To shoot or not to shoot?  How did nonviolent movements avoid hard repression during the presidential breakdown of 2000 in Ecuador?*

Protesters gather at a cultural centre during the 2019 Ecuadorian protests.
Protesters gather at a cultural centre during the 2019 Ecuadorian protests. Source:

Since the beginning of the third wave of democratization in Latin America (1978), 15 Latin American presidents have not completed their term for various reasons such as impeachment, overthrow, or resignation. Most of the overthrows that took place in Latin America were accompanied by street protests and nonviolent mobilizations that demanded that their rulers be removed from power. In January 2000, Jamil Mahuad left office as constitutional president of Ecuador. This occurred due to the nonviolent action of several weeks, especially in the country’s capital, Quito. The reasons for his early departure from power were, above all, of an economic nature as has happened in other Latin American countries.

Economic conditions

On January 9, 2000, the economic situation was so critical that Mahuad decided to implement the dollarization with an exchange rate of twenty-five thousand sucres per dollar. The consumer was the most affected because the value of the basic food basket went from 170 dollars to 230 dollars only in that month, the minimum wage went from 154 dollars to its equivalent of 53 dollars, and the prices of water, electricity and telephone increased by more than 60% [2]. The severe economic crisis produced the frontal rejection of several local and national organizations of Ecuador against Mahuad. They carried out nonviolent actions to remove Mahuad from power.

Nonviolent actions and defections

On January 10, 2000, Mahuad declared a state of emergency to stop the nonviolent actions the Confederation of Indigenous Nationalities of Ecuador (Conaie) and the Coordinadora de Movimientos Sociales undertook. However, both organizations sought to establish a new government, and after secret negotiations with some members of the armed forces, they obtained the support of a dozen of colonels and captains from the army. These 3 groups occupied without violence the National Congress, the Supreme Court and the Ministry of Energy on January 21, 2000, and established a „National Salvation Government“, made up of Antonio Vargas, president of CONAIE, Dr Carlos Solorzano Constatine, former president of the Supreme Court of Justice; and colonel Lucio Gutiérrez, later replaced by General Mendoza. This triumvirate lasted a few hours, because Mendoza announced at dawn on January 22, his resignation from his position in the triumvirate and asked to be discharged.

The Council of Generals called Vice President Gustavo Noboa to the Ministry of Defense, where they recognized him as the constitutional president of Ecuador. Congress, for its part, dismissed Mahuad for abandonment of office on January 22, 2000. The indigenous returned to their communities, several with feelings of having been betrayed, and Gutiérrez went to prison with other soldiers, but later Congress granted him amnesty.

During this presidential breakdown, one person died in the province of Manabi. Police repression was minimal because several members of the army defected. According to Perkoski and Chenoweth (2018) defections can help reduce violence by 88% and this presidential breakdown is an example of it. Which factors incited their decision for minimal repression?

The data collected is based on three fieldwork carried out between 2017 and 2020 in various cities in Ecuador, semi-structured interviews with various representatives of the social, indigenous, union, and non-governmental organizations, members of the Police and the Armed Forces, and a review of journals and secondary literature.

What stopped them?

Here I am going to mention three important factors that incited their decision not to repress nonviolent movements. The first key factor was mass mobilization, which Chenoweth and Stephan [1] mentioned in their analysis of other successful nonviolent campaigns. More than 10,000 indigenous people arrived a few blocks from the main buildings of the center of power (Congress, Supreme Court of Justice and the President’s house). This mobilization was attended by different age groups. The indigenous people sat at the entrance to the main streets and thus blocked their access. This occupation of the territory, together with the collaboration of the military, allowed the seizure of institutions.

Another factor that reduced the repression were the previous negotiations nonviolent movements had directly with the military, where they indicated that the mobilization would be nonviolent. Saltos Galarza explains that “The High Command promised to avoid violent confrontation and repression against the people.” [4: p.40] The military that defected used dialogue with their peers, who protected the institutions, and convinced them to defect at that moment. The non-violent takeover of Congress was made possible by the type of military actors involved. They were war heroes, retired generals and colonels, active-duty colonels and captains.

A third factor was previous decisions by international tribunals to condem different ranks of military members for repression. As Sikkink [5] points out, in Chile and Argentina  the military tried to shield themselves to avoid prison because of the violations perpetrated during the dictatorships in their respective countries, but they failed. The imprisonment of several high-ranking military members retained military and police forces from Ecuador to use excessive force in their repression of nonviolent movements. Generals interviewed highlighted that one of the reasons for not deciding to shoot the demonstrators was the fear of being judged in the future by an international court of human rights.

*This blog is based on the finding published in the book: ”Presidential Breakdown: the actions of the public force against nonviolent movements from Ecuador in 1997, 2000 and 2005”. In those years three presidents had to leave their offices before they finished their presidential period.

María Belén Garrido is the Director of the Regional Institute for the Study and Practice of Strategic Nonviolent Action in the Americas. She obtained her PhD from the Catholic University of Eichstätt, Ingolstadt, was a research lecturer at the Pontificia Universidad Católica del Ecuador and a researcher at FLACSO, Ecuador. 

Invite – interdisciplinary exchange event

Workshop on Political Reconciliation through Epistemic Constructivism and book presentation „Presidential Breakdowns in Ecuador and the role of nonviolent movements in them“

When: Wednesday, 19.07.2023, 2pm
Where: Hörsaal, Hochschule für Philosophie München


[1] Chenoweth, E. and Stephan, M.J. (2011) Why Civil Resistance Works: The Strategic Logic of Nonviolent Conflict.Columbia University Press.

[2] Egas, M.F. (2000). El dolor de la dolarización. Vistazo, Nº778, pp.18-21

[3] Perkoski, E. and Chenoweth, E. (2018). Nonviolent Resistance and Prevention of Mass Killings During Popular Uprisings. ICNC

[4] Saltos Galarza, N. (2000). La rebellion del arcoíris y la traición de los generals. En N.Saltos Galarza (Ed.) La rebellion del arcoiris: Testimonios y análisis, pp. 19-48. Fundación José Peralta.

[5] Sikkink, K. (2011). The Justice Cascade: How Human Rights Prosecutors are Changing World Politics. W.W. Norton & Company Ltd.

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Gastbeitrag (2023, 14. Juli). To shoot or not to shoot?  How did nonviolent movements avoid hard repression during the presidential breakdown of 2000 in Ecuador?*. Kontrapunkte. Abgerufen am 22. Juni 2024, von

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