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.

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No, the Brexit vote wasn't just about immigration

The data shows that most voters want a fairer society. Labour must fight for this in the Brexit negotiations. 

The result of the UK referendum to leave the European Union has shaken the political establishment to its core. As I have argued since then, it should be a wakeup call to all political parties.

Some have also argued that the referendum result is having international repercussions, with the election of Donald Trump to the White House cited as "Brexit Plus Plus". With the imminent election in France, and Germany’s later this year, responsible analysts are trying to understand why people voted the way they did and what this means. Too often, there are knee jerk explanations without any evidentiary justification to back them up. 

Analysis of who voted to leave shows the majority of people who voted to leave live in the South of England, and 59 per cent were from the middle classes (A, B, C1). Only 21 per cent of people in the lowest income groups voted to leave.

Analysis of why people voted as they did is more complex. This includes an increase in Euroscepticism particularly from older, middle class voters; concerns about globalisation and the impact on jobs; inequalities and being left behind; and new voters who didn’t vote in the 2015 General Election, for whom immigration was a concern. When this analysis is overlaid on analysis of that election, some themes emerge. The attitudes and values of the majority of the British public are firmly rooted in the desire for a fairer society, based on principles of equality and social justice. Although immigration played a part in the election and referendum results, perceived competence, being "left behind" and disillusionment with the direction of change were the key drivers.

Whether people voted to remain or leave, they did so because they believed that they and their families would be better off, and the majority who voted believed they would be better off if we leave the EU. Labour accepts and respects this. We have said that we will vote for Article 50, but we intend to hold this Tory government to account to ensure we get the best possible deal for the country.

In his speech last week, Jeremy Corbyn set out the issues that Labour will hold the government to account on. We have been absolutely clear that we want tariff-free access to the single market, to ensure that Britain continues to trade openly with our European neighbours, and to protect the cost of living for families struggling to get by. Getting the best deal for the UK means that we must continue to have a strong relationship with our EU neighbours.

Under my work and pensions portfolio, for example, we know that 40 per cent of pension funds are invested outside of the UK. If we want to guarantee a dignified and secure retirement for our pensioners, we must ensure that savers can get the best returns for the investments they make.

We also know that many of the protections that have until now been offered by the European Union must continue to be guaranteed when we leave. Provisions that secure the rights of disabled people, or that protect worker’s rights are an essential part of British society, enhanced by the EU. These cannot be torn up by the Tories.

Defending these rights is also at the heart of our approach to immigration. The dire anti-migrant rhetoric from some parts of the media and certain politicians, is reprehensible. I reject this scapegoating, which has fear and blame at its heart, because it is not true. Blaming migrants for nearly seven wasted years of Tory austerity when they are net contributors of over £2bn a year to the economy is perverse.

Of course we need to respond when public services are coming under pressure from local population increases. That’s why Labour wants to reinstate the Migration Impact Fund that the Tories abolished. We also need to ensure new members of communities get to know their new neighbours and what’s expected of them.

We believe that migrants’ broader contribution to British society has too often been obscured by the actions of unscrupulous employers, who have exploited new arrivals at the expense of local labour. A vast network of recruitment and employment agencies has developed in this country. It is worth hundreds of billions of pounds. Last year over 1.3m people were employed in the UK by these agencies. In 2007, 1 in 7 of these people came from the EU. We should ask how many are recruited directly from the EU now, and offered precarious work on very low wages whilst undercutting local labour. Labour will put an end to this practice, in order to protect both those who come here to work and those that grew up here.

Importantly, however, we cannot let our exit from the EU leave us with skill shortages in our economy. Our current workforce planning is woeful, particularly for the long-term. We need to reduce our need for migrant labour by ensuring our young, and our not so young, are trained for the jobs of the future, from carers to coders. Again, the Conservatives have undermined people’s chances of getting on by cutting college funding and the adult skills budget.

Unlike the government, Labour will not shirk from our responsibilities to the nation. Our plans for Brexit will respect the referendum result, whilst holding the Government to account and delivering a better future for all our people, not just the privileged few.

Debbie Abrahams is shadow work and pensions secretary.