In the most recent memory of social mobilizations, Ecuador is the country where the flame was lit in 2019 in a protest against then-President Lenín Moreno that spread across Latin America. Today Ecuador is once again witnessing scenes of maximum tension, with street violence and direct confrontations between police and demonstrators. The indigenous marches that have shaken the country for more than a week have prompted President Guillermo Lasso to declare states of emergency, first in three provinces and from Monday in another six provinces, to curb roadblocks. The effect was the opposite of what he expected when trying to negotiate with the indigenous groups traveling to Quito or who have already arrived in the capital.
The Confederation of Indigenous Nationalities (Conaie) is protesting economic shortages and urging the Lasso government to take action to curb high food and fuel prices that are impoverishing Ecuador’s already poorest layers. The executive’s response was initially contradictory. On the one hand, it offered vague measures to bring positions closer together and intensified repression through the state of emergency and the curfew. He became more precise this Monday with his proposals in a public letter that includes help to deal with prices, unemployment and debt.
As is so often the case, particularly in Ecuador, the protesters are largely right, but desperation cannot lead to unleashing violence and virtually paralyzing the country for more than a week. Lasso is not only faced with demonstrations because of social unrest. Behind this is a climate of hate speech that is encouraged by the political arm of the indigenous peoples, but above all by supporters in the shadow of Rafael Correa. This is the most complicated part for the government, which does not want its political rivals to gain ground but at the same time has to meet the social demands of not only the indigenous people but the entire population.
The protests culminate in months of bland management by Lasso. Despite increasing welfare payments or subsidizing the country’s most widely used fertilizer, no far-reaching reform has been developed. The uncertainty is growing and with it the anger of the population at the rising oil prices in a producing country. “Democracy or chaos” was Lasso’s motto, but the protests are well-founded. The scenario Ecuador is experiencing today is a harsh wake-up call to all governments in the region as the cost of living rises and deepening inequalities deepen. The negotiations demanded by the United Nations and the EU are the only way to avoid escalating the conflict and ending the violence that has already left one dead and dozens injured.