Last week, the President of Ecuador, Rafael Correa, fired all of Ecuador’s military high command for their refusal to pay back to the government money that the army allegedly owes. President Correa announced via Twitter that he had dismissed the army high command after they refused to refund US$41 million to the Ministry of the Environment. The former army high commander, Luis Anibal Garzon, refuted Correa’s claims and argued that the government was depriving the military of much needed funds, which it needed to cover basic pensions.
The dispute stems from the sale of 220 hectares of land in Guayaquil. The land, which was owned by the Instituto de Seguridad Social de las Fuerzas Armadas del Ecuador (ISSFA), the army social security and pension fund, was sold to the government in 2010 and used to create Guayaquil Park. Last July, the Pope, during his visit to Latin America, said mass in this park. At the time, the Ministry of the Environment paid over US$48 million for the land, even though the municipal council had apparently valued the land at only US$7.3 million. The Attorney General conducted an investigation last November, which concluded that the government had drastically overpaid ISSFA. Based on this investigation, the Correa administration then ordered the Ministry of Finance to recoup the US$41 million difference for the Ministry of the Environment.
The high command of the army refused to acquiesce to this request and instead publicly accused Correa of undermining the ability of the army to secure and pay for its pensions.
In response, Correa then dismissed the entire high command for disobedience.
Luis Anibal Garzon, chief of command of the armed forces was replaced by Oswaldo Fabián Zambrano Cueva. The new head of the navy is Angel Isaac Sarzosa Aguirre; the head of the air force, Cesar Abdon Merizalde Pavon; and head of the army, Luis Miguel Angel Castro Ayala.
Some have argued that Correa’s actions are part of a larger populist, even electoral authoritarian strategy, of centralizing power, which has seen him reform the constitution, aggressively tackle political opponents in civil society, and change term limits.  In response, groups of protestors took to the streets of Quito chanting “Correa Out.” These protests were marked by counter-protests in support of the Correa administration, where Correa lashed out at right-wing opponents and the media for tarnishing his regime and policies.
Worryingly, this incident does appear to indicate a step up in political polarization among opposition groups and the government. This is a trend that is reflected in other parts of the Andes. Political polarization is a recurrent feature of Bolivian politics, and polarization between the opposition and the government in Venezuela, has severely undermined the political stability of the country.
 For example, see the special issue on Latin America’s Authoritarian Drift in the Journal of Democracy (2013, Vol. 24, Issue 3).