrow, I think the key actors within the unified mobilization will be the unions, the associations of workers, the street vendors. On a second level will be the doctors, the teachers, and the students, and the rest of the protagonists within the collective spaces of the city — the women’s movement, the environmentalists.

But these latter spaces are not the crucial areas of protagonism. The collectives in the city of this kind won’t have the protagonism that they might have had, because they have been unable to articulate into a larger network. Nonetheless, they have an impact on public opinion.

Jeffery R. Webber

You’ve provided a useful mapping of the key social sectors involved in organizing tomorrow’s mobilizations. What are the other sectors of the organized Left that have a social weight?

Alejandra Santillana Ortíz

The other sectors of the organized left are those united under the Popular Front. Nelson Erazo, the president of the Popular Front, is a long-time unionist. He used to be the president of the General Union of Ecuadorian Workers (UGTE), and has played a key role in organizing mobilizations in the last few years. He’s had a longstanding relationship with the unions, the students, and the teachers’ movement.

The Federation of High School Students (FEUE), the Revolutionary Youth of Ecuador (JRE), and the National Union of Educators (UNE) are also part of this space. The organizations of the Popular Front have been the most targeted of the organized sectors of the Left under Correa’s administration. But they remain the sectors of the Left with the best logistical and mobilizational capacity. The Popular Front is therefore a central actor in the march and a central actor in the People’s Strike.

You also then have the Federation of Doctors. They’ve played an important role in the last two years. They are a very creative and interesting organization. Tomorrow when you come to the march, watch the doctors! They have different slogans, come dressed in their uniforms. They have so much creativity, and are popular with everyone. The doctor is something of a symbol in Ecuadorian society. Everyone loves doctors.

You also have the Federation of Workers (FUT), whose president is Pablo Serrano, long ago the President of the Ecuadorian Central of Free Unions (CEOLS), which had links with the Socialist Party. In addition, there is the Ecuadorian Confederation of United Class Struggle Workers (CEDOCUT), which is part of the union movement and will be present in the People’s Strike.

It doesn’t give me any pleasure to say that the rest of the organized Left has very limited capacities at the moment. There are people from the Revolutionary Movement of Workers (MRT), which is a new, interesting organization, about two years old, but with much older original roots.

They are people who were related to the union movement and peasant movement in the 1980s and are thinking in terms of party formation in the long term. One of their most prominent intellectuals was Fernando Velasco. MRT long ago collapsed, but there is an effort now to bring it back to life.

There is also the Socialist Party (PSE). There was a split in the party after which a sector remains with the government, and another outside it, and within Collective Unity.

In a different sense, the Right is also clearly going to attempt to capitalize on tomorrow’s march and strike. They understand that they need to intervene in this space. They haven’t said anything about the march or the strike, and they don’t agree with the demands that have been raised by the Left in the organization of these mobilizations, but they understand nonetheless that they have to intervene. They need to capitalize on this moment, and they will be there tomorrow attempting to do so.

So there are internal disputes on the Left, a certain internal decomposition of some previously unified spaces. But unity of the Left is always going to be difficult. There is still a lack of capacity on our part to put forward any clear program or alternative to the Right within AP and the Right external to AP. This capacity does not yet exist. But the People’s Strike is an advance towards this, an effort to recover this possibility.

As always, however, there are problems of misunderstanding within the Left, sectarianism, and so on. The Ecuadorian left has long had a problem of unity. And some labor unions have still not figured out that there is a world beyond their labor rights, that they aren’t the only representatives of the popular struggle, nor is CONAIE the only representative of popular struggles. It’s a complicated terrain, with many conflicting demands. But nonetheless this is a moment when we can introduce new demands.

In Colombia, there are two interesting processes of left unity, the Patriotic March and the Congress of Peoples, with all of their problems. In Peru, a broad front is being built, despite all of the weaknesses that it has. In Ecuador, there is no broad front. There is still no structure. In many ways each sector remains isolated from the others.

But the spaces of Collective Unity have attempted to bring different sectors together, and this is the most important project at the moment. With all the problems that it has, the important thing at the moment is to strengthen Collective Unity, and not to engage in sectarian discourses — such as those voices you hear from individuals who won’t join the march because “it’s right wing.”

