Uprising In Ecuador: Lenin Moreno And The Price Of Betrayal

Moreno is now reversing course on austerity measures that provoked nearly two weeks of mass protests. But it may be too little too late to salvage his reputation.

Oct. 11 protests in Quito
Oct. 11 protests in Quito
Roberto Pizarro


SANTIAGO — A hike in fuel prices proved to be the straw that broke the camel's back in Ecuador. But the root of the problem is President Lenín Moreno's 180-degree shift to the right.

Rather than follow through with his promised policy agenda, Moreno, who was vice-president under leftist leader Rafael Correa (2007-2017), opted to heed the demands of the country's major economic interests.

While pardoning some $4.5 billions' worth of unpaid taxes to big corporate firms, he signed a deal worth $4.2 billion with the International Monetary Fund (IMF) to balance the budget. And as tends to happen with IMF deals, it was clearly anti-popular, and unpopular, involving higher sales taxes, privatization of strategic sectors, loosening of labor laws and downsizing the state with dismissals of civil servants. It also meant an end to fuel subsidies.

President Moreno's decisions are clearly designed to protect the interests of the business world, while requiring ordinary folk to help the state along the way.

The state of emergency and curfew have done little to curb this revolt.

The protests that swept the country starting Oct. 3 were thus unrelated to any subversive movement supposedly orchestrated by ex-president Correa, Moreno's predecessor. They were the response to the paquetazo — the "raw deal" that attacked the weak to help the rich.

Moreno seemed to have ignored the lesson of Argentina, where Mauricio Macri is likely to lose the presidency soon because of his austerity push. History repeats itself and, as in Argentina, the vast majority of people reject the IMF deal and especially the irresponsible rise in fuel prices.

The protests forced Moreno to leave the presidential palace and take refuge in the port city of Guayaquil. Workers and indigenous Ecuadorans took to the streets of the capital Quito, though their protests extended well beyond. The state of emergency and curfew did little to curb this revolt.

President Lenin Moreno in Quito — Photo: Agencia de Noticias ANDES

One should recall that Moreno barely won the last presidential elections against a right-wing contender, the banker Guillermo Lasso. Yet the Alianza País, the party that allowed him to win, obtained a comfortable majority in parliament that assured Moreno the ability to rule. There seemed to be no doubts about the continuation of the Citizens Revolution begun in 2007 by Correa.

Yet Moreno chose betrayal. Counseled by bankers, media bosses, the Social Christian politician Jaime Nebot and former president Abdalá Bucaram (whom parliament declared insane in 1997), Moreno turned his back on policies that had assured stability and growth under Correa.

He has also renounced a decade of policies of international sovereignty that marked the Correa presidency. Recent agreements with the United States include negotiating a free-trade treaty and ignoring Ecuadoran court decisions against the oil company Chevron for polluting the Amazon.

On Venezuela, Ecuador has adopted the U.S. government line and joined the states that recognize the opposition chief Juan Guaidó as "acting president." Finally and perhaps worst of all was his decision to hand Julian Assange over to British authorities. This deplorable decision was in response to British interests and above all those of the United States, which is after the WikiLeaks founder for revealing loads of compromising information about U.S. government action.

So after a decade of Ecuador keeping its distance, Moreno has brought the country back into the orbit of U.S. geopolitical, economic and military interests.

On Venezuela, Ecuador has adopted the U.S. government line.

At home, his government has sought to win political points by mixing a campaign against corruption with a bid to remove Correa's allies from positions of power. Zero tolerance for corruption is certainly admirable, but only if not infected with political objectives.

Unfortunately, Moreno has pointed this intolerance straight at Correa and his former officials, ignoring meanwhile the corruption of preceding governments, of districts run by right-wing councilors, businessmen who hide money in tax havens and those who defraud customs.

Lenín Moreno is not to be trusted. He betrayed Correa and his movement as soon as he entered the presidential palace. He has not enacted the program he promised the country, siding instead with big business, corporate media and the United States. He has turned Correa into his principal enemy, accusing him of serious (and highly disputable) acts of corruption. And finally, he has forged a domestic alliance with the Right, and in particular with Lasso, the man he defeated at the polls, in order to make his IMF deal feasible.

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Where Lockdowns For LGBTQ Meant Moving Back In With Homophobic Relatives

The confinement experience could turn brutal for those forced to live with relatives who would not tolerate a member of the family living their sexual orientation openly as a young adult. Here are stories from urban and rural India.

At a Rainbow pride walk in Kolkata, India

Sreemanti Sengupta

Abhijith had been working as a radio jockey in the southern Indian city of Thiruvananthapuram when the COVID-19 pandemic hit in March, 2020. When the government imposed a nationwide lockdown, Abhijith returned to the rural Pathanamthitta district , where his parents live with an extended family, including uncles, cousins and grandparents.

Eighteen months later, he recalled that the experience was "unbearable" because he had to live with homophobic relatives. "Apart from the frequent reference to my sexual 'abnormality', they took me to a guruji to 'cure' me," Abhijith recalled. "He gave me something to eat, which made me throw up. The guru assured me that I was throwing up whatever 'demon' was possessing me and 'making' me gay."

Early in 2021, Abhijith travelled back to Thiruvananthapuram, where he found support from the members of the queer collective.

Inspired by their work, he also decided to work towards uplifting the queer community. "I wish no one else goes through the mental trauma I have endured," said Abhijit.

Abhijith's story of mental distress arising from family abuse turns out to be all too common among members of India's LGBTQ+ community, many of whom were trapped in their homes and removed from peer support groups during the pandemic.

