The South American country of Ecuador is in turmoil. Lucio Gutierrez, the president in whom the mass movement once placed great hopes, has fled the country.
Not long ago he was seen as a potential ally of Lula in Brazil and Hugo Chavez in Venezuela, as part of a radical coalition. But he was quick to unmask himself as he manoeuvred with the parties of the right and turned on his own supporters.
Two weeks ago, mass protests in the capital, Quito, drove Gutierrez from office. At the beginning of the revolt Gutierrez called the protesters “forajidos” (outlaws). Protesters then took up this slur as a badge of honour and produced their own “forajido certificates”.
Juan Carlos, an Ecuadorean refugee in Britain, explained, “Los forajidos is a new movement. They’re not led by either the left or the indigenous organisations.
“It was the Mayor of Quito, Paco Moncayo, who called the first demonstrations — for his own purposes.
“The Democratic Left, which he represented, wanted to regain control of the congress and the courts.
“But events have moved much further now, and he’s been left on the sidelines.”
The new president, Alfredo Palacio, reassured the US government that Ecuador would still support the Free Trade Area of the Americas Agreement and Plan Colombia (which extends into northern Ecuador).
But as the movement of Los Forajidos began to spread, Palacio changed his mind. “He’s now in talks with the movement, and he’s accepted some of its demands,” Juan Carlos said.
“But the movement sees his government as transitional. The forajidos are calling for a popular assembly, with delegates from every region to discuss how to restructure the government.”
It is hard to predict how events will unfold.
The left was caught on the hop by this mass movement, but the recent history of Ecuador has seen several governments brought down by mass mobilisations like this.
Events are moving quickly, and the fact that the US state department is unwilling to recognise the new government suggests that, at this point, the initiative is still with the popular organisations who control the streets.