On the morning of Thursday, September 30, 2010, the city of Quito, capital of Ecuador, awoke in chaos. Groups of rebellious, armed police had taken over several areas of the city, disrupting transit, burning tires and violently protesting what they alleged was an unfair law set to cut their wages.
In an attempt to quell the situation, President Rafael Correa, immediately decided in-person dialogue would be the best way to explain to the insubordinate and rioting police officers that the law they opposed was actually going to improve their wages, benefits and overall job security.
Around 9:30am, Correa informed his entourage he would be going to the police Regiment Quito Number One to talk to the officers. Upon his arrival, police were yelling and shouting at him, many wearing hoods and gasmasks covering their faces. The Ecuadoran President opted to grap a microphone and address the angry crowd, trying to explain the benefits of the new law to them while also pointing out that clearly, they were being deceived and manipulated by interested forces seeking to desestabilize the country and his government.
The police wouldn’t listen to reason. They continued to demand Correa retract the law, while, weapons drawn, they fired tear gas at him and threw rocks and other hard items towards him and his entourage. Realizing no dialogue was possible under the circumstances, Correa defiantly exclaimed that he would not bow down to such pressure through violence and force. His government would stand by the law. “Kill me if you want, but I will not be forced to act through violence”, he declared before the crowd of armed, enraged police.
Some took his challenge seriously. As his security team tried to escort him from the scene, President Correa was hit and attacked by several police officers and items hurled from the angry crowd. A tear gas bomb almost grazed his head, while the mob around him tried to kick him in his recently-operated knee, because of which he was still walking with a cane. Official recordings later revealed that during those tense and dangerous moments, police officers called out to “kill him” on their radios. “Kill the President”, “Kill Correa”, “He won’t get out alive today”, ordered the higher-ranking officers on the internal police patrol radios.
“Kill them all, open fire, shoot them, ambush them, but don’t let that bastard leave”, said police over the radios, referring to the President and the team of ministers and secret service that accompanied him. “Kill that ‘s.o.b’ Correa”, they shouted, with clear intention to assassinate the head of state.
The President’s people barreled through the crowd, carrying him out while pushing back the violent police with force. Because of the toxic inhalation of gases during the incident, President Correa was taken to the nearby military hospital. Once inside, military and police forces involved in the rebellion wouldn’t let him leave.
“You’re not leaving here until you sign”, they ordered their Commander in Chief, indicating he sign a paper retracting the law they disliked. But Ecuador’s head of state held his position. “Through force, nothing. Through dialogue, everything”, he declared.
Days after, President Correa reflected on that moment. “I sincerely believed I wasn’t going to get out alive. I felt sorry for my family. More than fear, I felt serenity and sadness that we had arrived to this point”, he confessed before international media during a press conference after the whole ordeal ended.
As the President was held hostage in the hospital, military forces shut down Quito’s air force base and halted all flights from the international airport. The coup was beginning to take shape.
As thousands of Correa’s supporters filled the streets to protest the coup, they were met by police violence and repression. Security forces also impeded pro-Correa parliament members from accessing the National Assembly. Hours later, political groups supporting the coup violently forced their way into Ecuador’s state television station, Ecuador TV, to air their intentions and accuse President Correa of provoking the national crisis.
In Guayaquil, looting and rioting was rampant, and insubordinate police also joined the rebellion. Several anti-Correa organizations began to emit declarations calling for President Correa’s resignation and to dissolve his government and parliament. Some of these organizations, such as the indigenous coalition Pachakutik, have members and sectors that receive funding from US agencies, including USAID, National Endowment for Democracy (NED) and the National Democratic Institute (NDI).
During an interview on CNN from Brazil, former president and coup-leader Lucio Gutierrez called for President Correa’s resignation and blamed him for the situation in the country. Hours before, Correa had implicated Gutierrez in the coup attempt underway. “I reject the accusations made by President Correa and deny that a coup attempt is taking place. It’s just a police protest and a demonstration of the terrible economic policies of Correa in Ecuador”, said Gutierrez, adding, “This could be a self-imposed coup, like Hugo Chavez did, many international media are doubting he was kidnapped”. (Note: A coup was executed against Venezuelan President Chavez in April 2002 by an opposition coalition of dissident military officers, business leaders, political groups and private media, supported by the Bush administration. It failed after 48 hours, though Chavez was held hostage by coup forces until he was rescued by loyal military officers).
Gutierrez himself was ousted by popular rebellion and imprisoned for corruption just two years after taking office in 2003. Since then, he has run against Correa in the presidential elections. Last year he lost to Correa’s 55% landslide victory, taking only 28% of the vote.
After the coup on Thursday, President Correa reiterated his claim that Gutierrez was one of the forces behind the destabilization attempt. “Clearly Patriotic Society (Gutierrez’s party) and the Gutierrez brothers are behind this”. The Ecuadoran head of state also blamed right-wing US groups for supporting the coup. “Just like in Honduras, opposition groups in Ecuador receive funding from ‘right-wing’ organizations in the United States”, he declared.
USAID, NED, NDI and other US agencies operate multimillion-dollar programs in Ecuador to fund and train political parties, organizations and programs that promote US agenda throughout the country. During both the 2002 coup in Venezuela against President Hugo Chavez and the 2009 coup against Honduran President Manuel Zelaya, groups perpetuating the destabilization received US funding and support.
After nearly eight hours held hostage by violent police forces, President Correa was rescued in a late night operation by Special Forces. The heavily armed camaflouged military forces raided the hospital, engaging in dangerous cross-fire with police involved in the coup. The President was secured and taken out in a wheelchair, while the bullet fire continued. His car was hit several times with bullets, in a clear attempt to assassinate him.
At least ten people were killed and over 200 injured during the coup attempt.
Afterward, President Correa was received at the Presidential Palace by hundreds of supporters who cheered him on, expressing their indignation at the events of the day, vowing to “radicalize” their “citizen’s revolution”, as Correa’s policies are termed in Ecuador.
Throughout the day, regional leaders expressed their condemnation of the coup attempt and reiterated absolute support for President Correa. Near midnight, South American heads of state from Bolivia, Colombia, Uruguay, Peru and Venezuela gathered in Argentina for an emergency UNASUR meeting to back Correa and seek solutions to the crisis. They embraced with relief as the images of Correa’s rescue were broadcast across the continent on Telesur, Latin America’s television station.
The coup had been stopped, but the forces behind it still remain active. Ecuador imposed a state of emergency last Thursday, which was extended this week through Friday. As the dust settles on the attempted coup, the parties and actors involved become more visible.
US-funded organizations, big business interests, police and military trained at the US School of the Americas, Cold War relics from US agencies, including Norman A. Bailey, veteran intelligence specialist working closely with opposition groups, and politicians such as Lucio Gutierrez, a strong Bush-ally, were all involved in trying to overthrow Rafael Correa’s government. They failed this time around, but the threat remains. Ecuador hasn’t seen its last coup d’etat.