The president of Ecuador, Rafael Correa, has claimed to be the victim of a soft coup since massive and frequent protests against his government began in early June in some of the country’s cities, especially Quito and Guayaquil. Based on this idea that a destabilization plan has been set in motion, the government has delegitimized the protests of different sectors and, according to opposition groups, ignored the complaints that reject constitutional amendments, the inheritance and surplus value laws (temporarily withdrawn), the new legislation for the Galapagos Islands, oil exploitation in the Yasuní ITT in the Amazon, and reproductive health policies, among other issues. Journalists José Hernández and Roberto Aguilar present their opinion on the ‘soft coup’ theory.
Thank you Mr. President for speaking about the soft coup… it is necessary
By José Hernández
A man, his face partially covered, hits the police officers with a wooden stick. The people around him look horrified. No one encourages him.
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The government and the president himself have wanted to make others believe that this image represents the spirit of the Quito demonstrators. It is a political blunder. Another gaffe. Determined not to evaluate reality but to invent it, those in power have found in the masked man’s cowardly attitude a good excuse to discredit the protests again, without having to analyze their content.
This subterfuge is old and, because it is, because it is part of a much-used script, it shows the regime’s will to remain locked in. Correa plays within a tragic circle: he does not listen, he tightens the rope, he strips the demonstrations of any real political significance, he criminalizes them, he turns the citizens into the actors of a coup d’état (now soft), he speaks of dialogue but as soon as he does he disqualifies his interlocutors and circumscribes the invitation to an exercise whose aim is to show he is right… In short, the political alternative that Correa proposes to the discontented citizenship is the enshrinement of the status quo. Embalming ‘correísmo’.
Does the president understand that his attitude is an open provocation? Does he understand that it is absurd and schizophrenic to respond to the people’s discontent by taking to the streets militants and people who are brought from other places and paid to come? Does he understand that it is his duty to deactivate processes that can lead to violence instead of encouraging them?
Political confinement underlies ‘correísmo’s’ temptation to take refuge in confrontation as the only political strategy. It is the tragic point reached by Venezuela. ‘Chavismo’ is still there, undisturbed by its mistakes, killing, imprisoning and repressing. It is still there, undaunted in its madness, while the economic crisis continues to grow and politics is replaced by the military’s brute force (bought in their case by the party) as Maduro and his followers’ sole support.
Does ‘correísmo’ want to take Ecuador to a similar place? Does the president want to set up the country in that dynamic? Unless that is the strategy, it is hard to understand how he intends to rule until 2017, claiming that even the Pope is happy with what his government does and that those who are dissatisfied are just a handful, manipulated by the followers of Gene Sharp.
Lasso, Nebot, Rodas… have also said he must complete his mandate. But does Correa expect the country to be saddled with the costs of his deafness? Costs for social peace, for production, for the normal functioning of an administration whose officials have been turned into the filling of the ruling party’s demonstrations.
It is unbelievable that the president should consider himself so perfect and wise that he would rule out amending policies and attitudes. It is inconceivable that he should be ready to place the country in a situation of dangerous confrontation when it depends on him alone that it resorts to politics and not violence. It is absurd that he should continue to repeat, as if common sense had disappeared entirely from his environment, that only those two laws he continues to evoke ad nauseam inspire the anger expressed on the streets. No: it is also the official arrogance. It is that brazen cynicism that he confuses with moral superiority. It is that catechism that repeats that he and his government are perfect, know-all, pure… so honest. It is the same old story that has made us weary over eight years.
That he should make amends no longer depends on proving to him that he is wrong or that he has wanted to transform reality into a fiction upheld by rigged numbers and secret contracts. Making amends, a moment of political lucidity would show him, is his obligation. If he doesn’t, the president will be voting to turn the country into some kind of minefield on the edge of violence and absolute economic collapse.
This is the worst-case scenario for the country and the worst for ‘correísmo’: flirting with social and political uncertainty and getting violence onto the stage. ‘Correísmo’ will go wrong again if it believes it can capitalize on some masked man who, cowardly, beats police officers while hidden among citizens peacefully going out on the streets. Ecuador is not a violent country and no deaf government will get the military to repress the civilian population in order to defend it.
To declare oneself the victim of an ongoing soft coup d’état is to confess being the immovable holder of all power. Is it a crime to oppose certain laws and how the president rules? Does he believe, then, that he can do with the country whatever he pleases? Does asking for amendments, and even asking that he should leave office if he does not want to implement them, make one a conspirator? ‘Correísmo’ has deinstitutionalized the country to such an extent: Ecuador has returned, without ever having been there before, to the worst monarchic absolutism.
Now the soft coup theory has strongly emerged. And during his Saturday broadcast the president already cited the name of Gene Sharp. Another political blunder that can be verified simply by searching in YouTube for interviews and documents referring to this American citizen, born in 1928, one of the great contemporary minds behind civil disobedience.
Correa wanted to illustrate the demonstrators’ alleged violent behavior blending it with the soft coup. But Sharp is the complete opposite: he is the greatest living theorist of nonviolence in the face of dictatorships and authoritarian regimes. His 198 non-violent methods used in mobilizations worldwide (Syria, Egypt, China, Serbia …) would have no effect in a democracy. This is why Chávez himself considered him an enemy. In Ecuador he does not seem to be well known.
The soft coup is simply the organized, democratic, ethical, nonviolent demand for civil rights. The soft coup is the dignified, mature, unswerving and public expression of forcing power to understand it has limits and must serve the people, not the other way round. The soft coup is the dissolution of the perverse logic that transforms citizens into power’s instruments or victims.
The soft coup is the return to normal life. Without fear or intelligence groups turned into Big Brother. It is the recognition of eventful life without spiritual directors or tribunals of the Inquisition. It is administrative transparency so that pure and well-intentioned people cannot plunder the country with amazing impunity.
The soft coup is simply the citizenship saying No to a power that believes it owns the country, its citizens, their property, their values, their beliefs, their destiny…
The soft coup about which the president speaks is nonviolence that takes into account that power can always be more aggressive, more extreme, a murderer. It is an option, the only viable one, for caring for each other’s lives and our own. And to include a Yes in that No: yes to a peaceful and respectful coexistence among different people.
This is why those masked men who brazenly and cowardly hide among peaceful protesters to hit and injure police officers must be taken out of the demonstrations.
We must thank the president for making Gene Sharp trendy in Ecuador.
Instructions for a soft coup
By Roberto Aguilar
The soft coup is a bag in which anything fits. An opinion, a complaint, a meeting, an exchange of messages, a demonstration, any kind of protest, the demand for a right… All these actions that used to be seen as part of the legitimate exercise of politics and citizenship are now under suspicion. They are part of what the government calls “the five steps to destabilize democracies by non-traditional means”, just as they allegedly appear in Gene Sharp’s guidebook, purported American ideologue of soft coups. What does this strategy consist of? El Telégrafo created an infographic, and based on this, Secom produced a little video to explain it to the unwary in the latest Saturday broadcast (number 432: only 96 are left). It is worth pursuing its development step by step to understand how, according to this view, a series of practices that should be part of everyday politics in any democracy are all at once delegitimized by ‘correísmo’s’ bad conscience.
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Estado de Propaganda
El Telégrafo’s infographic, based on which Rafael Correa intends to explain the truth, is quite a piece of work. At times one is tempted to think that its texts have emanated from that conceptual brick factory known as Forum of the Commons, so pretentious and unsubstantial are some of their lines. For example the one that says “generate actual or potential deficit matrices of opinion”. What the hell does that mean? And yet, the Commons are not the perpetrators of this monstrosity. It is even worse: the text comes from Venezuela, from ‘chavismo’s’ Popular Revolutionary Assembly and its official website, given the most eloquent name that could fit a space supposedly devoted to promote conceptual debate: Aporrea (Beat up/ Club). This is what El Telégrafo is good for now: to reproduce ‘chavista’ propaganda.
This about “generating actual or potential deficit matrices of opinion” is the first action of the five stages of the soft coup, the softening stage. For these nine words (in the original Spanish) to become intelligible, Secom’s video chooses to discard six and just say, “opinion matrices”. It should have kept just one: opinion. Because what the video shows as examples of a coup are just opinions. Thus, a headline that says, “Guillermo Lasso joins the criticism of tariff protections” implies, according to the video, the claim that “the economic program does not work”, which means the right-wing candidate (and the newspaper that publishes his opinion) is fully engaged in conspiratorial efforts. The next action of the softening stage is “creating conflicts and promoting discontent”. As examples, Secom’s video quotes two newspaper headlines: “IESS affiliates complain about the standard of care and the lack of medicines” and “Pensioners protest with black ribbons”. From which can be inferred that in order to avoid being called coup-mongers, those affiliated to the social security should not complain about anything or the media should not report their complaints. In short: when the government talks about an illegitimate softening tactic, it basically refers to citizens exercising their right to dissent. Opinions and protest, according to this scheme, acquire the category of crimes against State security.
Second stage: delegitimization. It includes the “manipulation of ideological prejudices” (for example, when someone tweets that “we do not want to be Venezuela”) and “demanding press freedom and human rights”. Notice how in the infographic, the ‘correísta’ newspaper, true to its style, and unlike Aporrea’s original, used quotation marks around the words “press freedom and human rights”, a typographic trick that fits the official effort to delegitimize both concepts. The same propaganda machine that resignified the word dictatorship, so that it sounds nice did the same with the words freedom and human rights, so that they sound ugly. At the end of this process of resignifying it is easy to classify as conspirators and coup-mongers those who demand press freedom and human rights.
Third stage: heating up the streets. This obviously refers to the popular demonstrations that took place in several cities of the country during the weeks prior to the Pope’s visit, reduced in Secom’s version to a few scenes of violence and attacks against police officers. This stage also includes “tweets of all kinds”, such as one that says (horror!) “it is not about inheritances and surplus value, it is about eight years of abuse”. Can one conceive a more conspiratorial attitude than that of this Twitter user?
The fourth stage, destabilization, is the stage in which, confusedly, we are now. And we say confusedly because Secom’s message implies that this stage and all the previous ones take place, so strange is this strategy, simultaneously. The focus of destabilization seems to consist on spreading rumors. A series of recordings that President Correa attributed to “call center campaigns” are featured here: that there will be a bank holiday, that you should withdraw all your savings, that the military have taken away their support for the government… Rumors like these reproduce easily in times of political turmoil. Beyond how reprehensible we may think they are and the fact that, if they turn out to be real and not just Secom’s invention, they kept a fairly low profile in social networks. The fact is that the government has failed to show how and through whom they are linked to the alleged plot to destabilize the country that he asserts they are a part of.
The fifth stage, which “they will never reach”, according to Correa, includes preparing the ground for military intervention, promoting the regime’s isolation from the international community and, finally, forcing the president to resign.
The obvious question here is the same that was asked from the minister of the Interior, José Serrano, when two weeks ago he denounced the outrageous conspiracy to take by assault Carondelet using sticks, balloons and ground pepper: why are the coup-mongers not in prison? Rafael Correa speaks of a “hard core” of conspirators “with foreign advisers, with all the money in the world, with domestic and foreign contacts”, whose aim is to “generate chaos and violence to force the president to resign”. They have Web pages, social networks, media. They are “an enormous force”. With so many details, it seems clear that the president, although he does not say so, knows who they are. He has, nobody can deny this, enough espionage networks to identify and infiltrate them. What is he waiting for to detain them? For less, much less than that (in fact, for nothing that could be proven), all the gorillas that could be found were sent against the ten Luluncoto boys, who were imprisoned, accused of terrorism, publicly exposed, their lives ruined. The conspirators behind a soft coup are much more dangerous. Their actions configure a series of serious crimes against State security. Why aren’t they in prison? There is only one possible answer: because the soft coup is the president’s lie. Another one.
When all this has ended, Correa’s song and dance about the soft coup will be remembered as one of the most shoddy and pitiful anecdotes of an inveterate mythomaniac. And the crudest part of all this production is the use of Gene Sharp as alleged theorist of the strategy. It is obvious they have not read his work. The ‘chavista’ militancy sent him distorted at will and the ‘correístas’ swallowed him whole. Because it turns out that everything in this story, the soft coup theory, the famous five steps, the strategy’s objective, the protest’s violent nature, everything is pure fantasy.
For a start, Sharp’s strategy does not intend to “destabilize democracy by non-traditional means”, as the government asserts, but is a way of resisting dictatorships. The book in which he set out these ideas, where the words “soft coup” do not appear anywhere, is entitled, precisely, From dictatorship to democracy. And the key word in his approach is not coup, but resistance. ‘Correísmo’s’ subconscious betrayed it: when it admits that Gene Sharp’s strategy can be used against it, it is acknowledging its authoritarian, controlling, punitive and undemocratic nature. It is accepting it is a government that offers no democratic solution to political and social conflicts, that does not recognize other forms of expression except for its own and that it persecutes all dissidence. It is for governments of this kind that Sharp designed his resistance strategies, not for democracies where conflicts are processed through institutional channels.
Secondly, it is obvious that ‘correísmo’ and its advocates, both Secom and El Telégrafo, coached by Aporrea, confuse all the strategy’s terms. If anything defines Sharp’s proposal above everything else it is nonviolence. Civil disobedience and pacifism. The network is full of testimonies about this. There is an insurmountable contradiction between accusing the Quito demonstrators of being violent and attributing them the North American theoretician’s strategy. It is one or the other.
Finally, it is hard to imagine where those damned five stages that Secom explains so awkwardly and in detail came from: there is nothing like them in Sharp’s work. And this is because what he proposes (resisting authoritarianism) is much more difficult than overthrowing a government promoting the intervention of the armed forces, which is what ‘correísta’ propaganda claims should occur in the soft coup’s fifth and final stage. Sharp despises the military solution because, he says, “it leaves in place the existing maldistribution of power between the population and the elite in control of the government and its military forces”. He fears that, when acting that way, “the new clique can turn out to be more ruthless and more ambitious than the old one”. In short, Gene Sharp does not have a shoe on his head.
It is necessary to read From dictatorship to democracy, a resistance guidebook that perhaps very few in this country had ever heard about, but that President Rafael Correa, who has not read it either, saw fit to introduce to us. It is a book that will teach us many things. The first thing we will learn from it is to distinguish the delusional and obtuse farce of the nonexistent soft coup as just a coarse propaganda strategy. And how by using it ‘correísmo’ aims to keep all dissent, any attempt at criticism, any form of rejection and protest under suspicion, making it easy and even justifiable to silence and suppress them. In the face of all that, says Gene Sharp, there is only one possible way: nonviolent resistance. He teaches how.