While we hustle to organize humble household kitchens to pitch in to the big gathering spaces and provide for everyone — Indigenous people, women, men, kids — who have poured into Quito from all around the country, things keep happening.
We stand together with others where there is conflict, we protest and nurture neighborhood resistance, then go back to cook and supply what we can of all that is needed: some lunch, some clothing, alcohol, medicine…
Every minute of these days is an explosion, explosion in the cities and in the country. An explosion of possibilities, of pain and of outrage.
A march to the Carondelet, the executive palace, today ghostly amid clouds of tear gas. Occupation of the National Assembly, just for a moment, then eviction. News of people injured, arrested, dead; calls for food and blankets; and just now, a curfew from 8pm to 5am in parts of the city.
The government has moved to Guayaquil, the leaders of the opposition throw out overblown messages to disorient: calls for order against looting and justification for the state of exception, together with lukewarm criticism: the voice of those that want to be well-placed on the day after. Correaism suddenly starts singing protest songs again.
The government upholds its story about security, of vandalism and looting to discredit the protests in a now openly dictatorial tone. Like parrots, the media follow along. They appeal to the desire for law and order held by those who know perfectly well that these economic measures (el paquetazo) are a stab in the back, but whose fear of an uprising grows as the state’s violence intensifies. Civility and the idea of “proper protest” spread through the media. It isn’t right to cancel classes, to not be able to go to work, to be left without food, says someone in the social networks, while admitting that it is also not right to impose structural adjustment, or to make those who have the least pay for the crisis.
Do we really have to repeat this? Do we really need to point out the imbalance of power between the state and the discontented people?
Violence, that is the absolutely disproportionate use of force, is on their side. Yes, on their side. On the side of those who have mobilized the Army, have brought out the tanks and are beginning to shoot with live ammunition. Minister Jarrín, at the head of the Armed Forces, has made it very clear: the Army is ready for war.
We have seen terrifying images these days: a swarm of motorcycles running people down right by the Caja de Seguro in Quito; young people thrown off a bridge, one of them has already died; a companion that was just killed in the Arbolito Square in a brutal attack on Indigenous women carrying children, people trying to rest, and others helping with basic supplies and care. Outside of Quito Indigenous strength can be felt, the strength of the countryside, but even so the military is intensifying its response to the barricading of roads, started by the transportation sector and continued now by farmers and communities.
We see images that make clear the profound imbalance. Just yesterday, the image of the president, surrounded by officers in stern navy, emulating a military junta.
After his message, one sort-of smiling Minister after another driveling bunk: that the elimination of the subsidy on diesel is a great measure to combat climate change and against smuggling at the borders, or that they are terribly worried about supporting agricultural production, or that the increase of the development voucher will offset the increase in household expenses, or that the Indigenous brothers and sisters are folks they have been in dialogue with, but that some sectors are the trouble-makers.
We have also seen images of tremendous community strength and inspiration: whole communities marching and barricading the country in opposition not only to the paquetazo but to so much more: the extension of an extractive, predatory, racist, sexist model that favors accumulation and deepens debt, which then later demands that “we all” tighten our belts. That means those who contribute to the state through their wages, those who just make ends meet by selling in the street markets, those who barely scrape by on small farms, and those who sustain others every day through domestic and care work.
It is our turn now to experience in the flesh what the military has learned in its recent years of training. People say: when President Lucio Gutiérrez fell the police didn’t act like this, it was different, they weren’t so violent, they’ve changed their strategy. In the years of President Correa a lot of resources were devoted to the armed forces. And it shows.
Despite their fears and their concern, people keep protesting. Yesterday there were hundreds of us marching to San Blas, an iconic place of protest in the heart of the old city, awaiting the arrival of Indigenous people who were marching in from different communities and communes all over the country. We went in groups, sheltering each other in our fragility, and we got as far as fear permitted, near those that were in the front lines, a little bit back. We moved with the strange sense of approaching a house of government that no longer was: it was already empty after the government’s removal to Guayaquil. A message circulated on the social networks, “el que se fue de Quito perdió su banquito” (Who from Quito fled lost their seat).
As always, the informal grassroots economy, the one that flourishes when neoliberalism intensifies, was functioning in the rear guard among the demonstrators, reminding us where we come from and where we are going with these economic measures. Black kerchiefs to cover our faces, Ecuadorian flags, masks and cigarettes to offset the tear gas, whistles and all kinds of protest merchandise.
The security and vandalism argument has somewhat displaced the argument about slackers. Yesterday, that’s what we were to the president: slackers. But today we’re looters, agitators, and —just in case— Correa partisans, sent by Venezuela, putschists every one of us.
That argument worked together with the “there was no choice” argument: no alternative. Learned by the whip. If you have to pay the foreign debt, which both this government and the previous one have swollen, then there’s no choice but accept el paquetazo, the IMF, the loss of sovereignty.
End to the fuel subsidy, with the consequent rise in price of all basic products, unpaid female work to sustain families, measures to flexibilize labor standards, lay-offs, drops in salaries, encouraging tax evasion and capital flight, the establishment of privatized pension plans and support for imports. A complete package that has been applied again and again with disastrous results for the population, especially for women and the poorest sectors. If the fuel subsidy was good for anything, it was for making Ecuadorian production sustainable, but greed both inside and outside the country is too powerful, and the state too dense when it comes to providing for people.
So we glimpse the big bad state, and it grins, showing all its gleaming artillery.
As I write this, tear gas bombs are falling on the House of Culture, where hundreds of Indigenous people who come in from the provinces are sheltered, where just an hour ago they were asking for help with childcare. They have burst in to evict them on this cold October night, and the sirens are wailing.
Friends that live nearby watch from their windows, and describe it in trembling voices: We’ve never seen anything like this, never. Women are crying for their husbands, women searching for their children. We need a humanitarian corridor to let people get out.
So, friends, things are terrible. Rights have been suspended, a state of exception has been established and confirmed by the Constitutional Court, the armed forces have been authorized to railroad the people, freedom of expression has been limited, and our Indigenous companions, exemplars of dignity, have been attacked as persons and communities in resistance, democracy suspended.
Some are trapped in our homes with our movement restricted, others trapped in the midst of deadly fire. Whatever support those of us nearby could provide — food, shelter, medicine — we now need intense international pressure to stop the violence of a state that disrespects the most basic rights, disparaging those that protest as slackers, vandals and thieves. We must value the life around us, the expressions of mutual support and rising discontent, not only against el paquetazo but against a despicable government.
We need all the force of accompaniment, we need all the rage of the truth.
This article was first published in Spanish by El Diario.
Cristina Vega Solís is a professor in the Department of Sociology and Gender Studies at FLACSO Ecuador.