Tension has escalated on Quito’s streets and highways after eight days of protests by the indigenous movement against the rising cost of living and the lack of government aid. Clashes between police officers using tear gas and batons [porras], and the demonstrators, with sticks and stones, had left themselves wounded in the first week of upheaval in Ecuador. But this Tuesday, violence intoxicated the entire conflict. “Ecuador’s democracy is seriously threatened,” Defense Minister Luis Lara announced in the morning, a day after the government declared a state of emergency in provinces hit by strikes and roadblocks.
The police march through the capital with riot gear and a few mounted officers. Journalists are greeted with insults and those blocking the streets demand a pass-through toll to leave or return home. The city’s markets woke up closed and there are protesters walking the streets of the Ecuadorian capital with covered faces and improvised shields. There is one dead and dozens injured on both sides. Prosecutors have opened an investigation into an alleged hate crime against indigenous people over an episode of dawn shooting Monday.
Lara delegitimized the protests because they had become a “concerted action by excited people preventing the free movement of the majority of Ecuadorians” and criticized the “actions of violent groups whose only aim is to create panic, companies, institutions and authorities to attack and blackmail”. The defense minister’s statement this Tuesday kicked off a key day in which indigenous leader Leonidas Iza, president of the Confederation of Indigenous Nationalities (Conaie) and given the protests, offered a response to the call for dialogue by the President of Ecuador, Guillermo Lasso.
“We, the indigenous movement of Ecuador, have decided to remain in the struggle and resistance as right-wing Ecuadorians,” Iza began early Monday morning in an unexpected appearance from Quito. He had announced that he would march from the outskirts of the capital to the center along with his own, but he did not. “We will never agree to choosing military force as a strategy,” he responded to government messages scolding Conaie for the climate of conflict the country is experiencing every time she calls for protests. After all, he was ready “to exhaust all procedures in the political sphere” in order to sit down for a dialogue.
On Saturday, the President of the Latin American country launched a list of ten proposals for rapprochement, which were specified in a publicly published letter on Monday and corresponded to the demands of the indigenous movement. Only then, with the detailed document in hand, did Iza reiterate the offers, promising to look into them before confirming or ruling out whether to sit down to negotiate with the government.
The demonstrators’ main interlocutor, who asked that acts of violence not mar the legitimate protest, is calling for the state to help deal with the economic shortages that are impoverishing the poorest in rural Ecuador. The last time the Confederation of Indigenous Nationalities rose up in protest against the social unrest of its people, in October 2019, there was chaos in Quito, the whole country was paralyzed for 20 days and peace came only through the mediation of United Nations and by the Catholic Church, when then-President Lenin Moreno reversed his decision to abolish government fuel assistance to consumers. This time, the invitation to talks comes from the UN and the European Union, but Conaie doesn’t take the step to sit down at the table.
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Among the 10 demands made by Indigenous protesters today is a renewed freeze on petrol prices for daily use and transport, which have skyrocketed due to international oil prices. But they also want private banks and public banks to waive and extend the debt payment dates for four million Ecuadorians. That the government will delay its plans to expand the mining limit and that the state will pay what it owes to the social security system. Along with implementing policies and public investment to curb job insecurity, correct general drug shortages in public hospitals and institute price controls to discourage speculation in the food and basic necessities markets.
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