Tired of Austerity? Gas Your Leader (in Ecuador)

♠ Posted by Emmanuel in , at 10/01/2010 12:42:00 AM
Here's another nifty IPE-related article I found just on the front page of Yahoo! It seems that enforcing austerity is difficult all over the world. Here in Europe, there were demonstrations across the continent yesterday over axes falling over and over on the public sector as plotted by EU bigwigs. In Latin America, however, public sector workers have come up with an ingenious strategy to (literally) Stick It to the Man.

A few months back, I wrote about the leftist stylings of Ecuador's President Rafael Correa. However, some on the Ecuadorean police force have apparently not taken kindly to imminent reductions in their pension plans. Where art thou workers of the world uniting and so forth? From the Associated Press comes this remarkable story of the gendarmes beating the stuffing out of Correa:
Hundreds of police angry over a law that would cut their benefits plunged this small South American nation into chaos Thursday, roughing up and tear-gassing the president, shutting down airports and blocking highways in a nationwide strike. Incensed officers shoved President Rafael Correa around, pelted him with water and doused him in tear gas when he tried to speak at a police barracks in the capital. Hours later, surrounded by rebel cops in a hospital, Correa declared himself "practically captive." Correa, 47, was hospitalized after being nearly asphyxiated by the tear gas.

The government declared a state of siege, putting the military in charge of public order, suspending civil liberties and allowing soldiers to carry out searches without a warrant. The insurgent police took over police barracks in Quito, Guayaquil and other cities. Some set up roadblocks of burning tires, cutting off highway access to the capital.
This police-led disturbance is being called a coup by some, though others are more reluctant to do so. Meanwhile, Colombia and Peru have locked down borders in sympathy for Correa. Colombia doing so is remarkable given its right-leaning government:
Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos said on Thursday Bogota was closing the border with neighboring Ecuador where unrest erupted over austerity measures. "I spoke with (Peru's president) and the two countries decided to close the borders with Ecuador as a political sign of solidarity with President Correa and with Ecuador's democracy," Santos told reporters before getting on a flight for a regional meeting in Argentina on Ecuador's unrest.
Now that's what I call real "militant labour." Say what you will, but it certainly looks like a novel manoeuvre to catch the attention of deficit cutters. With law enforcers like these, who needs criminals?

UPDATE: It looks like the military is at least still loyal to Correa as they helped liberate their beleaguered leader:
Ecuadorean soldiers stormed a hospital early today and rescued Rafael Correa from mutinous police who had besieged the president and plunged the country into anarchy. Army units blazed their way into the hospital with automatic gunfire and stun grenades in a battle which left at least two dead, dozens injured and enabled Correa's swift and triumphant return to the presidential palace.

The leftist leader, emotional and euphoric, addressed crowds of cheering supporters from the balcony. "What loyalty, what support," he shouted to loud applause. "This will serve as an example for those who want to stop the revolution not through the ballot box but with weapons..."

The protests were triggered by a law passed by Congress on Wednesday that would end the practice of giving medals and bonuses with each promotion, part of Correa's effort to save costs and slim bureaucracy.
Coming from another country with a long history of these sorts of stunts, I must say it's amazing how vulnerable many states are to such petulance. It only takes a few to seriously threaten any number of governments with existential crises. I feel like having a banana right about now.