Ecuador's Rafael Correa extends alert, raises police pay days after 'coup attempt'

While the Ecuador government says pay raises for military and police are unrelated to the Sept. 30 unrest, some observers see it as a way for Rafael Correa to shore up military and police support.

Dolores Ochoa/AP
Soldiers patrol in military vehicles through Quito, Ecuador, Tuesday. The government extended the state of emergency to Friday after a Sept. 30 protest by police against Ecuador's President Rafael Correa.

Ecuador President Rafael Correa raised wages for military and police officers Monday, days after police attacked and trapped him in a hospital over a dispute about budget cuts.

While Defense Minister Javier Ponce said the pay raises were unrelated to the Sept. 30 unrest, Ecuador expert Julio Carrión says the salary rise almost certainly came in exchange for military backing during what some called a coup attempt.

“Basically, he’s fulfilling his side of the deal,” says Mr. Carrión, a political science professor at the University of Delaware. “He said to the military on Thursday: ‘If you support me, I will give you something in return.’ ”

Apparently as an additional way of preventing further unrest, Mr. Correa today extended to Friday the state of siege – which places the military in power – that was slated to end at midnight tonight.

Quid pro quo

Carrión says the quid pro quo was reported in Ecuador media Thursday, and was also underscored by the military’s several-hour delay in issuing a statement in support of Correa and only rescuing him after he had been virtually imprisoned in a hospital room for 12 hours. He points to this quote from Gen. Luis Ernesto Gonzalez, commander of the armed forces, the day of the unrest:

"We emphatically request that the law be revised or left without effect so that the rights of public service workers, military and police aren’t affected and so that the Ecuadorean state can return to normality," he said in comments broadcast on state television.

A pay raise for military and police has been talked about for more than a year, says Carrión, and its delay helped fuel the Sept. 30 uprising that Correa labeled a “coup.” At least eight people were killed and hundreds injured in the unrest, which led to the government calling a state of emergency as between 600 police (the government estimate) and 2,300 police (news report estimates) massed in the streets, closed down the international airport, and blocked roadways with burning tires.

“It’s very clear that these [salary] raises were connected to the events of last week. The president promised the armed forces that he would take care of this,” says Carrión.

Calming the waters

The presidential cabinet on Monday added up to $570 to the monthly salaries for majors, captains, and two other ranks of police and armed forces. The salary for a captain, for instance, rose to $2,140 from $1,600. Salary for a major, meanwhile, rose to $2,280 from $1,870.

But Correa refused to back down from implementing the budget cuts that sparked the Sept. 30 protests. The new law – passed Sept. 29 and made law Monday – abolishes compensation for police decorations and increases the period that must be worked before receiving a promotion.

The president has imposed austerity measures amid a drop in oil revenues, which account for more than half of Ecuador's export earnings. Observers say Correa appears to be maintaining a hard line on budget and policy reform on the one hand, while also reaching out to supporters with the other hand.

“It does project the appearance of trying to calm the waters,” says Catherine Conaghan, an Ecuador expert at Canada's Queen's University. "They’re throwing out this bone."

Not a coup attempt

Professor Conaghan says she does not expect the incident to flare up again, in part because she believes the Sept. 30 incident was not a coup attempt, but rather a work-action that spun out of control. Aside from several hundred police, nobody showed up in the streets to protest against the president, she says, unlike during the ousting of past Ecuador leaders that saw tens of thousands amass in the streets of Quito.

Carrión of the University of Delaware agrees.

“It was a labor dispute that the government blew out of proportion because of Correa’s recklessness in showing up at police barracks,” he says, referencing the president’s decision Sept. 30 to attempt to quell police unrest by speaking at a barracks in Quito. It was after that speech that he was forced to take refuge in the hospital.

“He basically fell in the lap of the police,” he adds. “It’s not like the police went to the presidential palace to get him.”

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