In a stunningly rapid turn of events, Ecuador has risen up against the neoliberal government of President Moreno, and the march on their capital city of Quito should serve as a prime example for people in Aotearoa looking for a political path forward.
The rise of President Lenin Moreno echoes with similar stories across the world. A citizenry elects an administration with centre-left rhetoric, promising a more humane style of government concerned with the welfare and wellbeing of the people. The new candidates promise the world during the election, and in the immediate aftermath look as if they might even make good on some of those assurances.
After the elections have ended these Governments slide back into business-as-usual politics and neoliberal penny-pinching. In the case of President Moreno, soon after the elections were won, a ‘Productive Development Act’ was passed which enshrined a total austerity policy, reducing public spending, liberalising trade, and destroying unions. Tax-evading multinationals were invited back into the country and granted amnesty for their past fraud. International systems of dispute arbitration, which generally favour large companies, were introduced in direct violation of Ecuador’s constitution.
This wholesale sellout of the Ecuadorian people mirrors the actions of ‘centre-left’ governments around the world, which promise to stand up against international financial institutions only to fold and impose harsh austerity measures of their own. Like many, Moreno tried to pin the blame on the spending of his predecessor, President Correa, a move eerily similar to the introduction of neoliberal austerity in Aotearoa in the 1980s, when Labour’s ‘Rogernomics’ was blamed on the erratic spending of Muldoon.
Earlier this year, Moreno deepened his betrayal of the Ecuadorian people, taking out a further $10 billion in loans from the International Monetary Fund and World Bank, and cosying up to US Imperialism in the hope of more aid. These new massive loans, along with a further $4.2 billion last month, came with consequences, necessitating a withdrawal of fuel subsidies which helped many rural families reach the cities for work and basic services.
Ecuador’s transport union was the first to take action, with a large strike on Thursday which crippled the flow of capital around the country. By Saturday, large groups of students, rural workers, and indigenous activists had taken to the streets. The protests took on a distinctly indigenous character reminiscent of other movements across Latin America, collectively termed “indigenismo,” that seek to combine socialism, indigenous identity, and anti-imperialism.
On Sunday the protests continued despite repression, with one protester being run over by a car and military and police forces attempting to halt the marches. Many officers refused to carry out the suppression of the protestors, instead joining the march towards the capital.
Attempts to blame other movements for socialism and liberation in Latin America proved fruitless. The US-backed Governments of Argentina, Brazil, Colombia, El Salvador, Guatemala, Paraguay and Peru all proclaimed support for Moreno, as did the widely discredited self-proclaimed president of Venezuela, Juan Guaidó. The socialist governments of Bolivia and Venezuela support the protests despite the increasing sanctions being heaped on them in the last few weeks. Domestic support for the protests even includes Moreno’s fellow party member and predecessor President Correa, who said “Please, Moreno, quit.”
While the protests initially seem to have been focused on reversing the latest austerity measures, Moreno has treated the recent march on the capital as an existential threat. In an address on Monday he denounced the protesters as vandals and lawbreakers, and declared an abrupt change of capital to the coastal city of Guayaquil. Moreno has gathered senior police and military figures around him, even as the lower ranks disobey orders and his own party members desert him.
It would be naive of us to suggest that lessons from Ecuador are directly applicable to Aotearoa. Latin America occupies a different position in the global supply chain, and has a far greater history of socialist liberation struggles and interventions from imperialist powers. Still, there are some similarities between us; neoliberal austerity politics has utterly failed us, there is growing dissatisfaction with the empty promises of the centre-left, an indigenous decolonial movement is in the air, and regressive fuel taxes are likely to spread. People in Aotearoa who are sick of neoliberal politics would do well to look towards the last week in Ecuador for inspiration. In just one week, they have experienced more profound political change than we have in decades.