What really happened in Ecuador (one version, anyway)

I really hate that my only regular source of information about what happens in Latin America — now that I no longer have my subscription to The Economist that the paper paid for — is the opinion columns of Mary Anastasia O’Grady in The Wall Street Journal. They’re all written from the standard WSJ point of view — free markets good, government bad — and while I certainly prefer that to, say, the twisted neo-Maoism of Hugo Chavez, or the native populism of Evo Morales, or the demagoguery of Rafael Correa, I would still prefer my reporting without the Adam Smith sermonizing.

But whaddaya gonna do? In this country, the MSM panders so to the extreme apathy of Americans toward anything beyond their borders that the only way I’ve ever kept up with our own backyard is by reading British publications (such as The Economist).

All of that said, having Ms. O’Grady’s observations delivered to my door each week is better than nothing.

And I read with particular interest her piece this morning about what happened in Ecuador last week. An excerpt of her debunking of Mr. Correa’s claims of a “coup” attempt:

Mr. Correa says that, once inside the hospital, the police “kidnapped” him for 10 hours, in what he is calling an attempted coup d’état.

Not so, says Ms. Zaldumbide, at least one other patient, and two doctors and a nurse who were on duty at the time. They say Mr. Correa retained all his presidential privileges and was never without the protection of his security team.

They also say he was offered an armed escort to leave but refused it. Ecuador’s minister of internal and external security has also said that the president was never detained.

Nevertheless, at 9 p.m. Mr. Correa, who was doing telephone interviews with the state-controlled media during the time he was supposedly “kidnapped,” ordered 500 army troops to the hospital. The soldiers arrived with tanks and submachine guns and opened fire on the police. A fierce gun battle lasted 40 minutes, took the lives of two men, and terrified hospital staff and patients.

Wow. Although there apparently was no coup at all, what did happen certainly sounds more exciting than the real coup I lived through in Ecuador when I was a kid.

Back then, we knew how to have a revolution without our hair getting mussed. I say this because I was, like Forrest Gump and just as clueless, present as history was made.

We lived in the upstairs of a large house owned by a captain in the Ecuadorean Navy. One day in 1963 when my parents were out, they told us to go hang out with the kids downstairs, in the landlord’s part quarters. While I was there, the capitan had a visitor. A few days later, that visitor (an admiral) was the head of the junta running the country, and our landlord held some high post in the government. I want to say minister of agriculture.

When my parents told me there had been a coup, I asked what a coup was (I was only 9 years old). They told me it was like a revolution. So with some apprehension, I went over to the window and peeked out at the intersection of Maracaibo y Seis de Mayo, expecting to see violence in the streets. I saw nothing. Things looked pretty normal over across the street at the home of the chief of police, which always had a guard walking up and down the sidewalk outside. Perhaps, I thought, the fighting was elsewhere.

But there was no fighting. The story I remember hearing at the time — and it may be totally apocryphal — was that the junta waited until el presidente had a bit too much to drink, then put him on a plane and let him wake up in Panama. Presto — instant revolution.

What I saw subsequently certainly jibed with such a peaceful transfer. The only time I ever saw violence in that country when I was there was when some friends and I went downtown to see a Western movie with a title that I suppose caused a lot of people to think it was in Spanish (I want to say “Comancheros”). The crowd was queued up on one side of the theater, then a rumor spread that the tickets would be sold on the other side, and I got knocked down in the stampede. Then there was that other time when I was at some event in a park, and was pushing my way through a crowd to the front to see what was happening, and popped through the front ranks just as a line of cops pushed us back at bayonet point — but I don’t remember what that was about; I just remember my surprise at the bayonets, which seemed excessive. (Or was it just rifles without bayonets? I was so young, and it was so long ago — and a boy’s memory tends to romanticize, especially when living the sort of TV-free, Tom Sawyer existence I experienced down there. Everything was an adventure.)

Now, looking back, I read that the junta canceled elections. I don’t remember that. I do remember that they canceled Water Carnival. Water Carnival was a deeply cherished (by 9-year-old boys) tradition that involved having permission for several days to assault strangers with water balloons. To me, the canceling of Water Carnival has always stood out as the very epitome of oppression.

Of course, it may just be that my parents told me it was canceled…

Come to think of it, Ms. O’Grady’s accounts are probably more reliable than my memories. What do kids know? I later learned that several of the adults with whom I regularly interacted — including my guitar teacher — were working for the CIA, or U.S. military intelligence. Who knew?

2 thoughts on “What really happened in Ecuador (one version, anyway)

  1. Greg Jones

    Children can jump to huge conclusions when it comes to politics, especially of you help them.
    We were once telling my daughter and her friend that my uncle was a CIA spy. (True, sort of.)
    She was asking what he had done. We told her she couldn’t know, or someone would likely come kill her. My wife told her the only thing we could say was “Grassy Knoll”.
    This was in the infancy on the internet, so it took a couple of weeks for Abby to get on line and search “Grassy Knoll.” Imagine our surprise when she comes storming in the kitchen one day to tell us that Uncle Tom had killed JFK!
    We had to debunk that pretty quick…I can’t imagine what would have happened if a 6th grader had told THAT tale in school.

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