By Stefan J. Bos, Chief International Correspondent Worthy News
QUITO (Worthy News) – Ecuador’s military has vowed to defend the country’s fragile democracy against a “grave threat” after 10 days of violent protests over price hikes for food, fuel, and other basics killed at least two people.
The rallies, led primarily by Indigenous people, began June 14 to demand that gasoline prices be cut by 45 cents a gallon to $2.10 and price controls for agricultural products. They also want a larger budget for education.
Ecuador is among a growing group of nations plunged into chaos as rising food and fuel prices impact people worldwide, partly due to the Russian invasion of Ukraine, a significant food produce exporter.
At least tens of thousands of protestors directed their anger at the economic policies of Ecuador’s President Guillermo Lasso, paralyzing the country’s capital and other regions.
Yet, the government on Wednesday rejected their conditions for dialogue despite rallies that saw many clashing with security forces.
Footage obtained by Worthy News appeared to show demonstrators attacking the headquarters of the attorney general’s office in Quito, the capital, though Indigenous groups denied involvement.
“Everything is expensive; we can’t take it anymore,” said Jose Guaraca, who joined the peaceful protest after traveling from the indigenous city of Guamote in a truck to Quito. Guaraca told reporters also came to demand lower fuel prices and better farmer income.
The demonstrations – longer-lasting and bigger than marches over fuel prices in October last year – are testing Lasso’s ability to restart the country’s economy and kick-start employment.
Several hours south, in the Amazon town of Puyo, a member of the Quichua Indigenous group died during a confrontation with law enforcement while participating in a roadblock, representatives said.
Lina Maria Espinosa, a lawyer with the Alliance for Human Rights organization, told AFP news agency the man was “hit in the face, apparently with a tear gas bomb.”
Police, however, said: “It was presumed that the person died as a result of handling an explosive device.”
This follows the death last week of a young man who, police say, fell into a ravine in a town on the outskirts of Quito during a protest. The country’s prosecutor’s office has opened a homicide investigation into the incident.
STATE OF EMERGENCY
President Lasso declared a state of emergency Friday in three provinces, including the capital Quito, trying to end the sometimes violent demonstrations.
The state of emergency empowers Lasso to mobilize the armed forces to maintain order, suspend civil rights and declare curfews.
The powerful Confederation of Indigenous Nationalities of Ecuador (Conaie), which helped topple three presidents between 1997 and 2005, called for the protests to demand cheaper fuel and food price controls.
The Indigenous community represents more than one million of Ecuador’s 17.7 million inhabitants, and students, workers, and others have joined their protest.
Witnesses say the protests have blocked roads across the South American nation, including highways leading into Quito. Oil producer Ecuador was hit by rising inflation, unemployment, and poverty that experts say increased during the coronavirus pandemic.
But the minister of government said the government could not lift the state of emergency because it would leave “the capital defenseless.” “This is not the time to put more conditions, it is not the time to demand greater demands, it is the time to sit down and talk; we are on the 10th day of the strike,” Francisco Jiménez told a television network. “And we can’t keep waiting, the capital can’t keep waiting, the country can’t keep waiting.”
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