Rafael Correa stands up to a police insurgency for his people
At least fifty people were injured and several killed in struggles around Quito’s National Police Hospital where Ecuador’s President Rafael Correa was taken Thursday after being injured by a tear gas canister shot at him by a protesting police officer.
Insurgent police kept the president in the hospital for 12 hours until army units arrived and fought gun battles with the police elements. After some struggle inside the hospital, the army grabbed the president and swept him away to the national palace in an SUV.
For a good video of the struggle and Correa's post kidnapping remarks, look at the Associated Press video report.
During the hectic hours Thursday, it was unclear who was with and who was against the president. From the beginning, General Ernesto Gonzalez, the top army commander, declared support for Correa, but it was not until after midnight that the army began to move against the rebel police.
It all began around 8AM Thursday when elements of the 33,000 member National Police force began to protest a new law that would restructure their promotions and bonuses. Like many nations in the world, Ecuador is facing serious economic difficulties and the squeeze is on. The new law was still in the preliminary stages and had yet to be actually enacted into law.
Reports put the numbers of National Police in the streets at 10 percent of the whole force, or some 3,000 armed and angry cops causing havoc, shutting down two main airports and burning tires to close off city streets. Small elements of the army and air force were also reportedly involved.
Correa is a handsome, 47-year-old American-educated economist elected president in 2006 and re-elected last year in the first round, without a run-off. The last time that happened was 31 years ago. The decade prior to Correa's arrival was noted for its many short-lived, revolving door presidencies.
Faced with an angry police uprising, Correa took the manly route and confronted his opponents. He went to the main Quito police barracks and spoke to the mob of angry cops from a balcony.
“If you want to kill the president,” he told them, “here he is. Kill him if you are brave enough. ...If you want to seize the barracks, if you want to leave citizens undefended, if you want to betray the mission of the police force, go ahead. But this government will do what has to be done. This president will not take a step back.”
Then he went down to the street into the crowd of angry cops, the press and citizens, walking with a cane because he had just had surgery on his right knee. Hit with the tear gas canister, four men carried him to the nearby hospital, where the standoff began.
Correa told the British Telegraph he was ruling the country from the hospital and would not negotiate with those surrounding the building.
"I'd rather die," he said. "I'm getting out of here as president, or feet first. But I'm not going to lose my dignity.”