THOUSANDS of Indigenous people continue to demonstrate in the Ecuadorian capital, as their calls for social and economic reforms grow louder despite a crackdown by authorities in the South American nation.
An indefinite national strike which began on June 13th led by the Confederation of Indigenous Nationalities of Ecuador (CONAIE) against the Lasso administration is continuing.
Saturday was the thirteenth day of protests in Ecuador, following Friday night’s violent attack on protesters who were in the El Arbolito park in the capital Quito.
The International Human Rights Mission headed by Juan Grabois has verified the serious violations committed by State agents during 13 days of protests. Five dead, dozens injured and detained, seven disappeared so far.
The general commander of the country’s national police force, Fausto Salinas, told reporters on Wednesday that 114 police officers were also injured.
The president of Ecuador, Guillermo Lasso, announced that the government ‘will use all the legal resources that the law empowers it to confront the vandals and criminals’, in a clear attempt to justify the repression against the social movement.
The Union for Hope party bench in Ecuador’s National Assembly asked for a discussion in Parliament on the possibility of dismissing Ecuadorian President Guillermo Lasso.
Article 130 number two of the Ecuadorian Constitution legitimises the power of the National Assembly to dismiss the president in case of severe political crisis and internal commotion. This requires 92 of the total 137 votes of the Assembly.
Ecuador’s powerful Indigenous movements once again took to the streets on June 13 to press the conservative government of President Guillermo Lasso to agree to their list of economic and social demands. The government’s repressive response has led to many injuries and arrests and several deaths, as the situation continues to grow more intense.
Lasso called for dialogue in the face of the strongest challenge to his one-year-old government, but opponents insist that they are not interested in negotiations but rather a change in policy.
Leading the charge is the Confederation of Indigenous Nationalities of Ecuador (CONAIE), an umbrella group of Indigenous organisations that activists founded in 1986.
The CONAIE, together with student groups and labour unions, put forward a list of 10 demands that include a reduction and freeze of fuel prices; employment opportunities and labour guarantees; an end to privatisation of public companies; price control policies for essential products; greater budget for public education and health sectors; an end to drug trafficking, kidnappings and violence; protection for people against banking and finance sectors; fair prices for their farm products; ban on mining and oil exploitation activities in Indigenous territories; and respect for the 21 collective rights of Indigenous peoples and nationalities.
CONAIE launched an indefinite general strike that has included blocking roads across the country to press these demands.
On June 14, authorities arrested CONAIE’s president, Leonidas Iza, on charges of sabotage for having participated in blocking the Pan-American highway in the central highland province of Cotopaxi.
A public outcry led to Iza’s prompt release, but also intensified and radicalised the protests.
Lasso had previously lashed out at Iza, branding him as an ‘enemy of democracy,’ calling him ‘a violent man,’ and accusing him of seeking to topple his government.
In an attempt to contain the mobilisations, Lasso declared a state of emergency beginning at midnight on June 17 in the three highland provinces of Cotopaxi, Imbabura, and Pichincha (which includes the capital city of Quito), where the initial protests were most intense.
On June 20, Lasso extended the decree to six of Ecuador’s 24 provinces, even as activists defied the decree and continued their mobilisations.
A state of emergency is an executive decree, defined in the constitution, that enables the president to suspend the right to assembly and call out the military in times of disturbances or natural disasters.
Since last Monday, the police and military officials have been repressing the demonstrators with pellets, tear gas and water cannon.
Delegates to the national assembly attempted to strike down the decree and called on the government to conduct a ‘serious, clear, and honest’ dialogue with the protesters.
But the sustained protests only appear to be growing. Tens of thousands of activists continue to march in both Quito and the commercial centre of Guayaquil on the coast to press Lasso to agree to their demands.
Lasso responded with characteristically repressive actions, with more than one hundred arrested for their actions. Police fired tear gas, water cannon, and so-called non-lethal projectiles at the activists, injuring more than one hundred people, some of them seriously. At least three people have died so far in the demonstrations.
Byron Guatatoca, a Kichwa man in the Amazon town of Puyo, died after being hit in the face with a tear gas bomb at a roadblock.
On June 19, police raided the Casa de la Cultura in Quito. They allegedly were searching for ‘war material, such as explosives and handmade weapons’.
The centre and surrounding park space has often served as a base for thousands of militants and social organisations. When nothing was found, the police decided to use the centre for their own base of operations.
The Casa de la Cultura is an autonomous cultural institution that was created in 1944. The only other time it has been similarly occupied was during the military dictatorship in 1963.
Lasso responded to the social mobilisation’s list of 10 demands with a detailed, 16-page letter in which he asserted he was making progress on addressing these concerns.
He agreed on June 21 to participate in a ‘frank and respectful dialogue process’ with the CONAIE ‘for the good of the country’.
Indigenous leaders said that they would not meet with Lasso’s administration until the government withdrew the security forces, and that any talks would be conditioned on a repeal of the state of emergency.
Iza declared that Lasso’s response was only exacerbating the situation.
The government rejected the social movement’s conditions. ‘This is not the time to put more conditions, it is not the time to demand greater demands,’ minister of government Francisco Jiménez stated.
‘It is the time to sit down and talk.’ Jiménez claimed that lifting the state of emergency would leave the capital defenceless.
Lasso, a banker and adherent of the reactionary Opus Dei sect of the Catholic Church, unexpectedly won election last April.
Conservatives have never enjoyed majority popular support in Ecuador, and they only win elections because of discord on the left.
Lasso only polled 20 per cent of the vote in the first-round election, which remains an approximation of his base of support.
Ecuador has been hit by rising inflation, unemployment and poverty exacerbated by the coronavirus pandemic.
Fuel prices have risen sharply since 2020, almost doubling for diesel from $1 to $1.90 per gallon and rising from $1.75 to $2.55 for petrol.
Last Wednesday afternoon, some 10,000 protesters staged a peaceful march to the government headquarters, which remain heavily guarded by security forces and fenced off with barbed wire fences. Activities in the capital city have been markedly reduced as a result of the national strike.
- On Saturday, the Movomiento Ecuatorianos en el Reino Unido (MERU) called for a demonstration in Trafalgar Square in support of the National Strike in Ecuador led by indigenous and workers organisations and brutally repressed by Guillermo Lasso’s presidency
The demonstration was supported by participants from Bolivia, Colombia and Brazil who joined the shouts of: ‘Out Lasso Out.’