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Cuenca is peaceful following Thursday morning clean-up; City bus status remains unclear

Hundreds of city workers and volunteers cleaned historic district streets and sidewalks Thursday morning, washing away most of the evidence of Wednesday’s mass protests. The volunteers, most of them from the Universities of Cuenca and Azuay, worked with city cleaning crews and fireman in a five-square-block area beginning at 5 a.m. Three water and fire trucks were involved in the effort.

Volunteers and city workers clean up Calle Simon Bolivar Thursday morning.

The clean-up followed the overnight removal of tons of debris, including rocks, logs and tires, left after Wednesday’s national strike. “We are very happy with the results of this morning’s minga and are very thankful to the wonderful citizens who came out to help us,” Mayor Pedro Palacios said after touring the area. “It looks like a new town today.”

A mid-morning damage assessment provided more good news. “The vandalism is not as bad as we had expected,” a city works manager reported. “It looked much worse last night so we are very relieved at what we find today.” The city provided no damage estimate but said vandalism from earlier in the week would cost $100,000 to repair.

Most El Centro businesses were open Thursday and for the first time since Sunday, Parque Calderon was opened to the public as part of the blockade at Simon Bolivar and Borrero was pushed aside. The park was closed again late in the afternoon.

According to a National Police captain, Thursday was the first day since the weekend that tear gas was not launched.

Unconfirmed social media posts suggest that Palacios is talking to police and the military about limiting the number of protesters in the historic district and a mid-morning march by protesters from Molleturo was temporarily stopped by police on Ordoñez Lasso, west of Av. Las Americas. Some of the marchers arrived at the Simon Bolivar barricade late in the afternoon after a rally at San Blas Plaza but the protest was peaceful.

Most city buses are running on Friday morning after only a few were in service Thursday following the federal government’s announcement that urban buses could increase fares by 10 cents.

Palacios and the Cuenca municipal council are objecting to the new fare, saying that the national transportation ministry overstepped its authority in allow the increase, and have ordered that buses maintain the 30-cent rate. The ministry said it allowed the increase under emergency circumstances. After first saying it would defy the city order, the bus union agreed to the 30-cent fare while the city considers an increase.

In other news …

Reports are mixed about the availability of food in city mercados and supermarkets. Fresh produce and meat were in short supply in some locations and Supermaxi said it was “struggling” to get its supply trucks to its Cuenca stores. On the other hand, Coral announced most of its stores were “fully stocked” and an afternoon check of three stores verified the report.

The local taxi cooperative announced last night that its members would work a normal schedule Friday and asked the city to provide security for its drivers.

Most Cuenca restaurants, bars and nightclubs will be allowed to operate on their normal schedule despite the nightly curfew, the National Police said Thursday. The exception is for businesses within 300 meters of government buildings “or other strategic facilities.” In the historic district, businesses within three blocks of Parque Calderon must close at 8 p.m.

Cuenca LP gas distributors say they made progress Thursday in obtaining new shipments but offered not details.