‘THE CRISIS IS BEING PAID WITH OUR RIGHTS!’ – says Ecuadorian students movement

Students at the Central University of Ecuador demonstrate last week against the government cuts to education

‘We are quarantined but not silent. The millionaire cut to public education moves us to take the space, ours, the house, the neighbourhood, the bus stop, etc. because without education there is no future,’ said students from the University of Cuenca in Ecuador.

Demonstrations took place at universities across the country.

The Ecuadorian youth and the student movement who see their rights to a decent and quality education diminished with the illegal and unconstitutional reduction of 10% to the budget of 32 higher education institutions.

The recent measures announced by the government of Lenín Moreno, his cabinet and authorities, as well as the prioritisation of debt payment with the IMF, demonstrate that education, health and employment are not priority sectors in this health crisis, for this government are expenses but not rights.

The cut in the university budget affects more than 30 public higher education entities.

This cut is arbitrary, illegal and unconstitutional, since Art. 165, No. 2 of the Constitution, establishes that: ‘declared a state of emergency, the president of the republic may use public funds destined for other purposes, EXCEPT those corresponding to HEALTH and EDUCATION ‘.

The Moreno government has cut public health spending since 2017, reversing the vast expansion of the public health system during former President Correa’s 10 years in office.

Investments were especially hard hit as they decreased from $306 million in 2017 to $201 million in 2018 and $110 million in 2019.

An estimated 3,680 public health professionals have been dismissed in 2019 alone, and an additional 2,500 to 3,500 health care workers were dismissed during the carnival holidays according to trade unionists.

Ecuador also unilaterally terminated its health cooperation agreement with Cuba last year, dismissing 400 Cuban doctors. Now, the crisis is aggravated by the high percentage of health workers infected with Covid-19.

Ecuador was on the verge of an economic crisis even before the pandemic. The economy stagnated with 0.2 per cent growth in 2019 and the IMF projected a contraction of 0.5 per cent for 2020.

Now, the economy is projected to shrink by 6.3 per cent this year. Poverty and inequality already increased under Moreno’s watch, with payroll cuts and layoffs in the public sector on the agenda.

But not everyone has suffered from Moreno’s politics: Ecuadorian banks broke records in profits in 2019.

Ecuador’s restrictions on movement are strict and getting stricter. Ecuadorians may not leave their homes at all between the hours of 2pm and 5am.

Outside of curfew, people may only go out to get food, for essential work or for health-related reasons. They must wear masks and gloves. Public transport is cancelled.

In Quito, Ecuador’s capital, people may only drive one day a week as determined by their licence plate. This is the second time in a year Quito residents have found themselves under lockdown.

In Guayaquil the port city of nearly three million, the site of one of the world’s worst coronavirus outbreaks last month videos surfaced showing dead bodies left in the city’s streets after morgues and funeral homes were overwhelmed.

In October 2019, a nighttime curfew was established to quell massive protests against austerity measures that were imposed in exchange for a large loan from the International Monetary Fund.

The protests, led by indigenous groups, dissipated after President Lenín Moreno backed away from austerity – but not before at least eight people were killed.

A May Day manifesto published by over 100 Ecuadorian organistions including the Federation of Indigenous Ecuadorians (FEI) and other transport, agriculture and indigenous communities demanded the resignation of the Moreno government:

‘We encompass many organisations, conscientious citizens, who feel the pain of the thousands of deaths, the helplessness and the uncertainty of so many Ecuadorian families.

‘We are concerned about the hunger already being suffered by communities in the countryside and in the city.

‘We are outraged by the abandonment of those infected and killed by Covid-19 and by the insecurity of health workers, police, military and others who are in the front line, fighting against this pandemic.

‘We have a government that is incapable of prioritising the life and health of our people.

‘Since 2018, investment in health and education has been reduced by agreement with the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and neoliberal policies were implemented that dismantled the State, aggravating the socio-economic situation of the population.