Jeffery R. Webber

How does the fact that there are elections approaching in 2017 weigh on the present moment?

Alejandra Santillana Ortíz

In terms of the electoral terrain there are also divisions that will play themselves out in the march. It’s important to note, for example, that Pachakutik is now divided. National Pachakutik is now openly aligned with the Right. And, electorally, the Popular Democratic Movement (MPD) no longer exists, because they lost legal status under this administration — they have spent the last few months collecting new signatures to be legally recognized again as a party.

It’s crucial to understand that to participate in the elections you have to be legally registered. And who is legally registered among the social movements? Who can play a role in the elections? Pachakutik — with its majority current openly aligning with the Right? Podemos exists as well, a new formation, but it’s tiny. What remains? Alianza País and the Right.

And in those regions where Pachakutik is not aligned with the Right, and in which the party still responds to social struggles, it’s still not a relevant actor because it has not devised a strategy to defeat those at the national level within the party that have made agreements with the Right.

Within AP they still haven’t determined whether or not it’s a good idea for Correa to run for a third reelection. They are waiting for the Right to decide on their candidate first, and after will decide who is best from AP to run.

The Right is likely to choose a candidate who is able to position himself as a moderate, modern candidate, not associated with the far right. They are likely to build something like a Front for Democracy, or something of that kind. Within AP right now they are trying out different figures in the party, assuming public roles, to see how they are received. None of them are being well received, however.

One of the problems is that the government has often talked about dialogue, but it’s mainly been an internal dialogue within AP. There’s a cartoonist here who has been targeted by the government. One of his best cartoons was called “Correa’s Open Dialogue,” and it featured Correa talking to Correa talking to Correa talking to Correa. That is the nature of Correísmo, a dialogue with itself. The future of AP is unclear. The government is showing various signs of weakness, and it doesn’t know what to do.

We have offered to enter into a dialogue with Correa, but only under certain conditions. They have always been rejected by the government, with accusations that we are acting together with those plotting a soft coup. There have therefore been zero opportunities for dialogue.

If the government thought that the plotting of a soft coup was actually going on, that the country was actually in such a dire crisis, would Correa have decided — as he has — to fly to Suriname at this juncture for the first time on a presidential visit? If he thought the country was on the brink, he wouldn’t be in Suriname. It’s absurd.

The government has selected various representatives to systematically illegitimate the march and it hasn’t worked. You can see this in the mobilizations of people that have been greeting the march as it’s made its way to Quito. In Cuenca, people from AP tried to confront and provoke participants in the march. And it was the unorganized population in Cuenca that spontaneously organized a wall around the marchers and prevented those mobilized by AP from getting any closer. This is an important signal of the tenor of the moment. There’s popular support for this march.

Obviously, there are also Correístas, supporters of the government, but they have no strategy to confront this march. The government has not been able to organize a counter-march. They are not saying that they’re going to mobilize people to come out in the streets to defend the revolution. They said recently that they’ve been sending out people to protect the highways, and you can see that no one is out defending the highways.

It’s a very tense situation. It’s a very complicated conjuncture. The entire political world of Ecuador is vying to determine who will be presidential candidates in the 2017 elections. Tomorrow, what is Lasso going to do? How is Nebot going to intervene in Guayaquíl? Everything that happens tomorrow is going to play a role in determining what happens for the rest of this political year. If the Left intervenes forcefully in this moment it will enable it to strengthen its political position vis-à-vis the Right and vis-à-vis the Correa administration.

Of course the Right will be in the streets tomorrow. And they have a right to demonstrate and associate. But a genuine politics of the Left means contesting them and winning the streets. The alternative is to watch things happen on the television while checking social media. Why not get out and support the popular organizations? The key to winning this is for more than the organized left to be involved. For the unorganized to be incorporated, and for these sectors to add their new demands to those of the existing Left.

The People’s Strike offers an opportunity to build a broad, democratic front, that incorporates the various tendencies and currents of the Left. It’s not a credible position to stick only to the tiny sectors of the already-organized left. The stronger the Left is, the better position it will be in to negotiate the terms of a broad left that will have to include some social-democratic layers. But if we’re strong we will be able to determine the program, determine the list of candidates and so on.

