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The rebellion of The Outlaws
5/5/2005
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Gutiérrez fell due to the pressure of popular protests.

An improvised urban movement in the Ecuadorean capital which dubbed itself "The Outlaws" accomplished what neither political parties nor the indigenous movement could. Beginning on April 13, "The Outlaws" held massive and spontaneous protests that ended a week later with the ouster of then-President Lucio Gutiérrez.

Two major protests in January and February in Guayaquil and Quito, called by mayors Jaime Nebot and Paco Moncayo respectively failed to make much impact as they were not in sync with the popular demand to remove the president. Nebot demanded more security in Guayaquil while Moncayo called for Gutiérrez to rectify errors.

The indigenous movement, meanwhile, had also failed in its attempt to remove Gutiérrez with nationwide protests, since the fragmentation of its membership and the lack of confidence in its leaders, especially those who have turned to party politics, failed to mobilize the masses.

The Explosion

Opposition politicians suffered a spectacular defeat when Presidente of the Supreme Court (CSJ) Guillermo Castro issued a resolution anulling the corruption charges against former President Abdalá Bucaram (1996-97) and permitting his return to Ecuador.

"It was a slap in Quito’s face," said analyst Pablo Dávalos, recalling that Quito residents backed the protest that sparked Bucaram’s fall in January 1997.

Bucaram’s return and the negotiations of legislators who wanted to sack the CSJ, naming a new body with judges allied to their political groups, provoked the growing popular repudiation of politicians in the capital.

Journalist Félix Narváez’s comment on the ECUAVISA news program on April 7 that "the problem is the divvying up of the judges [among the political parties]," sowed the first expressions of discontent against the Ecuadorian political class.

Nebot’s next call for a march, made on April 13 and likewise subject to the success of the negotiations in Congress, also failed to change the status quo. Gutiérrez predicted victory: "People want to work and back their president," he said.

That afternoon, Radio La Luna, a small community radio station that kept open its microphones to comments from the public, received a call: "I do not back the dictator Gutiérrez. I did not go to the march because I had to work. I ask that a march be organized after work," a woman’s voice said.

The next call firmed up the proposal: "That (the march) take place after the evening meal, at 9 at night." Avenida de Los Shyris, where the armed forces carry out their military marches, was proposed as the site of the protest.

No one could have predicted the size of the march nor the impact it would have. That same afternoon the listeners of Radio La Luna made clear the nature of this protest: "That it take place without politicians."

The Outlaws

Some 5,000 people went to Avenida de Los Shyris, while other groups gathered in streets and parks in several Quito neighborhoods. Lacking a clear orientation, some decided to go to the CSJ and others to the Congress but they were repelled with force by the National Police. At midnight, a hundred demonstrators decided to protest in front of the president’s home.

The next day Gutiérrez said: "A small group of outlaws showed up to disturb my family’s peace."

On April 14, thousands of Quiteños, as Quito residents are called, carried signs saying "I am also an outlaw." In Radio La Luna, listeners began to call identifying themselves: "I am an outlaw with identification card number...," and then made their comment.

"The popular sentiment took on an identity, making an irony of Gutiérrez’s arrogance and transforming this negative vocabulary into an element of unity. Among the outlaws, there was no room for politicians," said Paco Velasco, director of Radio La Luna.

"The Outlaws" scheduled a march on April 19 with the slogan "Lucio out, everyone out." More than 100,000 people marched to the Government Palace.

The National Police allowed them to go to Congress and there they were ambushed; thousands of tear gas bombs asphyxiated 160 people, one of whom died: Chilean photographer and videomaker Julio García, who worked for the Populorum Progressio Ecuadoran Fund (FEPP).

An air of change

Congress, pressured by mass protests, succeeded in breaking Gutiérrez´s precarious majority and sacked him. After that, the legislature named Vice Presidente Alfredo Palacio as the new president.

Palacio assumed office without political allies because he does not belong to any party. "I am not a politician, I decided to participate in the elections because they handed me a government program that coincided with what I think, but later the program was betrayed," Palacio said.

Palacio’s first decisions have raised concern among US authorities and in international financial circles. His Ministers of Government, Mauricio Gándara, and Economy, Rafael Correa, are in favor of not making foreign debt payments a priority and recovering national sovereignty, eroded because Gutiérrez unconditionally subordinated the country to US interests.

"Palacio appears to be taking a new course in economic and foreign policy and for this his biggest ally will be social protests," said Dávalos. It is still too early, however, to know if this new nationalistic view will succeed in being consolidated.


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President Alfredo Palacio (Photo: www.presidencia.gov.ec)
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