Ecuadoreans are marking 10 years since the ousting of a former president, which ushered in a period of deep social change.
Former Col. Lucio Gutierrez himself had been one of the main actors in overthrowing President Jamil Mahuad in 2000, alongside indigenous movements. Gutierrez styled himself as a president of the left and he was elected on a platform of change, sworn in January 2003 as president of Ecuador.
His subsequent ousting was part of a deep process of change in Ecuador that saw 10 governments in just 11 years, which ended with the election of President Correa, ushering in a new era not only of stability, but true progressive change.
Citizens began mobilizing against the Gutierrez government after an unpopular deal with the International Monetary Fund; the development of close ties with the Bush administration in Washington; allegations of corruption; the dissolution of the Supreme Court in order to appoint members of the ruling party; and his authorization of the 2005 return of ex-President Abdala Bucaram, who had himself been ousted in 1997.
The return of Bucaram from his exile in Panama was the tipping point: Quito and the country rose up. Thousands of citizens took to the streets, demanding Gutierrez be removed from power.
Paco Salazar, a photographer who documented the April uprising told teleSUR English,
“The night of April 19th was a battlefield in the streets. People were there until midnight, there was gas, there was violence, brutal until midnight, and people left disgruntled. People tried to reach the presidential palace, and they were unable to break through to the palace. And there was a general unrest.”
A decentralized movement of citizens protested peacefully, occupying a range of areas in Quito, shutting down the city to demand that Gutierrez leave office.
Gutierrez called the demonstrators "forajidos," or outlaws, giving the citizens a name which was appropriated by the movement.
The forajidos were men, women and children from all socioeconomic backgrounds, who stood united and committed to their cause, which was to remove a president they believed was not serving their interests. They were attacked by the police, which protected the executive branch. Traditional media outlets, which were aligned with the old oligarchic powers within the government, were absent throughout the demonstrations. The forajidos obtained information through alternative media, such as Radio Luna.
Consuelo Zapata, a mother of two, participated in the daily demonstrations on Shyris Avenue with her family. She was at the airport in north Quito when Gutierrez abandoned his post and attempted to flee the country on April 20.
"I live near here, and we were driving past where the beginning of the runway is, where there used to be a fence and gate. So with my children we saw that people had torn down this gate and entered, and many people had entered the runway, so we also wanted to participate and see what was happening. Because we heard that President Gutierrez had escaped from the Carondelet (presidential) Palace directly,” said Zapata in an interview with teleSUR English, on the runway of old Mariscal Sucre Airport, which is today a park.
She said, “There were people here in the airport that were also waiting to see what would happen, if he would leave from the airport or if he had already left from the Carondelet. And we also wanted to enter, and we got in, there were already so many people, it was filled with people, with cars, entire families, and people who were chanting and were saying, well, that Gutierrez needed to leave right?"
Gutierrez fled the palace in a helicopter, but found when he reached the airport that the forajidos had blocked the runway, physically preventing the president's escape. Unable to take off, Gutierrez sought asylum in the Brazilian Embassy in Quito, and later fled the country.
The movement of the forajidos, surging out of a political crisis, discredited the traditional parties and gave way to greater civic engagement and new political actors.
Vice President Alfredo Palacio was sworn into power, and appointed Rafael Correa, now president, as economy minister. In this role Correa worked to restructure the country's external debt and reallocate public funds.
Director of the national El Telegrafo newspaper Orlando Perez spoke with teleSUR English at an event commemorating 10 years since the overthrow of Gutierrez. He explained that two factors came together to result in the creation of Ecuador’s current political landscape:
"First is the rejection of the people of the political class. The rejection, the exhaustion and the degradation of politics hit rock bottom. The second is that there was an emergence, a citizen's resurgence, without representation, without organization, without political ties, some say it was the most spontaneous demonstration that Ecuador has experienced, as a political process that ended with the fall of a president.”
Having gained a space on the national stage, Rafael Correa was sworn in as president of Ecuador January 15, 2007, when he put into action a “Citizen's Revolution.” A constitutional assembly was formed, and the Constitution of Montecristi was approved July 25, 2008. The state was reorganized and committed itself to serving citizens through meeting the goals of the national development plan called “Sumak Kawsay,” or Good Living.
"I would say that there was a central demand in those days of protest for radical political reform and some sectors proposed a constitutional assembly. There was a demand for political reform, for the political formation of a candidate who would take this and put it on the national electoral scene,” political analyst Franklin Ramirez told teleSUR English.
“Correa did this, he took advantage of the crisis of the parties and took this demand and proposed the idea of the constitutional assembly as a space for radical political reform."
The Citizen's Revolution and the 2008 Constitution of Montecristi have ensured that the concerns of the forajidos are kept at the forefront of politicians’ minds, working to meet the development goals of Good Living and giving power back to the people under 21st century socialism.