State of emergency in Ecuador

Turmoil in the South American country continues, as the President, police and army all wrestle for c

The relative calm of Rafael Correa's three-year presidency was shattered yesterday when protests by police officers paralysed the country and took a nasty turn when the president was injured and taken to hospital.

In response to austerity measures implemented by President Correa on Wednesday evening, hundreds of police officers lined the streets of Quito and other major Ecuadorean cities on Thursday morning and blocked airports and roads across the country. The new measures include a law passed by Congress which will reportedly affect the granting of medals, bonuses and promotions as part of a vain attempt by the government to cut expenditure. Around 300 members of the armed forces, who are also affected by the law, joined the protest and stormed Quito's main airport, preventing flights from entering or leaving the airport for up to nine hours.

Things turned from bad to worse when Correa visited a military barracks. As he stood addressing the armed forces around him, the President shouted "If you want to kill the president, here he is. Kill him, if you want to. Kill him if you are brave enough." Moments later he got what he was asking for when he was physically attacked by protestors and sprayed with tear gas. After being taken to hospital, the President was reportedly trapped inside for several hours while a gun battle waged between protestors led to several people being killed and dozens injured.

He was smuggled back to the safety of Carondelet palace by members of the army. Having previously declared a state of emergency, since his rescue, Correa has described the protest as an attempt to overthrow him.

Certainly Ecuador is no stranger to political coups: three of its presidents have been ousted over the last 13 years. Correa was in fact the first president to win two terms when he was re-elected for his second term last year. However, his popularity has declined dramatically over the last year following certain controversial decisions. His decision that the country would default on $3.2 billion of "illegitimate" international debt made its sovereign debt one of the riskiest in the continent and provoked widespread fiscal problems. In February 2009, his decision to expel two US diplomats was rejected by Washington. In July this year he implemented a new oil law which enables the government to nationalise oil fields if a private operator fails to comply with local laws. Given that oil is one of the country's main selling points, many fear that such a move may deter foreign investors.

Although Correa faces little challenge from the opposition, he has earned a surprising contender to his presidency in the form of his brother Fabricio and the tensions between the brothers have done much to discredit Rafael's presidency in recent months. In 2009 the pair was embroiled in a corruption scandal when Ecuadorean newspaper Diario Expreso revealed that Fabricio's engineering business had experienced suspiciously unprecedented growth since his brother took office.

Since one of Rafael's main goals throughout his presidency has been to fight corruption, these allegations, although unfounded in the end, were enough to taint Rafael's political career irrecoverably. In a vain attempt to reduce the impact of the scandal on his reputation, Rafael subsequently signed a decree preventing public entities from entering into advertising contracts with media outlets.

Although the brothers initially supported one another throughout the allegations, relations quickly soured and Fabricio has since expressed his wish to stand for the 2013 elections. In contrast to the relatively peaceful Miliband struggle for Labour leadership across the Atlantic, this brotherly contest looks set to be less than amicable.

This, combined with the fact that Rafael has received much criticism for his handling of events over the past few days, puts the future of his presidency in doubt. Many people, including leading Ecuadorean journalist Rubén Darío Buitrón, refute Rafael's claims that he has been the victim of a military coup and warn that he may use the situation to galvanise support. It is difficult to say how this week's events can be resolved, but it is certain that worse is yet to come.

Photo: Getty Images
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The Fire Brigades Union reaffiliates to Labour - what does it mean?

Any union rejoining Labour will be welcomed by most in the party - but the impact on the party's internal politics will be smaller than you think.

The Fire Brigades Union (FBU) has voted to reaffiliate to the Labour party, in what is seen as a boost to Jeremy Corbyn. What does it mean for Labour’s internal politics?

Firstly, technically, the FBU has never affliated before as they are notionally part of the civil service - however, following the firefighters' strike in 2004, they decisively broke with Labour.

The main impact will be felt on the floor of Labour party conference. Although the FBU’s membership – at around 38,000 – is too small to have a material effect on the outcome of votes themselves, it will change the tenor of the motions put before party conference.

The FBU’s leadership is not only to the left of most unions in the Trades Union Congress (TUC), it is more inclined to bring motions relating to foreign affairs than other unions with similar politics (it is more internationalist in focus than, say, the PCS, another union that may affiliate due to Corbyn’s leadership). Motions on Israel/Palestine, the nuclear deterrent, and other issues, will find more support from FBU delegates than it has from other affiliated trade unions.

In terms of the balance of power between the affiliated unions themselves, the FBU’s re-entry into Labour politics is unlikely to be much of a gamechanger. Trade union positions, elected by trade union delegates at conference, are unlikely to be moved leftwards by the reaffiliation of the FBU. Unite, the GMB, Unison and Usdaw are all large enough to all-but-guarantee themselves a seat around the NEC. Community, a small centrist union, has already lost its place on the NEC in favour of the bakers’ union, which is more aligned to Tom Watson than Jeremy Corbyn.

Matt Wrack, the FBU’s General Secretary, will be a genuine ally to Corbyn and John McDonnell. Len McCluskey and Dave Prentis were both bounced into endorsing Corbyn by their executives and did so less than wholeheartedly. Tim Roache, the newly-elected General Secretary of the GMB, has publicly supported Corbyn but is seen as a more moderate voice at the TUC. Only Dave Ward of the Communication Workers’ Union, who lent staff and resources to both Corbyn’s campaign team and to the parliamentary staff of Corbyn and McDonnell, is truly on side.

The impact of reaffiliation may be felt more keenly in local parties. The FBU’s membership looks small in real terms compared Unite and Unison have memberships of over a million, while the GMB and Usdaw are around the half-a-million mark, but is much more impressive when you consider that there are just 48,000 firefighters in Britain. This may make them more likely to participate in internal elections than other affiliated trade unionists, just 60,000 of whom voted in the Labour leadership election in 2015. However, it is worth noting that it is statistically unlikely most firefighters are Corbynites - those that are will mostly have already joined themselves. The affiliation, while a morale boost for many in the Labour party, is unlikely to prove as significant to the direction of the party as the outcome of Unison’s general secretary election or the struggle for power at the top of Unite in 2018. 

Stephen Bush is editor of the Staggers, the New Statesman’s political blog.