Ecuador’s leader calls revolt by police an attempted coup
QUITO, Ecuador — It was the biggest test to date of Rafael Correa’s nearly 4-year-old presidency, a bloody trial by fire for a tenacious politician whose popular government had brought relative calm to a chronically unstable country.
The Ecuadoran leader called the police revolt — which left three dead, dozens injured, and briefly paralyzed this Andean nation — a coup attempt. Not an outlandish claim for a country that had eight presidents in 10 years before Correa won office.
Correa’s kindred leftist presidents, Hugo Chavez of Venezuela and Evo Morales of Bolivia, even accused the United States of pulling the strings behind the insurrection at an emergency meeting of South American leaders yesterday in Buenos Aires.
But skeptical analysts said Thursday’s tumult appeared instead to be a revolt that spiraled out of control by hundreds of modestly paid police officers protesting cuts in benefits.
“You can’t dismiss the possibility that some opposition figures knew about it and supported it. But if it was a coup attempt, it was hugely amateurish,’’ said Adam Isacson of the liberal Washington Office on Latin America think tank.
Analysts also tended to agree that Correa, a US- and European-educated economist, emerged strengthened from the first violent challenge to his presidency in a traditionally volatile country of 14 million with a long history of short-lived governments and of meddling by Washington.
The armed forces high command stood by Correa, as did his most powerful political rival — and governments in the region of every political stripe.
As life quickly returned to normal across Ecuador yesterday, Correa spoke by phone for 10 minutes with Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, who “encouraged an ongoing, rapid, and peaceful restoration of order,’’ said Clinton’s spokesman, P.J. Crowley.
He said the two agreed “to continue to work together to strengthen Ecuadoran institutions and the rule of law.’’
Correa, 47, had ended Thursday triumphant, addressing supporters from the terrace of the presidential palace after his rescue in a hail of gunfire from the hospital where he had been trapped for 10 hours by the insurrectionist cops.
Correa has a temper, which he lost in a tense standoff at a Quito police barracks with scores of jeering police rebels who were taking part in the blitzkrieg nationwide strike, in which several hundred troops also shut down Ecuador’s two biggest airports.
“If you want to kill the president, here he is! Kill me if you want to! Kill me if you are brave, instead of hiding in the crowd like cowards!’’ Correa taunted the hostile crowd, loosening his slate-blue tie and thrusting out an unprotected chest.
Minutes later, rioting police penetrated his light security detail and roughed him up. Pelted by water and fainting from tear gas — his right knee pounding from an operation last week — Correa was lifted over a wall and onto the grounds of the hospital.
Merely showing up at the barracks, said Correa’s former security minister Gustavo Larrea, “was like throwing gasoline on a fire. It elevated the tone of the conflict and, what’s more, they took him hostage there. Because had he not gone, nothing would have happened.’’
Correa became trapped in the hospital, surrounded by hundreds of renegade cops who beat back with tear gas Correa loyalists trying to come to his aid.