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Cablegate: No Real Threat to Correa On the Horizon

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C O N F I D E N T I A L QUITO 000011

SENSITIVE
SIPDIS

E.O. 12958: DECL: 2020/01/15
TAGS: PGOV ELAB MARR EC
SUBJECT: NO REAL THREAT TO CORREA ON THE HORIZON

REF: 09 QUITO 1055; 09 QUITO 849; 09 QUITO 877; 09 QUITO 951
09 QUITO 1043; 0...



id: 243921
date: 1/15/2010 18:08
refid: 10QUITO11
origin: Embassy Quito
classification: CONFIDENTIAL
destination: 09QUITO1043|09QUITO1055|09QUITO841|09QUITO849|09QUITO877|09QUITO951|10QUITO5
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C O N F I D E N T I A L QUITO 000011

SENSITIVE
SIPDIS

E.O. 12958: DECL: 2020/01/15
TAGS: PGOV ELAB MARR EC
SUBJECT: NO REAL THREAT TO CORREA ON THE HORIZON

REF: 09 QUITO 1055; 09 QUITO 849; 09 QUITO 877; 09 QUITO 951
09 QUITO 1043; 09 QUITO 841; 10 QUITO 5

CLASSIFIED BY: Hodges, Ambassador, State, EXEC; REASON: 1.4(B), (D)

1. (C) Summary: Workers, students, teachers, and indigenous groups
have announced protests against the government during January 2010,
as is often the case for this time of year. At the same time,
President Rafael Correa has alleged a military-led attempt to
destabilize the government, the Minister of Foreign Affairs
resigned, and Correa's popularity dropped again in the polls.
However, these events are unlikely to threaten the stability of the
Ecuadorian government, or the tenure of President Rafael Correa, in
the near future. End Summary.

UNCOORDINATED DEMONSTRATIONS AGAINST THE GOVERNMENT

--------------------------------------------- ------

2. (SBU) Indigenous leaders are calling for assemblies of their
communities on January 20, in part due to regularly-scheduled
internal congresses, but also to decide on whether to mobilize
political protests and what kind of strikes they will hold to
protest the closure of a Shuar radio station (Ref A) and the
government's "lack of respect." The indigenous are by and large
the most intimidating group when it comes to threats of
mobilization, having already organized demonstrations (alone or
with others) that resulted in the ouster of three presidents since
1997. However, the political organizations representing the
indigenous nations have lost influence, internal unity, and the
sympathy of the general population in recent years. The Correa
administration claims to have the support of the indigenous people
except for a few of its leaders, although his adherents in those
communities are likely fewer in number than when he was first
elected. Indigenous mobilizations have been so far unsuccessful in
changing the more controversial laws during the Correa
administration; demonstrations in January 2009 failed to persuade
the GOE to redraft the mining law, and in September 2009 the GOE
refused to make significant changes to the draft water law. The
demonstrations in September resulted in the death of one protester
and many injuries among the police, but only a few hundred
indigenous people participated in each location, in contrast to the
tens of thousands who took to the streets in 2000 and 2005 (Ref B
and C).

3. (SBU) Other groups also plan to mobilize this month. University
students called for protests in all provincial capitals on January
6, but less than two hundred marched in Ecuador's largest city,
Guayaquil, and the protestors in Quito were so few that the event
did not even make the local papers. The Montubio ethnic minority
cancelled the protest it had planned for January 11 after
conversations with the government. Workers have scheduled a
protest for January 15, but they usually organize demonstrations in
January to protest the minimum salary wage increase that is
announced around that time each year (see septel on labor
organizations). Teachers protested throughout 2009 with few
results, and have not yet set a date for their January strike. The
public is used to these protests and no serious disruption of
public order is expected.

THE ALLEGED POLITICAL ROLE OF THE MILITARY

------------------------------------------

4. (C) Correa himself is the most vocal source of claims of alleged
attempts by the military to destabilize the government. In his two
most recent radio addresses, Correa discussed emails circulating in
the barracks allegedly sent by supporters of former President and
retired Colonel Lucio Gutierrez, who leads the Patriotic Society
Party. The emails supposedly report that Correa intends to
eliminate certain benefits for the military. Correa has provided no
substantiation for his allegations, and none has been made
available by other members of his government. Military leaders
immediately declared their loyalty to the Government of Ecuador
(GOE), while the Gutierrez supporters claimed ongoing political
persecution by Correa. The publicity may be interpreted as a
government strategy to gather public support for the committees to
defend the citizen revolution, announced during the August 10
inauguration (Ref F), and a way to undermine the prestige of the
Patriotic Society Party. In fact, the Correa administration has
made significant efforts to keep the troops happy, for example by
increasing their salaries and making a show of modernizing military
equipment.

