Anti-mining protest marches staged in 10 provinces; International air fares drop with the elimination of tourist tax; Cities protest latest budget cuts
Protesters demanding a end to mining in Ecuador, marched in 10 provincial capitals on Tuesday. The marches, sponsored by the National Anti-Mining Front and several indigenous organizations, including the Confederation of Indigenous Nationalities (Conaie).
“We insist on an end to all mining, legal and illegal,” said Conaie President Leonidas Iza. “If the rights of citizens are respected and they are given a voice in mining decisions, we believe that mining will be outlawed in the entire country.”
The marches were held in conjunction with the filing of a lawsuit with the Constitutional Court against government decree 754 which protest leaders claim restricts the rights of local residents to approve or deny mining in their area. “Since adoption of the 2008 constitution, the people have been denied the right of prior consultation on granting mining permits and we ask that this right be recognized and reinstated,” Iza said.
In addition to opposing mining, protest leaders also pledged support for the referendum on the August cross-death election ballot to end oil production in Yasuní National Park. “We will be a massive force in the election and will let the new government know our opposition to all extractive activities in Ecuador, mining and oil drilling,” Luis Corral a spokesman for the Anti-Mining Front said.
Corral said the Anti-Mining Front plans to pressure presidential and National Assembly candidates to reveal their positions on mining and the Yasuní referendum. He said that so far, among presidential candidates, only Yaku Pérez and Fernando Villavicencio have announced their support.
In Cuenca, about 40 anti-mining protesters rallied in Parque Calderon.
International air fares drop with elimination of tourist tax
Airlines say that the elimination of a tourism tax on international flights has boosted the sale of tickets by as much as 20% in the first two weeks of June. “We are seeing a positive response to lower prices and are glad the government has finally eliminated the Eco Delta fee,” said Marcela Ninahualpa, manager of the Aterrizar Global tour agency in Quito. “The fee was making Ecuador air fares non-competitive with those in Colombia, Peru and other countries.”
Aterrizar said the tax elimination averages 5% to 10% of most ticket prices.
According to Ecuador airline spokespersons, ticket sales have increased between 7% and 12% since June 1, when Eco Delta was eliminated.
According to Ninahualpa and other tour agents, the top international destinations for Ecuador travelers are Miami and New York, in the U.S. “Closer to home, tourists are choosing Bogota, Panama City and Medellin,” says Ninahualpa. “For family vacations, Cartagena, San Andrés, Aruba, Curacao, Punta Cana are the top destinations.”
In Cuenca, tour agents say they are pleased with the response to the new Cuenca-to-Miami and Cuenca-to-New York flights that have short stop-overs in Quito. “These flights are flying full or almost full so this is wonderful news for the future,” says ticket agent Maria Vinueza. “Overall, air travel in and out of Cuenca is showing strong growth.”
Local governments reject budget cuts
The Association of Municipalities is demanding an explanation from the Economic Ministry of why local government budgets are being reduced in the middle of the year.
On May 30, the Ministry notified municipal governments that funding from Quito would be cut by 5.46% through the end of the year, citing a drop in tax collections.
In a statement, the AME said local government were “blind-sided” by the adjustment, saying allocations had already been made. “The reduction presents an unprecedented challenge for providing basic services for our communities due to other budget reductions in recent years,” the ANE said. “The funding is critical for such the provision of services such as drinking water, sewerage, waste collection and maintenance of public spaces.”
The statement continued: “We ask the Ministry of Economy to immediately make transparent the information regarding the formulas applied for reduced allocations since earlier we had received assurances that we could depend on the numbers presented by the government.”