Ecuador is currently facing a wave of demonstrations throughout the country's main cities, with both opposition activists and government supporters taking to the streets.
Some of the demonstrations have ended in opposition led violence. Wednesday night was particularly heated, as protesters encircled government supporters and began throwing bottles into the crowd, striking several people including a former government minister. In a separate incident, opposition militants broke into the headquarters of the governing party PAIS Alliance offices and assaulted staff.
But who are behind these protests and what is their goal?
The demonstrations were initially sparked by opposition activists against two proposed laws, one that would tax inheritances and another that would tax capital gains on illegitimate land speculation.
As President Rafael Correa has explained, 90 percent of Ecuador's largest companies are held by two percent of the population, and usually ownership over these highly profitable corporations is inherited.
Opposition lawmakers, media, activists and businessmen alike, repeatedly argue that both taxes will negatively affect the middle and working classes. Yet these new progressive taxes only hit the wealthiest hardest 2 percent of the population, with the bill proposing a 47.5 percent tax on inheritances from US$849,600 dollars up.
Symbolically, the opposition protests have focused on Shyris Avenue, in the heart of Quito's commercial district, targeting the building of the governing PAIS Alliance party.
Whatever the initial justification, the demonstrations soon clearly began to call for the “ousting” of President Correa who they describe as a “dictator.” Protesters adopted a black flag, to symbolize their mourning over the supposed “death of democracy.”
This has been the slogan of frustrated opposition groups for years now, emerging soon after President Correa took office in 2007 and throughout the nine electoral victories for Correa and his alliance of supporters.
Given their repeated electoral defeats, Ecuador’s right-wing politicians are seeking to provoke and take advantage of the current situation to try to boost their faded popularity.
Many of them played an important role during tainted past governments. Others presented themselves in the last elections as a “new option” from the right.
Below we look at some of the leaders of the opposition who are opposing the tax and calling right-wing demonstrators to the streets:
The main backer of the protests has been banker and opposition presidential candidate Guillermo Lasso, and his CREO party. Lasso received 23 percent of the vote at the 2010 elections, 30 percentage points behind Correa who won in the first round.
Lasso has much to gain from the overturning of the inheritance laws and the government. He is reported to earn US$70,000 per month, the equivalent of around 16 years of an average Ecuadorean worker's salary.
So it may come as no surprise that after violence broke out in Shyris Avenue, the former presidential candidate Lasso called upon supporters and opposition activist to take the streets of Guayaquil Friday to continue the mobilizations.
Lasso has a checkered past, linked to some of the most dramatic and negative moments in Ecuador’s recent history.
He was Economy Minister for a period during the government of Jamil Mahuad (1998-2000), who was responsible for the banking crisis and subsequent economic collapse, caused by a massive fraud scheme by Ecuador's biggest banks.
That crisis was one of the most profound that Latin America has seen, bankrupting huge sectors of the society overnight and stirring huge economic, social and political turbulence that saw seven different Presidents replaced in a decade.
The banking crisis led to around 70 percent of the country's financial institutions folding with the accounts of clients frozen, meaning many lost their livelihoods and life savings. The shock reverberated around Ecuador's wider economy: income per head fell by one-third, unemployment doubled and subsequently one in ten Ecuadoreans were forced to emigrate to to seek income.
Despite this, Lasso later became an economic adviser and special ambassador under President Lucio Gutiérrez, another president ousted by popular pressure.
In that role Lasso was appointed a member of the negotiation team for the Free Trade Agreement for the Americas (FTAA) and coordinated the visit of President Lucio Gutierrez to meet George W. Bush in 2003 on the eve of the outbreak of the Iraq war. During the visit, Gutierrez declared that "We want to become the best friend and ally of the United States”
The controversial mayor of Guayaquil, Jaime Nebot, has also backed the protests and announced he would be calling a march for June 25.
Nebot became mayor of Guayaquil after being a long time ally of Leon Febres-Cordero, Ecuador's former authoritarian leader and mayor of Guayaquil who ruled the country through political assassinations and repression.
Shortly after Correa's election, Nebot began a brief campaign to declare Guayaquil an independent state, with little public support.
Jaime Nebot also became notoriously known for his period as lawmaker in the 90s, after he entered the parlimant drunk and insulted fellow lawmakers on live television as he was escorted out by security officials.
Though milder in support of the street demonstrations, former presidential candidate and current mayor of Quito, Mauricio Rodas, has raised his “concern” over the inheritance and capital gains taxes, and called upon the government to heed the demonstrators. Howver Rodas' party – SUMA – has openly backed Lasso's call for protests.
Rodas received just 3.9 percent in the 2013 presidential election and is a former member the Social Christian Party youth wing, the party of former president Febres-Cordero. While some claim Rodas was a vice president of the party's youth, he says he was only a member.
Perhaps the most audacious backer of the protests is Abdalá Bucaram, another disgraced former president who currently lives in Panama following several corruption charges being made against him. Bucaram was declared unfit for the presidency in 1997.
He expressed his support in a tweet to Jaime Nebot, saying "Today the country needs all its patriots....(for) the great national march on June 25 in Guayaquil."
A former Pachakutik lawmaker whose party actively supported the coup attempt against President Correa in September 2010, Jimenez was seen in Shyris Avenue during the recent protests with his adviser Fernando Villavicencio.
On the day of the failed 2010 coup Jimenez publicly demanded that the elected President should resign and called for a national front of opposition forces to remove him from office. Later he expressed regret that the President was not shot on the day of the coup.
Bizarrely, after the coup was defeated, Jimenez and Villavicencio made baseless accusations against Correa, saying he orchestrated the events and was responsible for crimes against humanity, as several people were killed and hundreds injured during the events. Numerous police officials have been found guilty of planning the events on Sept. 30, 2010.