RESIGNATION OF THE MINISTER OF FOREIGN AFFAIRS

--------------------------------------------- -

5. (SBU) The resignation of Minister Fander Falconi on January 12
over Correa's accusations of loss of sovereignty during
international negotiations on an Amazon rain forest conservation
effort does not jeopardize the stability of the government (Ref G).
The President had announced that he would make more changes in his
cabinet in the beginning of 2010. A change in the cabinet is, in
any case, quite common in the Correa administration: since Correa
took office in January 2007, one or more members of the cabinet
have been changed 54 times with no significant impact on the
administration's direction.

CONTINUING DECLINE IN POPULARITY

--------------------------------

6. (SBU) According to local polling, approval for Correa's
performance in December 2009 was between 42 and 54 percent. While
this indicates a fall of 20 or 30 percent points (depending on the
pollster) in comparison with December 2008 figures, the Ecuadorian
president was still the most popular public figure of 2009
according to end-of-year surveys. As President Correa likes to
point out, his government has won six consecutive elections in
three years, an uncommon political event in Ecuadorian history. He
holds the current record for popularity among all presidents in
Ecuador since 1979, with over 70 percent approval rating in 2007.
In the Ecuadorian context, an approval rating of over 40 percent is
still remarkably high.

7. (C) As reported earlier, the social and political movements are
not unified and there does not appear to be an opposition figure to
rally around at this time. These groups have even scheduled their
demonstrations on different dates, allowing them to air their
particular grievances, but losing an opportunity for the show of
unity that made them so effective in 2000 and 2005. Hence, the
government can deal with discontent by negotiating with, or
ignoring, each group separately. Embassy contacts - including some
among the protesting organizations - note that Ecuadorians have no
real interest in tossing out the current president; they may not
like him much, but there is no stomach for instability. Polling

results bear this out, as two-thirds of Ecuadorian citizens say
they would not approve of revoking the President's mandate (refs D
and E).

8. (C) Another factor that should not be discounted is that
Correa's political support among lower and lower-middle classes is
solid, due in large part to his dramatic increase in social
spending since taking office. In addition to doubling cash
transfers to poor families and the elderly, his government has
greatly increased spending on health and education, particularly in
rural areas, where approximately 5 million of Ecuador's 14 million
citizens reside. The beneficiaries of this fiscal largesse,
traditionally ignored by past governments, form a large and stable
political base for Correa, and are likely to oppose any political
change that would potentially disrupt these pro-poor programs.

CORREA STILL HOLDS THE REINS, DESPITE HIS PUBLIC FEARS

--------------------------------------------- ---------

9. (C) The political opposition is still weak and disorganized, and
it lacks a credible political leader. Within his political
movement, Alianza PAIS (Proud and Sovereign Fatherland Alliance),
Correa still runs the show. At the National Assembly, some PAIS
assembly members have shown nascent signs of independence from the
Executive, but this has not yet translated into legislative action.
Over the past few years, President Correa managed to alienate
several of the key founders of the PAIS movement, including Alberto
Acosta (former President of the Constituent Assembly, Gustavo
Larrea (former Coordinating Minister of External and Internal
Security), and more recently Fander Falconi, without significantly
damaging his own political support. Of the original group, only
the current Coordinating Minister of Politics, Ricardo Patino, is
still in the government. Hence, Correa is so far walking away as
the winner of the political contest.

10.(SBU) While Correa does not appear to have any significant
competitors for power in the wings, it has not stopped him from
announcing imminent threats to his regime and the "citizen
revolution," usually during his Saturday TV and radio addresses.
His most recent allegations of conspiracies to destabilize the
government came on January 2, when he first raised the rumors of
discontent in the military and, in the same address, alleged that
"right wing foundations based in the United States" were working
with indigenous groups to destabilize the regime. In January 2009
he used his radio address to allege that retired military officers
were attempting to destabilize his government at the behest of a
"certain political party." In May 2009 it was the "oligarchy's
puppets" working against him, and in September 2009 it was once
against the teachers and indigenous threatening to create
instability. (These are just few illustrative examples.)

COMMENT

-------

11. (C) While Correa is politically weaker than even six months
ago, and continues to alienate groups, the latest political events
in Ecuador are probably no more than business as usual. Indigenous
groups, teachers, students, and workers have thus far been unable
to coordinate their actions, which prevents them from having a
serious impact on government stability. Rumors of significant
disaffection in the military do not look likely to translate into

anti-government moves at this point. The political opposition is
weak and unable to coordinate. Even Correa's traditional (and
favorite) opponents, the business leaders and wealthiest
Ecuadorians, have done little more than talk about creating an
opposition force, without achieving any significant public
presence. While disparate opposition groups were able to coalesce
and topple former President Bucaram in little more than five weeks
in 1997, it appears the current movements are weaker and less
organized than ever, barring some unforeseen event that brings them
suddenly together. The divide in ideological orientation of
opposition groups - some on the far right and others on the far
left - also augurs poorly for the prospect of any joint action.
HODGES

=======================CABLE ENDS============================

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