Oppressive home situations

As India continues to reel from a pandemic that has claimed more lives (235,524) in three months of the second wave (April-June 2021) than in the one year before that (162,960 deaths in March 2020-March 2021), the LGBTQ community has faced myriad problems. Sexual minorities have historically suffered from mainstream prejudice and the pandemic has aggravated socio-economic inequalities, instigated family and institutionalized abuse, apart from limiting access to essential care. This has resulted in acute mental distress which has overwhelmed queer support infrastructure across the country.

Speaking to queer collective representatives across India, I learned that the heightened levels of distress in the community was due to longstanding factors that were triggered under lockdown conditions. Family members who are intolerant of marginalized sexual identities, often tagging their orientation as a "disorder" or "just a phase", have always featured among the main perpetrators of subtle and overt forms of violence towards queer, trans and homosexual people.

Calls from lesbians and trans men to prevent forced marriages during lockdowns.

Sappho For Equality, a Kolkata-based feminist organization that works for the rights of sexually marginalized women and trans men, recorded a similar trend. Early in the first wave, the organization realized that the existing helpline number was getting overwhelmed with distress calls. It added a second helpline number. The comparative figures indicate a 13-fold jump in numbers: from 290 calls in April 2019-March 20 to 3,940 calls in April 2020-May 2021.

"Most of the calls we have been getting from lesbians and trans men are urgent appeals to prevent forced marriages during lockdowns," said Shreosi, a Sappho member and peer support provider. "If they happen to resist, they are either evicted or forced to flee home. But where to house them? There aren't so many shelters, and ours is at full capacity."

Shreosi says that the nature of distress calls has also changed. "Earlier people would call in for long-term help, such as professional mental health support. But during the pandemic, it has changed to immediate requests to rescue from oppressive home situations. Often, they will speak in whispers so that the parents can't hear."

Lack of spaces

Like many of his fellow queer community members, life for Sumit P., a 30-year-old gay man from Mumbai, has taken a turn for the worse. The lockdown has led to the loss of safe spaces and prolonged residence at home.

"It has been a really difficult time since the beginning of the lockdown. I am suffering from a lot of mental stress since I cannot freely express myself at home. Even while making a call, I have to check my surroundings to see if anybody is there. If I try to go out, my family demands an explanation. I feel suffocated," he said.

The pandemic has forced some queer people to come out

Sumit is also dealing with a risk that has hit the community harder than others – unemployment and income shortage. He's opened a cafe with two other queer friends, which is now running into losses. For others, pandemic-induced job losses have forced queer persons from all over the country to return to their home states and move in with their families who've turned abusive during this long period of confinement.

Lockdowns force coming out

According to Kolkata-based physician, filmmaker and gay rights activist Tirthankar Guha Thakurata, the pandemic has forced some queer people to come out, succumbing to rising discomfort and pressure exerted by homophobic families.

"In most cases, family relations sour when a person reveals their identity. But many do not flee home. They find a breathing space or 'space out' in their workspaces. In the absence of these spaces, mental problems rose significantly," he said.

Not being able to express themselves freely in front of parents who are hostile, intolerant and often address transgender persons by their deadname or misgender them has created situations of severe distress, suicidal thoughts and self-harm.

Psychiatrist and queer feminist activist Ranjita Biswas (she/they) cites an incident. A gender-nonconforming person died under suspicious circumstances just days after leaving their peer group and going home to their birth parents. The final rites were performed with them dressed in bangles and a saree.

"When a member of our community asked their mother why she chose a saree for someone who had worn androgynous clothes all their life, she plainly said it was natural because after all, the deceased 'was her daughter,'" Biswas recalls.

The Indian queer mental health support infrastructure, already compromised with historical prejudice, is now struggling

David Talukdar/ZUMA

"Correctional" therapy

In India, queer people's access to professional mental healthcare has been "very limited," according to community members such as Ankan Biswas, India's first transgender lawyer who has been working with the Human Rights Law Network in West Bengal.

"A large majority of the psychiatrists still consider homosexuality as a disorder and practice 'correctional therapy'. It's only around the big cities that some queer-friendly psychiatrists can be found," Biswas said. "The pandemic has further widened the inequalities in access to mental health support for India's LGBTQ community."

Biswas is spending anxious days fielding an overwhelming amount of calls and rescue requests from queer members trapped in their homes, undergoing mental, verbal and even physical torture. "We don't have the space, I just tell them to wait and bear it a little longer," he said.

Medical care is dismal

Anuradha Krishnan's story, though not involving birth family, outlines how the lack of physical support spaces have affected India's queer population. Abandoned by her birth family when she came out to them as a trans woman in 2017, Anuradha Krishnan (she/they), founder of Queerythm in Kerala who is studying dentistry, had to move into an accommodation with four other persons.

Isolation triggered my depression

"I am used to talking and hanging around with friends. Isolation triggered my depression and I had to seek psychiatric help." Living in cramped quarters did not help with quarantine requirements and all of them tested positive during the first wave.

What is deeply worrying is that the Indian queer mental health support infrastructure, already compromised with historical prejudice, is now struggling, placing more and more pressure on queer collectives and peer support groups whose resources are wearing thin.

During the 10 months of the first wave of the pandemic in India in 2020, Y'all, a queer collective based in Manipur, received about 1,000 distress calls on their helpline number from LGBTQ+ individuals. In May 2021 alone, they received 450 such calls (including texts and WhatsApp messages) indicating a telling escalation in the number of queer people seeking help during the second wave.

As India's queer-friendly mental health support infrastructure continues to be tested, Y'all founder, Sadam Hanjabam, a gay man, says, "Honestly, we are struggling to handle such a large number of calls, it is so overwhelming. We are also dealing with our own anxieties. We are burning out."

Sreemanti Sengupta is a freelance writer, poet, and media studies lecturer based in Kolkata.

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