Independent journalist, writer and researcher Denis Rogatyuk joined Radio Sputnik’s By Any Means Necessary Friday to discuss how the social unrest in Ecuador is reminiscent of protests in other Latin American nations, namely Argentina, and could alienate Ecuadorian President Lenin Moreno’s right-wing allies.
“Reason number one [for the protests] … is the decision by the Moreno government to cut down the fuel subsidies in the country, which effectively meant that the vast majority of petrol [prices] would have gone up by more than 123%,” Rogatyuk told hosts Eugene Puryear and Sean Blackmon.
“In the context of Latin America, there has also been an economic policy that we have seen with countries and governments right across the whole continent in the cases of Venezuela, Brazil, Peru, Argentina. In each of those instances, the fuel subsidies have traditionally been part of the economic package of various governments, whether they be right-wing or left-wing, as a measure of allowing more or less affordable fuel prices for the working class. However, this decision by Moreno government has basically sparked off this mass wave of protests happening in the last week, particularly,” Rogatyuk explained.
Moreno has claimed that Ecuador can no longer afford the subsidies, which, if cut, could help the country save some $2.27 billion a year. The cuts were also part of the Ecuadorian government's deal with the International Monetary Fund (IMF) to become eligible for a $4.2 billion loan, Sputnik reported. In addition to cutting subsidies, Moreno’s government has a wider plan to lay off employees from state-owned companies and privatize its state-owned telecommunications provider, CNT, as part of its austerity measures.
Moreno declared a state of emergency in the country on Thursday after 19 protesters were arrested for blocking traffic and burning tires. By late Thursday, 275 people had been arrested and 28 police officers hurt, the Interior Ministry said.
“The protest that took place two days ago in the capital of Quito, where, after declaring the state of emergency, the Moreno government didn’t just send in the police but also started sending the military into the capital city where we saw a mass demonstration in the center actually [force the] military to retreat. This has been one particular highlight of the protest. The second one has been the strike by the transporters’ union, which also includes taxi drivers,” Rogatyuk explained.
“The neoliberal government of Moreno, it’s not friends of the workers; it’s not friends of the indigenous, certainly. And it’s just fulfilling the demands of the IMF that imposed specific instructions on him and on the economy to completely embrace the policies of the free market,” Rogatyuk added.
Despite the mass protests, the Moreno government's fate is unclear, according to Rogatyuk.
“At this moment, it’s hard to say just how vulnerable his government is. First of all, it’s because Moreno’s government has faced a number of crises this year, starting with the … scandal where it was discovered Moreno has hidden bank accounts in Panama where he deposited money on behalf of … several construction companies,” Rogatyuk explained. “The second one has been the crisis in May, June this year, where his position was threatened by the Council for Citizen Participation.”
“This particular crisis that we are seeing right now - if you ask me, ‘Will it be enough to topple his government and initiate a procedure toward new elections?' I would say that is certainly a possibility, because, like I said, we’ve seen these types of mass protests over fuel subsidies emerge before, not just in Ecuador but all throughout Latin America,” he continued.
“In the case of Moreno, I believe what could really happen is that some of his main right-wing allies could potentially abandon him, abandon supporting his government and programs and effectively back the call for new elections. The quickest legal way to do this would be for the National Assembly of Ecuador to pass a vote of no confidence in Moreno and initiate a pathway to new elections, but that would require a two-thirds majority in the Assembly,” Rogatyuk said.
“Really, what we are seeing here in Ecuador is kind of effectively a repetition of what was taking place in the early 2000s” in Argentina, in which a neoliberal government “came in with a sort of promises not to implement austerity measures, not to privatize everything and doing the exact opposite of that, and as a result there was a mass movement and a likely return of the old progressive politics and the old progressive leaders,” he added.