The Workers Popular Front of Ecuador announced Friday that it plans a national strike on January 19 to protest the government’s failure to reduce gasoline and diesel prices to January 2021 levels. On December 28, President Guillermo Lasso agreed to freeze fuel prices at current levels of $2.55 a gallon for gasoline and $1.90 for diesel but did not address the demand by labor and indigenous organizations to roll back prices in earlier levels.
“Because of the President’s unsatisfactory response on fuel prices as well as his proposal to eliminate worker protections, we will mobilize on January 19,” said Nelson Erazo, Popular Front president. “We are in discussion with our comrades at the FUT [Unitary Front of Workers] and Conaie [Confederation of Indigenous Nationalities] about joining the protest.”
Lasso plans to introduce legislation in the National Assembly early this year to allow private employers to hire workers on short-term contracts. He claims that high unemployment and the high rate of informal labor require “new and creative methods” to generate new jobs and says burdensome requirements discourage employment. In November, the Labor Ministry reported that 68 percent of the country’s workers are informal, paying no taxes and receiving no social service benefits. Lasso says current employees will not be affected by the proposed changes.
Although the leadership of the Popular Front, FUT and Conaie reject the fuel prize freeze at current levels, other labor and indigenous groups say the issue generates little popular interest. “There are many things stressing the population at the moment, particularly the poor, and I don’t think gasoline and diesel are among them,” says Richard Intriago, National Peasant Movement president. “We will have to live with the current rates and should focus on other social issues that have a greater impact on the people.”
Hospitals report high Covid recovery rate, few deaths
Despite concerns about the Omicron variant, hospitals are reporting the highest recovery rate for Covid-19 patients since the beginning of the pandemic in March 2020. Although the number of new cases has increased in recent days, few require hospitalization and deaths from the virus remain low.
According to numbers released by the Ministry of Health, there were 2,232 new cases recorded on December 31 but only nine deaths. This compares to 640 deaths on May 10, 2020 and 398 on October 8, 2020.
In a statement, the Ministry says it expects more hospitalizations as Omicron cases increase but does not expect to see hospitals and clinics overwhelmed. “Looking at the Omicron experience of South Africa and other countries we expect a rate of hospitalizations and death will be less than 15 percent of previous variants.”
Oil pipeline is back in operation
Petroecuador, Ecuador’s national oil company, announced Saturday that the Trans- Ecuadorian Pipeline is back in operation following relocation due to erosion near the Coca River. “We have resumed operations and hope to reach pre-shut-down capacity within two weeks, Energy Minister Juan Carlos Bermeo said.
During the pipeline closure, only 200,000 barrels of oil were delivered to ports in Esmeraldas, Guayaquil and Manta and to the refinery in Esmeraldas, the Energy Ministry reported. Prior to the closure, between 450,000 and 500,000 barrels were delivered daily.
In 2020, oil sales generated 18 percent of the Ecuador’s public revenue.
Country aims to revitalize tourism
After seeing numbers drop to a third of pre-pandemic levels, Ecuador’s tourism industry is hoping for a rebound in 2022. According to Ministry of Tourism statistics, 450,000 foreigners visited the country in 2020 while it expects final numbers to reach 600,000 for 2021. In 2019, the country hosted 1.5 million foreign visitors.
“Our goal is to reach 800,000 in 2022 and two million by 2025,” says Tourism Minister Niels Olsen. “We have suffered along with other South American countries over the last two years but believe we will see the beginning of a prolonged recovery in 2022. Our major concern at the beginning of the year is the Covid Omicron variant but the data suggest this will pass through by mid- or late-February.”