Most of Cuenca’s LP gas trucks were off the streets Wednesday and customers going to the supply stores were greeted with “no gas” signs. “The supply of gas to the city has been stopped by the roadblocks from the coast,” says Gerardo Maldonado, general manager Austrogas, one of Cuenca’s major gas distributors. “We receive our supply from Guayaquil and Machala and the highways are blocked and the gas cannot get through. We have told the local suppliers we are not able to provide delivery until the strike is over.”
While some independent suppliers say they have no gas to sell to the public others are restricting sales to one tank per customer. Suppliers say they are, during emergencies, obligated to provide gas to hospitals and other “critical need” facilities ahead of households.
Maldonado says he is negotiating with groups maintaining the road blocks on the Cuenca-to-Machala and Zhud-to-Guayauqil highways, the routes that gas supply trucks take. “So far, there is no progress and the problem is that there are multiple blockages,” he says. “Even if we reach an agreement with one group another group up the road may refuse.”
Azuay Province Governor Matías Abad said Wednesday he is “working on a solution” but did not offer details.
According to Maldonado, the only solution available may be the one used during the October 2019 strike. “The army will need to lead a convoy of gas trucks from Guayaquil, tearing down the roadblocks ahead of it. The strikers don’t want to fight the army.”
Police clash with U. of Cuenca protesters on Av. 12 de Abril
Students from the University of Cuenca are complaining that National Police used unnecessary force Wednesday night when they reopened Av. 12 de Abril near the university campus. They also say that police entered the campus in pursuit of students, a charge university President Maria Hermida denied.
Several dozen students first attempted to block traffic on 3 de Noviembre at the El Vado bridge about 5 Wednesday afternoon but when police extinguished their fires they moved to the south side of the bridge and blocked 12 de Abril at Av. Loja. When police reopened the westbound lane of 12 de Abril and Av. Loja, some students threw rocks and other projectiles at police. A standoff continued for several hours, with student chanting and shouting insults at police and occasionally throwing objects.
The students were prevented from marching to Parque Calderon, which they had done on Monday and Tuesday, due to the set-up of the Corpus Christi sales positions around the park. In a sometimes heated meeting with police and city officials early Wednesday, student leaders claimed their right to protest took precedent over the Corpus Christi celebration but police disagreed based on the possibility of violence.
It is unclear if students will defy police orders and attempt a march to Calderon Thursday afternoon. Hermida said she supports her students’ right to protest.
On a morning radio program, an organizer of Corpus Christi said that protesters attempting to enter the park during the seven days of the celebration could be met with resistance. “The husbands and sons of the vendors will meet the strikers with sticks and machetes if they attempt to interfere with the activities. People are ready to have fun after the pandemic and we will not tolerate punks attempting to cause disruption.”
Government says it’s ready to talk
Government Minister Francisco Jimenez said Wednesday night that the government is willing to begin talks with the Confederation of Indigenous Nationalities (Conaie) and other organizations supporting the national strike.
“Several organizations supporting the protests have proposed that it is time we sit down and discuss the issuse that concern the indigenous movement and we are ready to do this,” Jimenez said in a short press conference. “We were glad to see that acts of vandalism and violence declining today and believe that now is the time for dialog.”
He added: “Some acts of violence and the obstruction of public transportation continue, however, and we call on the leaders of the strike to bring these under control.”