Ecuador: thousands of indigenous people on the streets against the cost of living

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The cost of living has pushed thousands of indigenous people to demonstrate every day for ten days in Quito, the capital of Ecuador. The standoff is becoming more and more tense with the government.

Thousands of indigenous people kept up the pressure on the government on Wednesday in the streets of Quito for the tenth straight day of protests that left two people dead and dozens injured in an increasingly tense standoff between the government and protesters. The capital has been partly paralyzed since Monday by around 10,000 indigenous demonstrators from across the country who take to the streets daily to protest against the cost of living and demand more social assistance, in a context of growing economic difficulties.

To cries of “Lasso out!” in reference to the head of state Guillermo Lasso, protesters burned tires and tree branches, while barbed wire and military guards protected the Presidential Palace. “We are living through an economic crisis in the countryside, there is no development there, there are no jobs, we are just farmers and our women (live from the production) of milk,” said said Olmedo Ayala, 42.

The government refuses to lift the state of emergency declared in six of the 24 provinces of the country, a requirement of the indigenous movement prior to the opening of negotiations. He also denounced the attack on the night of Tuesday to Wednesday of a police station in the town of Puyo, in the province of Pastaza. The attackers set fire to the building while the police were still inside. “Six police officers were seriously injured, three are being held hostage (by an indigenous community) and 18 are missing,” Interior Minister Patricio Carillo said during a press conference in Quito. A branch of a bank was also set on fire and other buildings ransacked, according to the minister.

Protesters have been taking to the streets for 10 days in Quito, Ecuador.

A call for dialogue

It was during this violence that a protester was killed and his death announced on Tuesday evening. He died after having “handled an explosive device” according to the police, “hit in the face, apparently by a tear gas grenade”, according to an NGO. “The violence in Puyo shows that they do not want dialogue”, denounced the minister, who however “launched once again a public call for dialogue to the indigenous movement and to these radical groups responsible for these senseless acts”. On Tuesday the president said he accepted “a process of frank and respectful dialogue with Conaie and other civil organizations”.

The powerful Confederation of Indigenous Nationalities of Ecuador (Conaie), which participated in the revolts that overthrew three presidents between 1997 and 2005 and led violent demonstrations in 2019 (11 dead), has been organizing marches and barricades since June 13 to demand a lower fuel prices. Its president, Leonidas Iza, demanded on Tuesday evening, prior to any discussion, the repeal of the state of emergency, as well as the “demilitarization” of a park in Quito occupied by the police and traditionally used as a point of rally to the natives.

“We cannot lift the state of emergency because that would leave the capital defenceless,” Government Affairs Minister Francisco Jimenez replied on Wednesday.

Protesters have been taking to the streets for 10 days in Quito, Ecuador.

Protesters have been taking to the streets for 10 days in Quito, Ecuador.

“Peaceful Resolution”

“We already know what happened in October 2019 and we are not going to allow it,” he stressed, referring to the invasion of Parliament, the burning of a government building and many damaged public property. The Alliance of Human Rights Organizations reports at least 90 injuries and 87 arrests since the protests began. The police put forward a toll of 101 police and soldiers injured and 80 civilians arrested. On the night of Monday to Tuesday, a first protester died after a fall, but the prosecution decided to open an investigation for alleged homicide.

US Under Secretary of State for the Western Hemisphere Brian Nichols on Twitter on Wednesday called for “a peaceful and negotiated resolution to the protests in Ecuador” and asked all parties to refrain from violence. The Organization of American States (OAS) urged dialogue to “respond to the demands” of the demonstrators.

In addition to the price of fuel, the demonstrators denounce the lack of jobs, the granting of mining concessions in the indigenous territories, the absence of control of the prices of agricultural products and demand a renegotiation of the debts of the peasants with the banks. Indigenous peoples make up at least one million of the 17.7 million Ecuadorians.

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