Ecuador rejects Indigenous protesters’ demands 10 days into tense standoff
Thousands flooded Ecuador’s capital Quito on Wednesday for a tenth day of cost-of-living demonstrations, amid an increasingly fierce standoff between the government and indigenous protesters that left two dead.
The government rejected protesters’ demands to lift the state of emergency in six of the country’s 24 provinces and said 18 officers were missing after an attack by protesters on a police station in the Amazon city of Puyo.
The capital has been semi-paralyzed since Monday, with the arrival of some 10,000 protesters from across the country who have taken to the streets daily demanding fuel price cuts and other social aid amid mounting economic adversity.
Protesters burned tires and tree branches, while barbed wire and military guards protected the presidential headquarters.
According to human rights groups and the government, about 90 civilians and 100 security personnel have been injured and about 87 have been arrested since the nationwide protests began on June 13.
President Guillermo Lasso has proposed dialogue with the powerful Confederation of Indigenous Nationalities of Ecuador (Conaie), which has called protests in an effort to end escalating violence.
But Conaie leader Leonidas Iza has said the talks were contingent on the lifting of the state of emergency and the “demilitarization” of a park in Quito that had been a rallying point for indigenous peoples but was taken over by security forces.
“We cannot lift the state of emergency because that would render the capital defenseless, and we already know what happened in October 2019 and we will not allow that,” government minister Francisco Jimenez told Teleamazonas.
Conaie led two weeks of protests in 2019 that left 11 people dead and more than 1,000 injured.
‘Blood on his hands’
Iza said on Wednesday the government has “blood on its hands” over its response to the latest protests.
Interior Minister Patricio Carrillo, for his part, said 18 officers were missing after an attack that left six others and a protester injured.
“The mob started setting fires while the police were still in patrol cars, started looting, burning… until they finally set fire to the police facilities in the center of town,” Carrillo said.
Ecuadorians fire tear gas at protests that military consider ‘serious threat’
Ecuador, a small South American country ravaged by drug trafficking, has been hit by rising inflation, unemployment and poverty – all exacerbated by the pandemic.
Olmedo Ayala, 42, said indigenous people were “very annoyed with the government.
“We live in an economic crisis in the countryside, there is no development there, we have no sources of work, we are just farmers and our women (live) from milking” cattle.
A key demand from the protesters is a cut in fuel prices, which have risen sharply in recent months.
Ecuador exports crude oil, but imports much of the fuel it consumes.
An indigenous protester died after being “shot in the face, apparently with a tear gas bomb” on Tuesday following a clash with security forces in Puyo, an Alliance of Human Rights Organizations lawyer told AFP.
Police said “the person was believed to have died as a result of handling an explosive device.”
Another protester died Monday after falling into a ravine outside Quito, which police claimed was also an accident.
However, the prosecutor’s office has opened a murder investigation.
Brian Nichols, the top US diplomat for Latin America, tweeted on Wednesday for “a peaceful and negotiated solution to the protests in Ecuador” and urged all parties to refrain from violence.
The Organization of American States urged dialogue to “address the demands of the community.”
In a statement, it said: “It is imperative that the political system responds immediately to improvements in subsidies, cancellation of loan arrears, as well as solving the health emergency and budget improvements for intercultural education, among other things.”