Despite the heavy rain, as many as 210,000 people walked yesterday the streets of Quito, its capital, to protest ongoing allegations of abuse of power from its current democratically elected president, General Lucio Gutierrez. As many as 150,000 people marched down the streets and converged blocks from the presidential palace, calling the current government “dictatorial”.
Among objectives, several sectors demand the immediate investigation of a pro-government congressional bloc that replaced 27 of Ecuador's 31 Supreme Court judges in December 2004. Gutierrez justified the purge by saying the judges were in the pocket of the rightist Social Christian Party, which has long been associated with the country's financial and banking sector.
Opposition groups have made corruption allegations against congress members that voted for the Supreme Court’s replacements. Two Supreme Court judges, Gonzalo Ponce and Ramiro Román, resigned in protest of the Congress decision.
The purge coincided with Washington’s new threats to withheld development aid to countries who refuse to guarantee immunity from prosecution for Americans at the international criminal court at The Hague.
The Administration, meanwhile, organized a “counter-protest” and invested $100,000 in TV and radio publicity against the “March for Democracy.” More than one hundred buses with Gutierrez supporters were brought from coastal and northern provinces to participate in the counter-protest. A few admitted to have received between $10 and $15 to support the president. Surrounded by members of the armed forces, President Gutierrez addressed the 10 thousand counter-protesters in an attempt to discredit opposition groups.
Several public officials participated in the protest including two ex-presidents, Sixto Duran Ballen and Rodrigo Borja, the capital’s mayor, Paco Moncayo, and party members from several opposition parties. The main indigenous party, Pachakutik, was also represented and accused Gutierrez Administration of breaching constitutional law by restructuring several public institutions, including the Supreme Court.
Members of the largest indigenous movement in Ecuador, CONAEI, have also requested a public referendum over negotiations for the Free Trade of the Americas, which among other things, contains procedures to privatize water.
Gutierrez government has received full support from the US Embassy given that he has facilitated military operations between Colombia and Ecuador’s borders under Plan Colombia. In 2000, Ecuador leased its Manta air base to the United States for 10 years, to be used by U.S. aircraft participating in the conflict in Colombia.