A week after massive police protests over salary restructuring turned into a violent clash with the president, the Ecuadorian government has extended a state of emergency decree until Friday and has begun interrogating police and junior military officials who participated in the uprising.
Last Thrusday, 30th September, roughly 800 police officers staged protests, blockaded highways and, with the help of junior air force officers, shut down the Mariscal Sucre International Airport in Quito. The police were incensed over President Rafael Correa’s passage of the contentious Public Service Act, a bill aimed at restructuring public sector salaries.
The law, which went into effect earlier this week, will slash military and police bonuses for promotions and also extend the required time limit between promotions.
The government has defended the measure by stating that it will establish more equal pay through out the organisations. Furthermore, the government has emphasized that under President Correa police salaries have nearly doubled from US$700 a month in 2007 to US$1,200 today. The current salary is twice the national average wage.
In Quito, hundreds of insurrectionist officers protested at the main police barracks.
In what some observers have called an ill-advised provocation, President Correa entered the barracks and addressed the officers by tearing at his shirt and screaming, “If you want to kill the president, here he is! Kill me if you want to! Kill me if you are brave enough!”
A canister of tear gas was hurled at Correa and exploded near his face. He was escorted out of the barracks while limping and trying to fit a gas mask over his head.
After being taken to a nearby hospital for treatment, the hospital was surrounded with insurgent police. The government declared a state of emergency that placed the military in charge of public order, suspended civil liberties and allowed for soldiers to conduct searches without warrants.
While Correa was besieged in the hospital, schools and most businesses in the capital closed. Incidents of looting at banks and supermarkets were reported in both the capital and the city of Guayaquil.
Hundreds of Correa’s supporters gathered outside of the hospital and in front of the National Assembly, which was also encircled by mutinous police. Clashes broke out between supporters and police, and health minister David Chiríboga has reported that eight people were killed and 193 injured in unrest across the country.
President Correa was trapped in the hospital for 11 hours until a special army task force stormed the hospital and freed him. The Red Cross reports that two police officers died during the raid. One of Correa’s bodyguards was also killed during the operation. He was shot during a volley of gunfire that rained down on the vehicle carrying Correa from the hospital.
Though the commander of Ecuador’s armed forces, General Ernesto González, had declared the military’s loyalty to Correa, during the prolonged stand off at the hospital the police insurrection began to distinctly resemble a coup d’état.
In seeming support of the theory, Ecuadorian news agency, Andes, has since published an unverified police radio transmission during which an order to kill Correa is given. A voice on the transmission says: “Kill Correa and finish this. Kill Correa and the protest will end.” President Correa has cited the transmission as evidence that there was an attempted coup d’état.
The day after the uprising police chief Freddy Martínez assumed responsibility for the revolt and resigned from his post. He said of his decision: “A commander shown such lack of respect by his subordinates can not stay in charge.”
The state of emergency decree calls for the the armed forces to collaborate with the national police to maintain security and investigate conspiracy within the security forces.
On Wednesday, 6th October, interior minister Gustavo Jalkh announced the arrest of 46 police officers accused of participating in the insurrection. President Correa has vowed to purge the police force of subversive officers. During a nationally broadcast TV and radio address Correa said that there would be, “no pardon or forgiveness” for those officers who rebelled.
He said, “An investigation will show who were the few bad elements in the police, probably manipulated by political leaders…but nothing justifies the violent extremes they went to.”
President Correa has called for calm by reminding citizens that the rebellious officers constitute a small minority of the national police force. Around 800 officers are believed to have taken part in the uprising, out of a force of over 42,000. “We can not blame the institution for a group of officers who have denigrated their position”, said the president.
Correa has been unequivocal in referring to the events as an attempted coup d’état. The president has claimed that the uprising was fomented by opposition political leaders and has repeatedly pointed to former president Lucio Gutiérrez in particular. At a press conference this week, during which Correa called for caution of future unrest, he asserted, “Clearly Gutiérrez and the Patiriotic Society Party (PSP) are behind this.”
Gutiérrez played an important role in a rebellion in 2000 that overthrew then president Jamil Mahuad. In 2005 Gutiérrez was himself overthrown. He lost to Correa in the 2009 presidential race. Gutiérrez has denied the accusations and said that Correa has “magnified” the police protest in order to “hide the corruption in his government.”
As the investigations of the uprising get under way security and stability remain delicate in Ecuador. Despite the atmosphere of unease that has gripped Quito since last Thursday, most of daily life has returned to normal. Schools, businesses and the international airport have been open all week.
Army troops and armoured vehicles, however, will continue to patrol the streets of the capital at least until Friday, when the state of emergency will either be extended or lifted.
Lead image: Ecuadorians come out in support of President Rafael Correa by Presidencia de la República del Ecuador