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Election Protests May Give New Life To Ecuador’s Dormant Social Movements

Last Sunday Ecuador’s ruling party won another presidential election, though the opposition alleged fraud almost immediately. Election night witnessed opposition protests throughout the country. It was a predictable event. It was going to a very close election and the political climate has become so toxic that both sides seemed convinced if they lost it would be because the election was stolen.

Ecuador used to have frequent, large scale protests and social movements often overthrew the government. I thought that Ecuador was gone. I thought the protests would fizzle out. I was wrong. The protests have grown, and become more militant. They first one I saw felt like a rally for the opposition candidate, Lasso, who has refused to accept the result and still claims victory. Lasso is a former banker and is politically on the right. Middle-class families waved his campaign flags and chanted things like, “Lasso, president!,” or “We demand a recount!” They crowded around the park but let cars pass, many of which honked in support. The most recent protest I went to marched through the city, took the main bridge then lit bonfires on the Pan-American highway, completely shutting down rush-hour traffic. There were still plenty of those families waving flags for Lasso, but there were also students from the local communist movement and quite a few indigenous. They chanted things like “Correa [the current president] must go!” and “All politicians out!” When a Lasso supporter with a megaphone, who seemed to fancy himself the protest leader tried to lead the march off the highway and back into the city many in the crowd strongly objected. The protest continued blockading the highway.

I didn’t support either of the candidates in the election. The one from the left, Lenin, is soft-spoken and has many ideas I agree with. But he is very closely tied to the current administration which has moved the country towards authoritarianism and has effectively crushed any public dissent. Lenin was once vice president under Correa and he choose the current vice president as his running mate. Latacunga, my current home, is one of Ecuador’s most politically radical cities. It is a stronghold of the nation’s Marxist party and also one of the centers of the indigenous movement. All things considered it should have strongly supported the candidate on the left, but Lenin lost in a landslide here.

I don’t want to see Lasso installed as president, nor do I want the current ruling party to continue to steer Ecuador towards a dictatorship but perhaps there would be hope beyond those two options. What I see a glimmer of, and what I’m hoping for, is a resurgence of the once powerful social movements. They helped get Correa elected over a decade ago then pushed through his ideas on the streets in the first months when he had almost zero traditional political support. He was the candidate of the social movements. And then he crushed them. The public university in Latacunga is the only one in the country that has not yet be crushed or co-opted. It’s still run by Marxists rather than the ‘official’ union Correa’s government created and directs. Protest is no longer as much a part of the culture. People are much more apprehensive about protesting then they were before Correa. They fear arrest and irrelevance.

It’s hard for me to imagine the ruling party, which has an iron grip on all centers of political power in the nation, will give in to this wave of protest, but my hope is that after a decade in decline social movements can once more become a force that cannot be ignored in this nation.

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