Oct 6, 2010 | Article

On September 30, Ecuador underwent a period of rebellion when police forces took to the streets in a revolt against a law passed by congress that ended the practice of awarding medals and salary bonuses for every police and military promotion. The ramifications of the protest paralyzed the country and forced the president to declare a state of emergency.

 

The events unfolded when President Rafael Correa unsuccessfully attempted to address the rebel police forces to explain the need for the austerity measures taken in the new law that cut job bonuses and extended the time period necessary for promotion from five to seven years. The violence erupted when the Correa tried to enter a police barracks and was tear-gassed by police. The president was then rushed by his security forces to the nearby police hospital to take refuge.

The rebellious police forces besieged the hospital and held the president hostage. These events sparked anger and chaos in the country and led police officers to lay down burning tire barricades to block access routes leading to the capital city of Quito and to shutdown major airports. Citizens were affected by the closure of schools and businesses as they were left vulnerable by the absence of police protection. There were also reports of looting and robberies in several supermarkets and banks in the capital.

“The government declared a state of siege, putting the military in charge of order, suspending the civil liberties and allowing warrantless searches.” After hours of being held captive, the military extracted the president from the police hospital and delivered him to the presidential palace. President Correa and his ministers’ claim that the police forces and protesters involved in the events were spurred on by political opposition forces having strong ties with the police and military. Despite such allegations, “there was no evidence of opposition ties to the police protesters.”

The events that erupted in Ecuador on Thursday serve as a reminder of the fragility of security institutions. Although no large opposition forces seem to have spearheaded the “coup” on the president and his government, the message is clearly a call for reform. The lack of strong institutions and the “polarized atmosphere” which has been blamed on president Correa—“people feel there are no checks and balances on presidential power”— are some of the underlying problems that caused the protest to escalate into a state of emergency.