‘The government serves the interests of the economic elites, while sacking thousands of doctors, nurses, and other public employees. Persecution of its opponents is the mark of this government.

‘Although the World Health Organisation (WHO) alerted all countries, the government of Lenin Moreno Garcés has been unable to provide a contingency and emergency plan for the pandemic.

‘The decisions taken are erratic and negligent, not taking account of the guidelines or the international health protocols.

‘It lacks a scientific-technical government team to face the pandemic and we regret that in these conditions its representatives seek to promote its image as if they were in a political campaign.

‘Guayaquil became a staple of death and tragedy in the world, affecting the international image of the country.

‘The ‘successful city model’ established by the ruling classes during several decades of their exercise of political power in the city collapsed because the government and the municipality favoured a neoliberal economic model that was not at the service of the population.

‘These circumstances are spreading to other provinces in the country, especially on the Ecuadorian coast.

‘The isolation measures were late and a football match and other public and private events were authorised even when the first cases were already known, which triggered the expansion of the pandemic.

‘We live through a humanitarian, social and economic catastrophe in which the government prioritised the payment of $326 million to the holders of foreign debt bonds, instead of using them in the health emergency.

‘Now, the government wants to make the poor, the workers and the middle classes pay the cost of the crisis, when prior to this, it defunded the fiscal budget by condoning and forgiving taxes for $4,295 million for banks and large companies.

‘The country needs the truth so the allocation of resources, the number of people infected and killed by Covid-19, the total number of diagnostic tests applied and the exact identity and location of the dead must be made transparent.

‘This is a tragic and unprecedented moment for the whole country. The time has come to rewrite the rules of the game between the State, the economy and politics, with the constituents, the people.

‘Faced with this abysmal scenario of grave institutional, economic and political crisis, it is time to raise our voices, articulate proposals and actions and demand the following immediate solutions:

‘1. Declaration of a humanitarian crisis throughout the national territory of Ecuador.

‘2. Suspension of the payment of the foreign debt whilst collecting taxes from those who made extraordinary profits the previous year, in order to finance health policy and to guarantee in an emergent way the constitutional rights to health, life and food, and we demand that no improvised decisions be taken about the crisis, such as the lifting of the lockdown without technical support.

‘3. We reject any attempt to eliminate subsidies, lay off or lower the wages of workers and privatise hydroelectric power plants, refineries or mines, because these measures do not solve these problems, but instead aggravate them against the population, and this would cause an even more serious social explosion, which of course the government would repress with even greater violence than the indigenous popular rebellion of October 2019.

‘4. We demand the full validation and guarantee of the constitutional rights to life (Art. 66 numbers 1 and 2), to health (Art. 32), to food security and sovereignty (Art. 281), to freedom of expression (Art. 66 number 6) and to peaceful resistance (Art. 98).

‘5. We reject the proposals sent by the Executive: “Law of Humanitarian Support to Combat the Health Crisis” and “Law for the Regulation of Public Finances”, because they are harmful to the great national interests, and we demand alternative proposals in defence of the interests of the whole population.

‘6. We demand that the entire government of Lenin Moreno and Vice President Otto Sonnenholzner resign and that the National Assembly, in accordance with the framework of the Constitution of the Republic and the sentiment of the nation, install a government of national salvation in order to resolve the current problems and provide a way out of the existing humanitarian, health, social, economic and political crisis. This new government will end the current constitutional mandate and guarantee the democratic processes of 2021.

We constitute this AGREEMENT OF UNITY FOR LIFE and we call upon all sectors of society to unite to avoid the national debacle for the good of all, to guarantee the people’s rights and to save our nation!

‘On May 1st, the workers’ rights day, WE CALL for the beginning of actions of RESISTANCE by civil society and WE CALL for the formation of a Commission for Truth and Life to make the figures transparent, control the use of public resources and to restore the dignity of the victims and the dead.’