With tires on fire, barbed wire, stones and huge logs blocking routes in and out of cities, indigenous people from Ecuador They started this Monday their second week of protests against the conservative government of William Lasso.
The demonstrations, to which students and workers have joined, denounce the “high cost of living” in the dollarized Ecuadorian economy, which is trying to recover from the effects of the pandemic amid the upward trend in prices around the world.
Here are three keys to understanding the indigenous protests in Ecuador.
1. The weight of the indigenous movement
With a wide convening capacity, the Confederation of Indigenous Nationalities (Conaie)the largest in the country, gained strength in 1990 with a historic “lifting”, that achieved the delivery by the government of 2.3 million hectares of land to communities of the Amazon and the Andean highlands.
Currently, his political arm Pachakutik it is the second force in the Legislative, where the opposition is scattered, but makes up the majority. It has 18 of the 137 seats.
Between 1997 and 2005, the aboriginal movement participated in revolts that overthrew three leaders. In 2019, he led violent demonstrations for almost two weeks that left 11 dead and more than a thousand injured.
So, they forced the then president Lenin Moreno to backtrack on the elimination of million-dollar fuel subsidies, a condition tied to an agreement with the International Monetary Fund (IMF).
The Conaie has been maintained since 1990 as the “main social organization of the country”, said Franklin Ramirezpolitical scientist at Latin American Faculty of Social Sciences (Flacso) of Quito.
“It has a voice, leadership, the ability to radiate its discomfort, its claims and to convene other sectors”he added.
The protests, which began on the 13th and have included the intermittent closure of roads in more than half of Ecuador’s 24 provinces, have been joined by students and workers who marched in Quito and clashed with the police.
After the violence, citizens, businessmen and production sectors marched for peace on Saturday in Quito.
Indigenous people represent more than one million of the 17.7 million inhabitants of Ecuador.
2. The trigger: gasoline
Ecuador exports oil, but imports fuels that it sells with subsidies that have demanded US$ 2,806 million from the government between 2014 and 2022, according to the Ministry of Economy.
Conaie is adamantly opposed to rising fuel prices. In just over a year, the government raised the gallon of diesel by 90% (to US$1.90) and that of regular gasoline by 46% (to US$2.55). Since last October, prices have been frozen due to pressure from the natives.
The indigenous demand a reduction to US$1.50 and US$2.10, respectively.
The indigenous movement, led by Leonidas Iza since 2021, also demands a moratorium on the payment of peasant debts with the bank, control of agricultural prices, more employment, suspension of mining concessions in indigenous territories and more budget for health, education and security.
Lasso assures that “there is no trigger” for the protests, which he considers “violent”.
“There is a lack of knowledge of social demands. That phrase of saying ‘there is no trigger’ is to ignore reality, the crisis”estimated the analyst Ramírez.
To try to defuse the crisis, Lasso ordered to increase from US$50 to US$55 a bonus that 30% of the most vulnerable population receives, to subsidize up to 50% the cost of urea for small and medium-sized producers, and to forgive overdue credits of up to US$ 3,000 granted by the state bank for productive development.
He also declared an emergency for the public health system to allocate extra resources to it and doubled the budget for intercultural education.
3. How long and at what cost?
Unlike other times, the indigenous have not yet entered Quito en masse.
Iza, a 39-year-old environmental engineer, demands that the Executive comply with the ten requests from Conaie.
“No matter how minimal the results are, they are important because they are part of the fight”he expressed.
But Ramírez considers that there are no conditions for the demonstrations to last longer.
“The country is experiencing an economic crisis, people were beginning to stabilize after the pandemic. I don’t know to what extent the middle and popular classes will support the uprising if this starts to affect business.” express.
The protests have already caused losses of at least US$60 million in the first five days in the productive sector at the national level, said the Quito Chamber of Commerce.
The demonstrations have also affected the production of crude oil, the main export item, and the cultivation and export of flowers, the fourth item.