Berlin's Ray of Hope in Ecuador

QUITO/BERLIN | | ecuador

QUITO/BERLIN (Own report) - Current mass protests in Ecuador are directed against Lenin Moreno, Berlin's foreign policy establishment's ray of hope. Shortly after taking office in May 2017, Moreno abandoned the social and educational programs, as well as the independent foreign policy pursued by his predecessor, under whom he had served as vice president for several years. He is again tying Ecuador closer to the USA and, in February, secured for his country an IMF loan, which is forcing him to adopt drastic austerity measures. Moreno is deploying soldiers against the escalating mass protests. Last February, German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier visited Ecuador and promised German support to his counterpart for his policy course. Last week, Moreno was scheduled to come to Berlin for talks with Chancellor Merkel and to canvass billions in investments from German companies. Due to the current protests calling for his resignation, he has cancelled his visit to Germany.

Course toward Independence

For about ten years, following President Rafael Correa assuming office, on January 15, 2007, Ecuador had adopted a policy alongside those Latin American countries, which, such as Cuba and Venezuela, are seeking a certain independence from the traditional North American and European domination. At the time, the government actually succeeded in noticeably improving conditions for the general population. As the SPD-affiliated Friedrich Ebert Foundation noted in an analysis back in 2013, "the national poverty rate fell from 36.7 percent in 2007 to 27.3 percent in 2011," and spending on education "more than doubled" while "the drastic imbalance in the income distribution ... has significantly been reduced."[1] During that period, Quito had also been seeking an independent course in foreign policy. It granted asylum to WikiLeaks activist Julian Assange in Ecuador's Embassy in London and later, even citizenship. Correa's government intensified economic cooperation with the People's Republic of China, which became the country's second largest trade partner. China has granted Ecuador around four billion US dollars in loans.[2]

German Interference

Like other EU and North American countries; Germany soon took a distance to President Correa. Already on March 10, 2007, the German Ambassador in Quito, Bernd Sproedt, expressed Berlin's and the EU's "concern" about his government's course. The EU "expects" that "common values and ideas" will be respected.[3] Quito promptly rejected German attempts to interfere. In the period that followed, Germany's foreign policy front organizations supported Correa’s opponents. The CDU-affiliated Konrad Adenauer Foundation, for example, supported the Movimiento CREO ("Creando Oportunidades", "Creating Opportunities") on whose behalf the banker Guillermo Lasso ran against Correa in the February 17, 2013 presidential elections - albeit without success.[4] Because of the open support the German foundation and other foreign organizations were giving the opposition, Ecuador subjected them, by law, to a certain control in July 2011. Since then, foreign organizations are obliged not to direct their activities “against the country’s domestic security and public peace.” Compliance with this provision is monitored.[5] The Adenauer Foundation used this occasion, to withdraw from Ecuador on September 1, 2014.[6] Since then it no linger has a presence, as an institution, inside the country.

Neoliberal, on the Side of the USA

However, the Adenauer Foundation is closely monitoring developments in Ecuador from its outpost in neighboring Peru. In a comprehensive report last November, it described the diametrical change of course pursued by incumbent President Lenin Moreno since Mai 24 2017. Moreno, Correa's Vice-President from 2007 to 2013, "completely broke" with the President's course "already two months" after becoming President himself, the Adenauer Foundation noted. Initially he sought an "active dialogue" also with "business associations, which had clearly been in opposition to the Correa regime."[7] Moreno subsequently pursued an "accentuated austerity policy," cut social and educational spending and significantly increased taxes on mineral oil. At the same time he changed Ecuador's foreign policy course, left all alliances involving Cuba and Venezuela (ALBA, UNASUR) and joined the alliances of neoliberal countries ("Pacific Alliance" [8], "Lima Group"). During US Vice President Mike Pence's visit in June 2018, Ecuador and the United States agreed on "enhanced US-Ecuadorian security cooperation." On October 18, 2018, Ecuador even expelled Venezuela's ambassador. In April 2019, President Moreno made headlines in the world's media when he deprived Julian Assange not only of the Ecuadorian citizenship, he, in the meantime, had been granted, but also of his political asylum in the Ecuadorian embassy in London. Since then, Assange has been in prison in the British capital.

