Police Riots Raise Concern in Ecuador

Lauren Dahlberg-Seeth

Ecuador was in an eight-day state of emergency at the beginning of October after an insurgent group of the nation’s police force attacked President Rafael Correa. On Sept. 30, police rioted to protest the approval of a Public Service Law that would significantly cut police wages, extend promotion intervals, and discontinue the medals and cash bonuses that come with each promotion.

“Protesters blocked main roads and highways, including the bridge I needed to cross in order to make it home from work,” said Ecuadorian student Andrea Castillo in a personal account released in the Daily Evergreen. “Rioters burned tires in the streets, robbed people at knifepoint and seized buses and cars stopped at red lights.”

President Correa reportedly confronted the disgruntled police officers at one of the main barracks in Quito, Ecuador’s capital, and found himself amongst a very hostile crowd of 800 rebels.

“If you want to kill the president, here he is! Kill me if you want to! Kill me if you are brave, instead of hiding in the crowd like cowards,” said Correa to the rioting policemen, exposing his chest to show that he was not wearing a bulletproof vest. “If you want to take over the squads, if you want to leave the city defenseless, if you want to betray your mission as police, your oath, betray it. But this President and this government will keep doing what we have to do.”

Although no bullets were shot, tear gas was fired and the President was quickly taken to a hospital on the same barrack grounds for treatment. There, rebel police held the President for about 12 hours.

Although several presidential bodyguards were with Correa, the insurgent policemen gaurded the hospital and prevented any military entry. After a long shootout between the rebels and the government’s loyal police and militia, Correa and his men were retrieved from the hospital and taken away in three unmarked cars.

“It was actually very violent,” said freelance journalist Stephan Kueffner in an interview with NPR. “There were dozens and dozens of rounds of shots fired. And this isn’t an isolated area, there’s another hospital across the street, a symphony hall, apartment buildings, so you can see it was a very dangerous situation.”

Whether or not this revolt was a coup attempt is still a matter of debate.  The riots in Quito led to nearly 270 injuries and 12 deaths. Conditions in Ecuador have since relatively stabilized but tensions between Ecuadorians and their government are still high.

“There is much discontent and a danger of more protests like the one of Sept. 30 by the police or military or by the Ecuadorian people,” said Lucio Gutierrez, former president of Ecuador, in an interview with The Wall Street Journal.

Seven captains, four colonels, a lieutenant, and a second lieutenant of the Ecuadorian police force have been placed on administrative leave during government investigation. Members of the Ecuadorian government urge President Correa to further communicate with the country on the debated issues, but no public announcements have been made.