Ecuador warns that “democracy is at serious risk” due to indigenous protests | International

Police and demonstrators during the protests against the Government of Guillermo Lasso this Monday in Quito, Ecuador.
Police and demonstrators during the protests against the Government of Guillermo Lasso this Monday in Quito, Ecuador.JOHANNA ALARCON (REUTERS)

Tension has escalated in the streets and highways of Quito after eight days of protests by the indigenous movement over the rising cost of living and the lack of government aid. Clashes between policemen, with tear gas and batons [porras], and the demonstrators, with sticks and stones, had already left wounded in the first week of the upheaval in Ecuador. But this Tuesday the violence has intoxicated the entire conflict. “Ecuador’s democracy is at serious risk,” Defense Minister Luis Lara announced in the morning, one day after the government declared a state of emergency in the provinces affected by strikes and road blockades.

The police move around the capital with riot protection equipment and some agents on horseback. Journalists are greeted with insults, and those who block the roads demand a tribute of passage to leave or return home. The city markets woke up closed and there are protesters walking the streets of the Ecuadorian capital with their faces covered and with improvised shields. There is one dead and dozens of wounded on both sides. The Prosecutor’s Office has opened an investigation for an alleged hate crime against indigenous people for an episode with shots at dawn on Monday.

Lara delegitimized the protests for having become a “concerted action of excited people who prevent the free movement of the majority of Ecuadorians,” and criticized the “actions of violent groups whose sole objective is to create panic, attacking and extorting companies, institutions and authorities”. The statement by the Minister of Defense this Tuesday was the prelude to a key day in which the indigenous leader Leonidas Iza, president of the Confederation of Indigenous Nationalities (Conaie) and face of the protests, offered a response to the call for dialogue from the president of Ecuador, Guillermo Lasso.

“We, the indigenous movement of Ecuador, have decided to stay in the struggle and in resistance, as a right of Ecuadorians,” Iza launched 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 together with his people, but he did not. “We will never agree to choose military force as a strategy,” he responded to the government’s messages, in which Conaie is rebuked for the climate of conflict that the country is experiencing every time they call a protest. Finally, he was ready to “exhaust all procedures within the political sphere” to sit down for a dialogue.

The president of the Latin American country had launched on Saturday a list of 10 rapprochement proposals that were specified on Monday in a publicly released letter and that corresponded to the requests of the indigenous movement. Only then, with the detailed document in hand, did Iza echo the offers and promised to study them before confirming or ruling out if he sits down to negotiate with the government.

The main interlocutor of the protesters, who had asked not to cloud the legitimate protest with violent acts, demands that the State help to cope with the economic scarcity that has impoverished the poorest in rural areas of Ecuador. The last time the Confederation of Indigenous Nationalities rose up in protest against the social unrest of its population, in October 2019, chaos took over Quito, the entire country was paralyzed for 20 days and peace only came through the mediation of United Nations and from the Catholic Church, when then President Lenín Moreno reversed his decision to eliminate state fuel aid for consumers. This time, the invitation to negotiate comes from the UN and the European Union, but Conaie does not take the step of sitting at the table.

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Among the 10 demands of the indigenous demonstrators today is again the freezing of gasoline prices for daily use and transportation, which skyrocketed due to the international price of oil. But they also want private banks and public banks to forgive and extend the term of payment of debts to four million Ecuadorians. That the Government postpone its plans to increase the extractive mining frontier and that the State pay what it owes to the Social Security system. As well as implementing policies and public investment to curb job insecurity, correct the general shortage of medicines in public hospitals and establish price controls against speculation in the food supply markets and basic necessities.

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