Praise from Germany

Moreno's change of course has been enthusiastically greeted by the German elites. In February 2019, Frank-Walter Steinmeier was the first German president in more than a quarter of a century to visit that country. He wanted "to honor Ecuador's democratic awakening."[9] "Contrary to a global trend, Ecuador has chosen the path of accessibility," alleges the Office of the German Presidency. "Germany appreciates this courageous step." The Konrad Adenauer Foundation has also extended its feelers in Quito's direction. March 7, the organization's secretary-general Gerhard Wahlers received Ecuador's Vice President Otto Sonnenholzer in Berlin. According to the foundation, the secretary-general emphasized the foundation's "interest ... in the country's situation and welcomed its recent development."[10] An initial high point in the development of the expansion of German-Ecuadorian relations had originally been scheduled for this month, when President Moreno was due to be the guest of honor on October 8, at the Latin America Day gala diner of the Latin American Association of the Foreign Trade and Commerce. Discussions with companies seeking investment projects were planned. In addition, Moreno was due to meet in Berlin, not only with German President Steinmeier, but Chancellor Angela Merkel as well. His neoliberal course is looked upon with great sympathy in Berlin.

Mass Protests

The people of Ecuador see the measures taken by their president quite differently. Moreno was elected in April 2017 under the assumption that he would continue his party's and Correa's, his predecessor's, policy. Since the beginning of the month, the protests against Moreno have been escalating. The protests were triggered by the government's canceling of fuel subventions, which was a condition for Quito to be awarded a US $4.2 billion credit from the IMF, (rather than from China) - which the Monetary Fund had given Ecuador in February, as part of an approx. US $10 billion total package loan. This raised the price of gasoline by 25 percent and diesel by 100 percent. In addition, salaries in the public sector have been cut by 20 percent and vacations in half. The protests by taxi and truck drivers have long since been joined by farmers, Indio organizations and trade unions. President Moreno has declared a state of emergency, called out the military against the demonstrators and now also imposed a curfew. Five people have already been killed, Hundreds wounded and around one thousand demonstrators arrested. To escape the demonstrations, the government even moved temporarily from Quito - located in the Ecuador’s indigenous highlands - to the port city of Guayaquil, predominated by whites. It is not yet clear, whether Berlin’s ray of hope for Ecuador will be able to remain in office against these mass protests.

 

[1] Wolf Grabendorff: Ecuador - Zwischenbilanz der "Bürgerrevolution". FES Ecuador Perspektive, März 2013. See also Elitenwechsel mit Folgen.

[2] John Paul Rathbone, Colby Smith: IMF agrees to $4.2bn fund for Ecuador. ft.com 21.02.2019.

[3] Correa desecha preocupación europea por Ecuador; CadenaGlobal.com 10.05.2007. See also Transformation by Embrace.

[4] See also Ecology and Interests.

[5] Eva Haule, Harald Neuber: Konrad-Adenauer-Stiftung verlässt Ecuador. amerika21.de 27.08.2014.

[6] Kerstin Sack: Ecuador nimmt Stellung zum Weggang der Konrad-Adenauer-Stiftung. amerika21.de 31.08.2014.

[7] Sebastian Grundberger, Carla Bonilla: Ecuadors Chance. kas.de 28.11.2018.

[8] See also The Strategy of the Pacific Alliance.

[9] Reise in die Republik Ecuador. bundespraesident.de 13.02.2019.

[10] Annette Schwarzbauer: "Wir verfolgen die politische Entwicklung Ecuadors mit Freude". kas.de 12.03.2019.