Thus far, the Left has lacked a strategy to incorporate existing feminist organizations, which because of their own internal limitations and the closed character of the Left itself have felt excluded. The Left has failed to relate to various citizen’s groups that don’t feel represented by the Left’s programs, but which are willing to mobilize in different forms. Isolated intellectual layers in the world of the NGOs also lack organic links, both to the Left and to social movements. These are some of the clear limits of the Left to date.

But what does this imply? It implies that we should be active in the construction of something new, that we should be involved in what’s unfolding tomorrow. Our answer shouldn’t be that we’re not going to be involved because the Right will have a presence in the streets, or because the platforms of the existing left or the various social organizations involved aren’t pure.

This kind of moralistic approach to politics is a product precisely of Correísmo, a signal of its successes. There are limitations to the events of tomorrow, but if you are on the Left and you don’t get involved, you’re lending passive support to this administration. It’s a complex moment, and it’s necessary to intervene politically.

Jeffery R. Webber

Anything else you would like to add?

Alejandra Santillana Ortíz

One thing we haven’t discussed is the support from the international left that this government has received. I think that cracks are now beginning to appear in this image of the Correa government abroad. People are starting to ask questions. What is this march about?

The accusation by the government that this march is trying to overthrow Correa is pure alarmism. Sections of the Right are probably thinking about this. The Left understands that what they need to do in this moment is to position themselves, to recover the political initiative.

The government is receiving ideological support from international organizations like Intellectuals in Defense of Humanity, including prominent Latin American left figures such as Marta Harnecker and Atilio Borón. The idea they have is to come out consistently in favor of progressive Latin American government because of the threat of imperialism. And it’s true that there is external financing directed to the domestic Ecuadorian right. I don’t doubt this whatsoever.

But it’s myopic to believe that the dynamics of Ecuador are determined by this financing, and that popular social organizations in this country are merely puppets of some external force, without their own capacities to enter into political struggles.

I think there is still important work to be done in terms of unveiling what kind of government Correa represents. Let’s do an analysis. What has Correa done to build the Union of South American Nations (UNASUR)? What were the proposals of this government towards consolidating the Bank of the South or the Bolivarian Alliance for the Peoples of Our America (ALBA)? This government has contributed very little to building Latin American unity, apart from using the phrase “Latin American unity.”

Let’s have a look at what’s happening in the three countries of the ostensibly radical left — Bolivia, Ecuador, and Venezuela — in all of their complex reality. What are the limits of these processes?

In Bolivia, the new alliances between the Morales regime and capital are evident to anyone wanting to see. How is Morales relating to social movements? Repressing indigenous organizations like CONAMAQ, fomenting splits in the Pact of Unity of social movements. In Ecuador, similar things are happening. In Venezuela, there is a different context, but clearly there is a post-Chávez crisis. The country’s economy remains profoundly capitalist, completely dependent on oil, with a right recovering its capacities and capitalizing on discontent under the government of Nicolás Maduro.

In all three countries we can see that these are processes that have their limits, beyond which they have not been able to leap. And the current moment is one of regression, one of conservative restorations in political forms — although Venezuela is not in a comparable situation to Bolivia and Ecuador on this question.

In the latter two cases, they are clearly projects of capitalist modernization, and increasingly conservative and authoritarian in their style of politics. Some time has passed since Latin America was a space of autonomous social movements.

We now need to discuss what we should do in front of this new situation, including the global crisis of capitalism, which while generated in the North will transfer its costs onto us. We’ve seen how this works in Greece, in relation to Germany. We can also see Chinese imperialism advancing in various ways.

The Ecuadorian government is situated in this larger context, and in the current scenario is likely to begin to run out of money. And to whom is it likely to transfer the costs of austerity and from whom will it recover its lost finances? The sectors that have historically been targeted by the state in such situation — the popular sectors, through cuts to public spending, and the generation of new inequalities.

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Alejandra Santillana Ortíz is the executive director of the Institute of Ecuadorian Studies in Quito, Ecuador.

Jeffery R. Webber is presently a senior lecturer of international political economy at Goldsmiths, University of London. He will take up a new position in the Department of Politics at York University, Toronto in January 2020. His latest book is The Last Day of Oppression, and the First Day of the Same: The Politics and Economics of the New Latin American Left. He is presently at work on The Latin American Crucible: Politics and Power in the New Era, under contract with Verso.

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