Ecuadorians general strike and protest to oust president Abdala Bucaram, 1997

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Time Period:  
11 January
6 February
Location and Goals
Location Description: 
All over Ecuador
To oust president Abdala Bucaram and overturn his neoliberal reforms

Ecuador ushered in a democratic process of election after 1978, following six years of military governments and coups d’état. During that time, the public demanded increasingly for democracy, prompting government officials to change the constitution in support of democratic elections beginning in 1979. Since then, Ecuador’s election process has involved more than six candidates in each election, and each elected president had finished their respective term. Abdala Bucaram broke that record.

Bucaram was elected into office as president of Ecuador in July 1996 carrying 54% of the vote. He ran on a neoliberal and populist political platform that proposed currency conversion reforms for the economy and antipoverty programs. However, before Bucaram’s programs took a firm economic hold, the cost of living in Ecuador increased dramatically, undermining the support of his impoverished electoral base. The cost of gas increased by 245%, electricity by 300% and transportation costs soared to 60% above their norms. Entrepreneurs and businesses were disillusioned by Bucaram’s economic reforms, as they were costing the economy more than they were helping it. Additionally, the social and economic elites in Ecuador did not support Bucaram or his reforms, claiming he was not trustworthy and that his regime was rife with corruption. The elite-controlled media began to reflect these sentiments.

Not six months after Bucaram had come into power, a national effort to halt his reforms and oust him as president took hold. On January 11, 1997, unions, student groups, Indigenous Peoples organizations, and members of the population from every socioeconomic class participated in forming the Patriotic Front. This all-encompassing organization boasted the ranks of the Coordinadora de Movimientos Sociales, the United Workers Front, the Confederation of Indigenous Nationalities in Ecuador, women’s interest groups, environmentalist groups, petroleum workers, and the lower, middle, and upper classes. Through the Patriotic Front, these groups collaborated in organizing a countrywide labor strike and a massive demonstration on February 5, 1997 to demand that president Abdala Bucaram step down from office and that the neoliberal reforms be overturned. Since Ecuador’s transition to civilian regimes, there had been more than twenty labor strikes across the country, and the Confederation of Indigenous Peoples in Ecuador had organized two large uprisings against the government. Therefore, the force opposing Bucaram’s government not only had roots in every facet of Ecuadorian society, it also had members experienced in protest and strikes.

Congress held meetings on January 13 to discuss how to legally oust Bucaram from office, not only because of the cost of his reforms but also because Bucaram’s public and professional image was seen as rather barbaric. He often used profanities and informal speech, undermining the government’s image. To this end, officials set about buying congressional votes against Bucaram and garnering the support of the military and U.S. Embassy. At the end of January, things began to pick up. On January 30, the U.S. ambassador to Ecuador publically denounced the regime as corrupt, allying the U.S. embassy with congress in opposition to Bucaram. On the 31st, unions demanded that Bucaram step down from office, and civilians occupied a church in Quito in protest of the economic measures.

On February 5, hundreds of thousands of people took to the streets of Ecuador against the backdrop of a general strike and demanded that Bucaram step down from office. Among them were social and economic elites, the impoverished, teachers, students, Indigenous members of the populations, entrepreneurs, business owners and many more. Bucaram responded by mobilizing the police against the peaceful protesters. Security forces centered themselves around the Presidential Palace and Congressional Building where officials were meeting to discuss the situation. Some reports say that tear gas and electric barricades were used. Bucaram declared a general state of emergency and holidays from schools and businesses in an attempt to ‘join’ the strike, but opposition leaders declared that the strike would continue for 48 hours until Congress completed their vote.

On February 6, 1997, Congress voted in favor of relieving Abdala Bucaram on the grounds that he was mentally unfit to assume office. Backed by the military, the U.S. Embassy and the Ecuadorian people, Bucaram had no choice but to relinquish his power to the Congressional leader, Fabian Alarcon. In the space of a few hours, the presidency had been transferred to vice president Rosalia Arteaga and then back to Alarcon who assumed power until the general election in 1998.

Research Notes

Previous strikes used against other civilian regimes and popular protests organized by the Indigenous peoples of Ecuador (1).

"ECUADOR UNITES AGAINST 'LOCO' PRESIDENT." The Guardian [London] 6 Feb. 1977. London: Guardian Newspapers Limited, 1997. Lexis Nexis. Web.

"Ecuadoreans Protest against Bucaram as Congress Meets." Deutsche Presse-Agentur [Hamburg] 5 Feb. 1997, International News sec. Lexis Nexis. Web. 23 Oct. 2011.

"Ecuador's President Hit by General Strike, Corruption Charges." Deutsche Presse-Agentur [Hamburg] 5 Feb. 1997, International News sec. Hamburg: Deutschee-Agentur, 1997. Lexis Nexis. Web. 23 Oct. 2011.

"Parties, Unions Ask Congress to Dismiss President Bucaram." British Broadcasting Corporation (transcription) [London] 3 Feb. 1997. London: BBC Summary of World Broadcasts, 1997. Lexis Nexis. Web.

Torre, Carlos De La. "Leader of the Poor or Repubgnant Other? Abdala Bucaram Popularisms." Populist Seduction in Latin America. Athens: Center for Institutional Studies, Ohio University, 2010. Print.

Name of researcher, and date dd/mm/yyyy: 
Elena Ruyter, 23/10/2011