On the morning of September 30, 2010, Ecuadorian President Rafael Correa signed into law a decree that all bonuses for state police would be abolished amidst a growing national debt and reports of widespread police corruption. The end result to this announcement was 2 people dead, over 80 wounded, an attempted kidnapping and coup of Correa, and a series of infrastructure closures and police blockades that gripped an entire nation for over 24 hours.
What started as peaceful political demonstrations by supporters of both President Correa and the national police escalated into a conflict that had nearly every Ecuadorian civilian behind locked doors and glued to the TV or radio. Appearing in public to challenge the police protests, President Correa defiantly lashed out at the police rebels that if they wanted to assassinate the President he was there for the taking. Mere minutes later, President Correa was being whisked away to a police hospital from the effects of a tear gas canister that was lobbed at him, followed by his gas mask being ripped off by an angry bystander.
Once in the hospital, the military was called in to establish martial law across the now lawless nation whose police were either all on strike or at home with their families, awaiting the outcome of their rebellious brethren. In Quito, the hillside outside of the hospital erupted in vents of gas and smoke as a noxious cocktail of tear gas and burning tires hijacked the once gentle valley breeze. Near the hospital, throngs of rioting policemen launched gas containers at the hospital windows and exchanged gunfire with military members loyal to Correa. Buses made abrupt u-turns in the highway, their once capitalistic interiors transformed into altruistic getaway cars. Needing to dodge the oncoming traffic and distance themselves from the approaching gunfire, the buses simply jumped the steep center divider to make an awkward absorption into the correct flow of traffic. I know all of this, because I was there.
While the peace-loving and coup-hardened Ecuadorian populace did their absolute best to remain calm and continue with life as normal, there was no hiding the reality of Blackhawk helicopters landing in the empty streets, themselves a temporary relief from the cacophony of non-stop car alarms. With hundreds of military personnel camped out on the city’s main runway, the Peruvian and Colombian borders closed, and all forms of public transportation having come to a grinding halt, there was literally no option other than to hunker down and wait for the violence to subside.
Luckily the violence would last much shorter than most anticipated, and by nightfall President Correa was delivering a spirited victory speech from the balcony of the government plaza to a crowd of raucous supporters. Once the dust seemingly had settled over the city, fingers were quickly drawn from their political holsters to point blame for the entire fiasco. Correa pointed to former President Gutierrez of the Patriotic Society Party, while Gutierrez claimed he had no involvement in it. Some felt that it was as simple as an incredibly vocal minority of Quito police stepping far outside of their bounds. Some, such as Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, blamed it on a vast US backed right-winged conspiracy. Regardless of where the blame will finally rest, it was a day that will rest heavily in the minds of the Ecuadorian people and the few extranjeros who were around to witness the dark side of politics in its most unfortunate light.