This morning my co-workers and I walked to work, as we do every morning. We are a small group of expats who are interns and staff writers at ViVA Travel Guides, which is a travel guidebook company that publishes books for Central and South America.
I had just started on my work for the morning when a co-worker received a phone call from a friend, a Frommer´s writer, who said something in regards to the ¨[The] city is turning to shit, the airport [is] shutdown and everyone is burning tires.¨
We started looking up news on the internet and that was when we began to realize what was going on in Ecuador. Protests had broke out and the city had erupted into chaos. People were burning tires in the streets, protesters were chanting, schools were put on lock-down, people were looting from the banks, tear-gas was being sprayed and the President was trying to calm everyone down, while fighting for his life at the same time. The reason, according to all news articles being published by major news networks:
The striking police were angered by a law passed by Congress on Wednesday that would end the practice of giving members of Ecuador’s military and police medals and bonuses with each promotion. It would also extend from five to seven years the usual period required for before a subsequent promotion.
Not too long afterward my co-worker’s phone, which was near death itself with little battery life, rang again. A teacher at a nearby school in close proximity to the protests said that what was going on is very serious, advising us to leave Quito, the capital.
We were told by co-workers that something like this had never happened in Ecuador before.
We started to panic, wondering whether or not to immediately go home or stay. With the overall feeling of security in all of us, being in a room with Ecuadorians, we put the office on lockdown. Schools were eventually being evacuated because the government had canceled all classes. The streets outside the office were bustling with people and school children. “The usual car alarms and sirens had us actually concerned and worried, rather than just ignoring it as the typical everyday sounds of Quito. Shop owners were standing in their doorways looking left and right at all the commotion, others had shutdown” (Quoted in an MSNBC.COM article). At one point the office door bell rang and we all let out a little ::yelp:: “Who is it? Don’t let them in!” Our anxiety was getting the better of us, being Americans from the U.S. and never experiencing such an event. However, despite what my co-workers said about this event never occurring before, this is not unfamiliar territory for one of the smaller South American countries.
Ecuador, a South American OPEC member of 14 million people, has a history of political instability. Street protests toppled three presidents during economic turmoil in the decade before Correa took power. – Reuters
One of the first videos we found online was of the President being bombarded by groups of protesters as he tried to make his way through the crowds. Eventually giving a very passionate speech telling the police protesters and others, “Kill me if you want to. Kill me if you have the courage.” As the violent scene continued to escalate, streets were blocked, a bridge was blocked, looting was taking place in Quito and Guayaquil city, people were being robbed and the airports shut down due to protesters taking over the landing strips.
Our boss did not even come in today because of the blocked streets. He sent us an e-mail telling us to, ¨Please make your way home today well in advance of nightfall and it would be best to try to get a taxi if possible, or walk home with someone, not alone.” Just one of many warnings through media we received as the time wore on inside the office building.
Our lunch time came and went, no almuerzo for me today. After many stomach growls, a group of us braved up to go get some food around the corner at Carlos’ market store. An assortment of the most random snacks and food items was consumed safely back in our office. Some time later an Ecuadorian co-worker knocked on our door and said, “Let’s go.” He had decided it was safe enough for us to leave and go to the safety and comfort of our homes.
Four of us walked 30 minutes back to our apartment here in the Mariscal area. We saw everyone out on the streets, no one seemed to be working except in the almuerzo places. I saw two ladies pulling down the metal door to their workplace, closing the padlock. Clusters of people sat on steps outside buildings, others were drinking, some kids were playing a game of soccer in the streets. For quite a few, it was as if they didn’t care a revolution was taking place, or they took this as a snow-day: a simple day of getting out of work in a country that already prides itself on not living to work.
Right now, all of my roommates and I are locked behind a gate and two doors in our third floor apartment after being sent home from our workplaces. The television, which is never on, has been tuned to the local news channel. We are constantly waiting for updates on the situation and contacting close friends and family to let them know we are safe.
The President has declared a State of Emergency via Twitter.
Later in the afternoon, President Rafael Correa was recuperating in a hospital after being attacked with tear gas and water bottles. Rebel cop protesters were scrambling to reach him inside to hurt him more and he said he practically felt like a prisoner. Civilians are being asked to help protect him since the police are on strike. He is speaking on the local news station, which is rumored to be currently suffering attempts of sabotage.
Correa later told state TV from the hospital that “I’m leaving here as president or as a corpse, but I’m not losing my dignity.” – News Article
He has received support from Venezuela, Chile, Argentina and others. The United States has officially condemned the uprising because it threatens the country’s democratic government. However, Peru has closed its border.
Peruvian President Alan Garcia said he was ordering the immediate closure of the border with neighbouring Ecuador.
“I’m going to order that our borders are closed right now and that all trade on the northern border is halted until President Correa’s authority is duly restored and resolved,” Garcia said. – News24
Helicopters are constantly flying overhead, however the airports are rumored to have reopened. President Correa has already stated he will not be letting down on his decision that sparked the protests today, which can only mean it will get worse before better.
The AP has reported that the Ecuador security minister recorded one dead, six injured in the police uprising against the cut in benefits so far. Also, a group of Latin American presidents are meeting in Buenos Aires tonight to support President Correa. Lastly, we do know that the “coup” failed, but the loyal military and police are keeping the State of Emergency instated for a week.
Update: A crossfire of gunshots ensued in front of the hospital where the President was apparently being held against his will. One soldier at least was killed during his rescue. Prior to the hospital rescue mission, the Red Cross reported more than 50 people had been injured during the protests.
They successfully took President Correa by vehicle to the Presidential Plaza where he gave a long-winded speech to a massive crowd that addressed his belief that instability has shaken politics because of three other coups in the past. He once again stated that negotiations would not be made and thanked all his supporters, who were chanting “Correa, my friend, the people are with you!” throughout the speech. In the end, Ecuadorian flags were waved and music began to play. I had survived my first Latin American coup.
Video of a fire that broke out across the street from my apartment: