The Military & the Pink Panther

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Military bands have always interpreted their own versions of martial marches for celebrations. Since the ‘revolution’, their mandate has changed; no longer bands for war, they are now bands for peace (love and good living) and play popular music. On 26th January, during the 20th anniversary celebrations of the Cenepa military triumph, Ecuador’s most heroic deed of the century, the band was playing on the main military stage. From the grandstand opposite, the President of Ecuador was observing the proceedings. The surprise came when the Pink Panther theme tune started up, the officers bobbing to its rhythm.

What is this? we asked. More questions arose when no military official rose to remember the historic event. The sole speaker was the President, who gave an angry address on the military’s lack of faith over the Armed Forces Social Security Institute (ISSFA for its Spanish acronym). Despite assurances from the President that the ISSFA won’t be scrapped, the military remains cynical over its future. (We discovered that it’s not only civilians who don’t believe the President’s claims).

Military forces have a rigid set of behaviors. They may be clearly divided into Army, Navy & Air Force, but they resolve any issues within barracks. If they must make a public complaint to a leader, they use special language, with indirect messages, sometimes metaphorical, following a strict protocol. For example, there are specific rules dictating when a commander may speak as he presides over an event. The military uses symbolic gestures of rejection or sympathy for a president (for example removing the presidential guard when they judge ‘it’s time to go home’). We do not know what the sensual dance of the Pink Panther symbolized, as nervous laughter sounded in the gallery. But the military is angry.

The ‘revolution’ has already ‘eaten up’ (in popular parlance) all branches of government, all major institutions of society; there are few who have resisted being dominated. Until recently, the military has been too busy enjoying salary increases, buying airplanes and faulty helicopters, to protest the mauling of their organization. They have peacefully watched as the government has limited military service, reduced troops, and taken control of their schools. However, it seems that new constitutional amendments proposed by the government have finally provoked a reaction. The most far reaching of these amendments proposes the conversion of soldiers into firefighters, police and customs officers (a further reduction in personnel and a high risk of corruption).

There is almost a process of dismantlement of the traditional institution. The intention is not to eliminate the military, but to replace it with elements submissive to the ruling party, as seen in Cuba, China, Korea, Venezuela and other revolutionary countries. Another constitutional amendment guarantees social security for the military (obviously, this is a right which cannot be eliminated) but it does not specify who will administer it.

Still overshadowing the military is the pending prosecution of those involved in 30S. According to a press release, the 30S Investigation Commission has announced it will begin to examine those who participated. The investigation into the role of the Air Base began on March 26, 2013. Allegedly, the incident occurred because officers were protesting the new law on public service. On June 7, 2014 it was reported that the hearing would begin against 225 Air Base members who were present during the protests of September 30, 2010.

Yet the most annoyed seem to be the military personnel on passive service and those active in the Army. This was noted at the launch of the Cenepa memorial exhibition. The President was expected to be there, but instead he showed up in Guayaquil at a Navy event, where they asked him for more and more weapons (beleaguered presidents often lean on the Marines). Did his absence hurt the Army? And how did they feel when the President dismissed former General González as reactionary after he wrote a book refuting that the President was ever kidnapped by the police? These were the last links in the chain of events that ended in a Pink Panther rhythm. What will they play next?

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