QUITO, June 19 — Indigenous protesters demanding cheaper fuel in Ecuador defied a state of emergency yesterday, pressing on with road blockages now in their sixth day.
A day after President Guillermo Lasso announced the restrictive measures in a bid to end the sometimes violent demonstrations, police said Indigenous people kept up protests in most of the country's 24 provinces, including three where the president declared the state of emergency. One includes the capital, Quito.
Oil producer 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 US$1 to US$1.90 per gallon and rising from US$1.75 to US$2.55 for petrol.
Demonstrators from the country's Indigenous community — which makes up over a million of Ecuador's 17.7 million inhabitants — launched an open-ended anti-government protest this week that has since been joined by students, workers and others.
The demonstrations have blocked roads across the country, including highways leading into the capital Quito.
Talks with the president failed to end the demonstrations.
Clashes with security forces during the protests have left at least 83 people injured, and 40 have been arrested.
In response, Lasso's decree empowers him to mobilise the armed forces to maintain order, suspend civil rights and declare curfews.
"I am committed to defending our capital and our country," Lasso said on television.
"I called for dialogue and the response was more violence. There is no intention to seek solutions."
The demonstrations have largely been concentrated in the northern region of Pichincha which includes Quito, and neighboring Cotopaxi and Imbabura.
In Quito, nearly 1,000 protesters tried to tear down metal fences that surround the presidential headquarters this week.
In a bid to ease grassroots anger, Lasso announced in his address late Friday a small increase in a monthly subsidy paid to Ecuador's poorest, as well as a program to ease the debt of those who have loans from state-run banks.
But Saturday, Indigenous activists urged national lawmakers to step in to end the state of emergency.
Ecuador's legislature has the authority to end it constitutionally.
Lasso, a rightwing ex-banker who took office a year ago, met Thursday with Indigenous leaders to assuage discontent but the discussions collapsed.
Producers of flowers, one of Ecuador's main exports, complained Friday that due to the roadblocks, their wares were rotting.
But the powerful Confederation of Indigenous Nationalities of Ecuador (Conaie), which called the protests, has said it will maintain the road blockades until the government meets 10 demands.
Conaie — which has been credited with helping topple three Ecuadoran presidents between 1997 and 2005 — wants prices reduced to US$1.50 for diesel and US$2.10 for petrol, a demand the government has so far rejected.
Its other demands include food price controls and renegotiating the personal bank loans of about four million families.
"It's about time the president did this because it's not fair that a group of Indigenous people want to run the country as they please," Elsa Proano, a 64-year-old street vendor who considers herself harmed by the demonstrations. "I am against the strike," she added. — AFP