Indigenous people of Ecuador close roads on second day of protests against economic policy

Indigenous people and peasants of Ecuador intermittently blocked roads in eight of the 24 provinces of the country on Wednesday, on the second day of demonstrations against the government’s economic policy, amid a state of exception due to drug violence.

The powerful and opposition Confederation of Indigenous Nationalities (Conaie) -which participated in riots that overthrew three presidents between 1997 and 2005- has promoted the protest against the rise in fuel prices by 90% since 2020.

President Guillermo Lasso, a former banker who took office in May, called on indigenous leaders to resume the dialogue at the headquarters of the Executive on November 10, his spokesman, Carlos Jijón, announced on Twitter.

"I call for dialogue, consensus and thinking about the good of the country"said the president earlier in a military event in Quito, where there were no protests on Wednesday.

After two days of demonstrations, the Minister of Government (Interior), Alexandra Vela, said that the number of injured policemen increased from five to eight. Authorities had reported 37 detainees on Tuesday.

The official pointed out that the two soldiers "kidnapped" the day before protesters were released on Wednesday night with the intervention of the Red Cross, and an investigation promised.

A journalist and indigenous leader died accidentally on Wednesday while covering protests in the Andean province of Cotopaxi (center), reported the NGO Fundamedios, which records eight attacks against the press in the demonstrations.

With stones, earth, logs and tires on fire, Conaie blocked several points of the Panamericana Norte highway, which leads to Colombia, AFP reporters observed. The military and police patrolled the roads, removing debris and restoring the passage of vehicles, but at some points the protesters again blocked them.

In the town of Otón, about 20 trucks had to wait to move north, including Roberto Haro’s, who was transporting a shipment to Pasto, on the Colombian side.

"The diapers were supposed to be in Pasto last night. They do not realize (the protesters) how we lose those who do freight transport"Haro told AFP, complaining that "diesel is expensive".

Violence that is outrageous

In addition to Cotopaxi, the Integrated Security Service ECU911 reported roadblocks in the provinces of Pichincha (capital Quito), Imbabura, Tungurahua, Bolívar, Chimborazo, Pastaza and Morona Santiago.

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In Cotopaxi there were "strong repression", according to Conaie, and its president, Leonidas Iza, asked the authorities to "stop installing violence". "The more violence will outrage the people", I note.

On Tuesday, more than 1,500 indigenous people, workers, teachers and students marched in Quito, and clashes broke out with the police near the headquarters of the Executive.

"Yesterday the Armed Forces and the Police guaranteed control and order, respecting those demonstrations without violence. Today they will do the same, and if tomorrow the challenge persists, well we will maintain control"Lasso said.

The protests take place under the deployment of the military in the streets after the state of emergency for 60 days decreed on October 18 by Lasso to combat crime linked to drug trafficking, amid a rebound in homicides and prison massacres that this year leave more than 2,000 dead in the country.

"We are not going to stop"

Former president Lenín Moreno (2007-2021) eliminated millionaire fuel subsidies in 2019, a measure tied to agreements with the International Monetary Fund (IMF) to receive loans.

The Conaie then led protests that left eleven dead and forced Moreno to back down, who in May 2020 established a mechanism of gradual monthly increases according to the price of oil.

"The government has done bullshit with raising gasoline all the time"Dennis Viteri, a 28-year-old textile worker, said in another focus of protests.

Lasso – who took office in May 2021 – suspended that mechanism on Friday after a latest increase of up to 12% that took a gallon (3.8 liters) of diesel from 1.69 to 1.90 dollars, and regular gasoline from 2 , 50 to 2.55 dollars.

Conaie claims to freeze at $ 1.50 a gallon of diesel and $ 2.10 for gasoline for the benefit of indigenous people, who represent 7.4% of the 17.7 million Ecuadorians.

"We will continue, we will not stop because in itself the whole town is getting up"said Patricio Guamán, a 46-year-old artisan who protested in the Oyacoto neighborhood while his neighbors built bonfires with felled trees.

But Lasso stated that "it’s time to be united" when the country registers 47% poverty and misery, 28% underemployment and unemployment, an external debt of almost 46,000 million dollars (45% of GDP) and a fiscal deficit of 5% of GDP.

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