Tens of thousands of Ecuadorians crowded into downtown Guayaquil and Quito on Thursday to protest the policies of President Rafael Correa. There were smaller protests in Machala, Ibarra, Ambato, and Cuenca.
The Guayaquil rally was organized by Mayor Jaime Nebot, a long-time political opponent of Correa. In Quito, the protest was joined by Mayor Mauricio Rodas, who warned in a speech that Correa was threatening the liberties of Ecuadorians. In both cities, protesters chanted, “Out, Correa out!”
Speaking to the Guayaquil crowd, Nebot said the president’s economic policies threaten to start “class warfare” and to throw the country into turmoil. Without immediate changes, he said, Ecuador would follow the path of Venezuela’s socialist government which has created shortages of household goods and run-away inflation.
“They say that prosperity, the right to prosper, deserves punishment,” Nebot said of Correa’s administration. “This country isn’t ever going to accept that, because that is not Ecuador, that is Venezuela.”
At one point in his speech, Nebot quieted the “Correa out” chants, saying this is not about kicking anyone out of office, “it’s about sending a message that we change.”
Although the national police estimated the crowd to be 50,000 to 75,000, a spokesman for the city of Guayaquil said Friday morning that the real count was 375,000. The wide divergence in estimates could be explained by the fact the the police are a national agency, under the direction of Correa, while city of Guayaquil is run by Nebot.
Correa, who was trained as an economist in Belgium and the U.S. and who describes himself as a “21st century socialist,” has been president since January 2007 and his current term ends in 2017. Correa is widely popular with many Ecuadorians because of his government’s large investments in infrastructure, education, health care, and social programs.
When interviewed, some of the protesters said that they disagreed with some of Correa’s policies, especially recent proposals to increase inheritance and capital gains taxes, but still supported most of his programs. “He has been the best president we have had in many years,” said Silvia Ramirez in Quito. “We only want him to change some of the things he has been doing recently.”
Correa withdrew his tax proposals from the National Assembly following earlier protests and said he wants a national discussion to determine the final form of the legislation.
Correa has been criticized by opponents for his confrontational style in dealing with such sectors of society as the church, the press, banks and traditional political parties. Human rights groups have called him intolerant.
In Cuenca, a protest in Calderon Park drew a crowd of about 100.