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Azuay Prefect Pérez defends ‘civil disobedience’ while business owners blast government inaction at National Assembly protest hearing

At a Tuesday National Assembly commission hearing investigating the October protests, Azuay Prefect Yaku Pérez said he acted as a “rebel with a cause” during the indigenous strike and blamed the government of Lenin Moreno for damage caused during the protests.

Azuay Prefect Yaku Pérez at Tuesday’s National Assembly hearing.

Pérez said the charge of “rebellion” filed against him by Assemblyman Fabricio Villamar was bogus and said he is considering suing Villamar for defamation.

The commission also heard from a victim who lost her eye when she was struck by a tear gas canister and business owners angered that the government did not do more to protect their property.

“The damage that occurred during the uprising was unfortunate but the responsibility rests with the government,” Pérez said. “It was the result of social unrest created by conditions the International Monetary Fund [IMF] placed on Ecuador and that were accepted by the leadership. We call on the government to end its relationship with the IMF now.”

During the protests, Pérez said he and the indigenous movement were following the “prescription of the great Martin Luther King,” understanding that civil disobedience is sometimes necessary to achieve social change.

Pérez said that Villamar’s rebellion charge was “not worth talking about” and amounted to an intimidation tactic. “I never entered the Assembly hall, as he claimed, and I never asked for the overthrow of the government, only for the installation of a people’s assembly.”

Pérez claimed that too much attention was being given to violent acts committed by protesters and not enough to those of the government. “Let’s spend time talking about the violence inflicted on a young woman who lost her eye to police violence,” he said. “This is one of many execrable crimes that should be investigated.”

The victim of the eye injury, Jhajaira Urresta, also appeared before the commission and described the events that led to the loss of her left eye. She said she “greatly appreciated” a visit from of Roque Moreira, former commander of the Armed Forces, while she was in the hospital. Moreira was replaced by President Lenin Moreno following the protests.

In addition, the commission heard from business owners angry at what they claim was government inaction to protect their assets. “Where were the police and army when our property was destroyed,” asked and Juan Carlos Palacios of the of Cotopaxi association of flower growers. “Why were the rioters and criminals allowed to tear down our livelihoods? There was no one to defend us against vandalism, no one to maintain civil order.”

Tungurahua Province Chamber of Industries president Santiago Vargas asked why there was no protection of water sources that were attacked by protesters. “Even the governor, who is my friend, ran away.”

Because of the interruption of water service, Vargas said his province suffered tens of millions of dollars in damages, including the deaths of 500,000 chickens.