The South American nation of Ecuador has been thrown into chaos following a violent confrontation between protesters and the country's president, Rafael Correa. Police officers and soldiers are involved in the protest over austerity measures, but army generals still back the president.
Protesters pushed and shoved President Correa as he attempted to address them Thursday outside a police barracks in Quito, the nation's capital. A tear gas canister exploded near the president causing him to choke. He was then taken to a hospital where he told local reporters the protesters were attempting a coup d'etat. As the protest mob surrounded the hospital, Correa vowed that he would either leave as president or as a corpse.
Crowds of Correa supporters also took to the streets, throwing rocks at the dissident police. There are reports of several injuries and at least one death. President Correa has declared a state of emergency, putting the military in charge of public order and suspending civil liberties. The commander of the Ecuadoran armed forces, General Ernesto Gonzalez, declared his loyalty to the president, but he also called for a hold on the law that led to the uprising. In a news conference, General Gonzalez called for the re-establishment of dialogue, which he said was the only way for his countrymen to resolve their differences.
The law that led to the police insurgency would cut bonus payments for police and soldiers as they achieve promotion. The protesting police and some military units took over the National Congress and the Quito airport. There have also been reports of widespread looting in both Quito and the Pacific port city of Guayaquil.
The unrest, however, has had no effect, so far, on the small nation's oil sector. Soldiers are guarding facilities of the state-owned oil company, PetroEcuador, and company spokesmen say operations continue. Ecuador is one of South America's largest oil producers and a member of the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries, known as OPEC. Oil revenues provide the country with about half of its export earnings and about a third of its total tax revenue.
But government spending in recent years has overtaken revenue. President Correa, an ally of Venezuela's leftist President Hugo Chavez, led what he called a "citizen's revolution" to power in the 2006 presidential election and began asserting state control over natural resources. In July, he began a move to renegotiate contracts with foreign oil companies operating under contracts in Ecuador in an effort to increase revenue for the government. Correa has tried to increase support for social programs with oil tax revenue.
US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton called on Ecuadorans to come together and work within democratic institutions to resolve the crisis peacefully. The United Nations, The Organization of American States and governments throughout the region have condemned the violence and voiced support for the democratically elected government.