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Gregory Wilpert a German-American sociologist who earned a Ph.D. in sociology from Brandeis University in 1994. Between 2000 and 2008 he lived in Venezuela, where he taught at the Central University of Venezuela and then worked as a freelance journalist, writing on Venezuelan politics for a wide range of publications and also founded Venezuelanalysis.com, an english-langugage website about Venezuela. In 2007 he published the book Changing Venezuela by Taking Power: The History and Policies of the Chavez Government (Verso Books). He moved back to the U.S. in 2008 because his wife was named Consul General of Venezuela in New York. Since returning to the U.S. he has been working as an Adjunct Professor of Political Science at Brooklyn College.
PAUL JAY, SENIOR EDITOR, TRNN: Welcome to The Real News Network. I'm Paul Jay in Washington. In Ecuador, Rafael Correa, the president, he's declared a national emergency. Apparently, protesting police in the streets have turned on him as he went out into the streets to negotiate with the police. He escaped into a nearby hospital and is now saying this is actually an attempted coup and a deliberate destabilization.~~~PRES. RAFAEL CORREA (VOICEOVER TRANSLATION): If you want to kill the president, here I am. Kill me. Kill me if you're not happy. Kill me if you're brave. But we will continue with one policy, one of justice, dignity, and we will not take one step backwards.~~~JAY: Joining us now from New York to help us understand these breaking events is Gregory Wilpert. He's the cofounder of Venezuelanalysis. He works with the Rosa Luxemburg Foundation in Venezuela. He's just returned a day ago from Venezuela, and he was in Ecuador just a few weeks ago. Thanks for joining us, Gregory.GREGORY WILPERT, EDITOR, VENEZUELANALYSIS.COM: Hi. Thanks for having me.JAY: So, Gregory, what do you make so far of what we can glean from the news reports?WILPERT: Well, it seems like there's an attempt to basically overthrow Correa, because it's not quite clear what the situation of the military is. Actually, the military, a portion of the military, at least, has also occupied the airport. In other words, they're cooperating with the police that have been just protesting. And they are affected by the same law that the police is demonstrating against, which would make it more difficult for them to get raises and to get promotions. Correa in the meantime has been saying that Lucio Gutiérrez, the ex-president, and who was actually himself a former military person, is behind this attempt to overthrow Correa. But the news on this is very scant, and so it's very difficult so far to really know for sure.JAY: So, now, just from the news reports, as much as we can glean, what happened is the police were in the streets protesting, I guess, outside the presidential palace, about these issues to do with wages and promotions. President Correa went out to try to directly negotiate. These are lower-ranking officers and ordinary policemen. He went out to negotiate directly with them in the streets, according to some of the reports, and some of the police fired tear gas at him. He escaped into a nearby hospital. Now, one of the reports we have, a friend of ours is talking to someone in Ecuador, and he says that Correa is now out of the hospital on the way back to the presidential palace and that the high command of the military is expected to come out in support of constitutional order. So as these events break, it's hard to tell exactly what's happening. But give us some context. Why would the police be either themselves wanting to get rid of Correa or? And give us an idea, for people who don't follow the politics of Ecuador, who is Correa.WILPERT: Correa is somebody who has been promising, in a similar vein as Hugo Chávez of Venezuela and Evo Morales of Bolivia, to completely clean up and reform Ecuador's political system. And he did have a new constitution, passed a new constitution just about two years ago, and has been proceeding on, you know, seriously reforming the country's political institutions.JAY: So he's seen, at least, as someone who's a populist, who's been going against the sort of entrenched elite interests in Ecuador.WILPERT: Yes, definitely. Well, actually, recently, though, the problem has been also that he's alienated some of his base of support. And I think the opposition in Ecuador is trying to take advantage of that. That is, he came to power with the help of the indigenous movements, but they recently broke from him because Correa went back on some of his promises about not exploiting the lands for resources in which they have theirthey see as their homelands. And so they've broken from him and they've organized massive demonstrations against him. There's a number of social movements in the meantime that are opposed to Correa from the left, and he's still being opposed, of course, also from the right. And I think my speculation is that the opposition in Ecuador is trying to take advantage of this weakness, this temporary weakness of Correa's, and is for this reason trying to move against him.JAY: Now, what is the economic situation there? Why this new legislation on wages and promotions for the police?WILPERT: Well, I mean, it's just like everywhere else: there's belt-tightening going on because of the economic crisis. Ecuador is an oil exporting country, a member of OPEC, and the price of oil has gone down in the past two years. And so they need to save moneyalthough there's also reports that actually police salaries have been increased; it's just that the modality for getting raises and promotions has changed. So it seems like a pretty flimsy reason, actually, to be organizing such a serious assault on the presidency.JAY: And that's why the charges against the ex-president and other forces for using this to destabilize the country.WILPERT: Exactly.JAY: Thanks very much for joining us, Gregory. And we'll be following this story on The Real News Network.
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