Violent protests against Ecuadorian President Guillermo Lasso’s economic policies have paralyzed the country’s capital and other regions, but the government on Wednesday rejected their terms for dialogue.
Quito is experiencing food and fuel shortages after 10 days of protests in which protesters have at times clashed with police. After officials rejected the terms of the negotiations, the United States government issued an advisory urging travelers to reconsider visiting the country due to “civil unrest and crime”.
The protests, led primarily by the indigenous organization Conaie, began on June 14 to demand that gasoline prices be cut by 45 cents a gallon to $2.10, price controls on agricultural products and a bigger budget important for education. The protests began with peaceful roadblocks, but levels of violence have escalated in parts of the country, including the capital, Quito, prompting former conservative banker Lasso to declare a state of exception in six provinces.
Indigenous leader Leonidas Iza on Tuesday demanded – among other things – that the government rescind the emergency decree and remove the military and police presence around places where protesters gathered in Quito.
But the government minister said on Wednesday the government could not lift the state of emergency as it would leave “the capital defenceless”.
“Now is not the time to put more conditions, now is not the time to demand more, now is the time to sit down and talk, we are on the 10th day of the strike,” said Francisco Jiménez on a television channel. “And we can’t keep waiting, the capital can’t keep waiting, the country can’t keep waiting.”
The protests – longer and bigger than the marches over fuel prices in October last year – are testing Lasso’s ability to revive the country’s economy and boost jobs.
Lasso has a contentious relationship with the National Assembly, where lawmakers have blocked his proposals, and he has struggled to contain growing violence he attributes to drug gangs.
Protesters armed with guns, ancestral spears and explosives clashed with soldiers in the town of Puyo, Pastaza province, on Tuesday night, Interior Minister Patricio Carrillo said.
Protesters set fire to a police station and patrol cars, attempted to loot a bank and attacked civilians, Carrillo told reporters, blaming the incidents on radical groups.
“We cannot guarantee public safety in Puyo at the moment – they have burned all the police infrastructure and the entrance to the town is under siege,” he said.
Leaders of indigenous Amazon communities said in a statement that they rejected vandalism in Puyo and blamed security forces for aggravating violence in the city.
One protester died amid the incidents and six police officers were seriously injured, while 18 are missing, the government said.
The protester was killed after being hit in the head by a police tear gas canister, according to human rights groups.