By Mark Bradbury
My beautiful country of Ecuador is in turmoil, not in shambles as some would have you believe, but we are definitely going through some very trying times right now. For over 40 years, Ecuador has been subsidizing gasoline and diesel fuels, propane gas and other commodities. These things have been costing the country almost $4.2 billion a year, no small number for a country that has become deeply indebted to the Chinese, and now the International Monetary Fund.
Changes to that policy have arrived, and the people of Ecuador are not at all happy with this newly declared agenda.
Following a presidential announcement that the subsidies for gasoline and diesel would end immediately (the LP gas subsidy remains unchanged), the first to strike nationwide were the bus, taxi and heavy trucking guilds and unions around the country. Other unions joined them in support of their cause. Commerce came to a screeching halt, as roads were blocked everywhere by taxis, buses trucks and piles of debris and burning tires spread across the highways.
This lasted a couple of days, but seemed to be settled when the government supposedly had reached a settlement for the unions to go back to work. Taxis across the country started working again over the weekend, but 95% of the buses never left the station. Local bus companies and cooperatives called instead for a second work stoppage, and labor unions and guilds everywhere have joined them.
Almost a full third of Ecuador’s population is made up of indigenous people, most of whom live in the mountain region. The indigenous have taken up the mantle to strike, and are affecting change as I write. Thousands of these people descended on Quito over the last few days, and have caused serious repercussions for the current government.
These people have been responsible for the overthrow of two former presidents; you do not want to be on their bad side! Things were going so badly that President Lenin Moreno moved his government to Guayaquil Tuesday night in an effort to get away from the thousands of protestors gathering in the capital. Guayaquil is a southern coastal city, hundreds of miles away from Quito.
Moreno has been in power for two years, and has made fiscal responsibility a mainstay of his term of office. The vice president under leftist President Rafael Correa, Moreno has turned to the right and has implemented austerity measures. The removal of the subsidies on petroleum products has triggered a revolt across the country that could potentially force him from office, like the presidents before him.
It is bad here but Ecuador isn’t burning; she’s hurting, but she is a survivalist. There are scattered pockets of violence associated with the work stoppages, but for the most part, things have been fairly uneventful in my coastal home of Manta. I’m lucky to be in a place so far from the actions taking place in the cities of the sierra, such as Quito and Cuenca.
There are shortages here at the markets, no gasoline, and some things have completely disappeared for now. I was in the supermarket a couple days ago when I ran into friend. She had lived in Florida like me, and her comment was that shopping was just like being in Florida before a hurricane. I added that it was, and it also reminded me of a pre-blizzard panic from my days of living up north.
And that’s where things in Ecuador stand right now. We’re all tucked in as much as we can be, waiting for whatever hurricane or blizzard is coming, and hoping, like always, that we will weather this storm and get back to living the way we did a week ago, before the scat hit the fan!
Mark Bradbury is an expat living in Manta.