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El Centro sees fewer protests as police adopt new tactics and enforce nighttime curfew

Police say that new tactics and light rain helped to reduce the number of protesters in the streets of Cuenca’s historic district on Tuesday. They also credit a new strategy of moving crowds farther away from Parque Calderon for fewer and more peaceful demonstrations.

School bus and van drivers help a peaceful rally Tuesday morning on Simon Bolivar. (El Mercurio)

Following a peaceful morning demonstration by school bus and van drivers at the police barricades at Simon Bolivar and Presidente Borrero, there was little organized activity until 2 in the afternoon when larger groups gathered east of the barricades. Instead of allowing protesters to fill intersections outside of barricades, police formed cordons and began to clear entire blocks and push protesters away from the park.

Later, police enforced the newly announced 8 p.m. to 5 a.m. curfew in the historic district. The curfew, invoked by President Lenin Moreno to protect government property, will be enforced as needed, police say, in the historic district where a number of government buildings are located.

In a Tuesday night statement, National Police reported that they were forced to fire “much less” tear gas canisters on Tuesday and make less use of its armored vehicles to disperse crowds. “The situation was much improved from Monday,” the report said.

Police expect more protesters on Wednesday due to a national strike called by labor and indigenous organizations. Although the strike is focused in Quito, where as many as 20,000 indigenous and peasant marchers are gathered, it has been called called nationwide.

Meanwhile, the city continues to face major challenges due the closures of highways. “Many needed goods from outside cannot be delivered and this is our biggest problem,” said Mayor Pedro Palacios. “Fortunately, the people who have set up roadblocks in the campo are allowing some shipments of food to come through and we hope this continues and that more products are allowed to pass.”

Calle Gran Colombia last night before the 8 p.m curfew took effect.

Palacios said the food supplies were “adequate” at most city mercados but supermarkets are reporting shortages of produce and meat.

AstroGas, a major supplier of LP gas, announced Tuesday morning that it was unable to make residential deliveries because of low stocks. It said shipments of gas tanks have been stopped in Cañar Province, north of Cuenca. The company urges customers to conserve gas as it negotiates to allow shipments to pass roadblocks.

In two Monday interviews, Palacios said that Cuenca has been “very fortunate” in not suffering the vandalism and violence seen in other cities. “We have witnessed much less of the terrible incidents that are occurring around the country and I pray that this continues to be the case,” he said. He added that the city public works office estimated there had been about $100,000 in damages in the historic district as of Tuesday morning. “Even in cities smaller than Cuenca, such as Riobamba and Ambato, the damages are being calculated in the millions of dollars,” the mayor said.

Palacios said he supports the right to peaceful protest but says that those who commit criminal acts should be arrested. He also said he personally disagrees with the way Moreno introduced the economic measures that have led to protests. “I think this could have handled in a more thoughtful manner,” he said.

More Cuenca updates

● Public and private schools and universities remain closed until further notice, according to Ministry of Education.

● Garbage pick-up is temporarily suspended due to the blockage of roads to the city landfill.

● The IESS hospital is operating normally with adequate supplies but may reschedule non-critical appointments beginning today.

● Cuenca’s Mariscal La Mar is operating normally and flights to Quito have not been affected by the protests. Travelers to Guayaquil must fly first to Quito and book onward flights. Those with air travel plans should reconfirm schedules since some domestic and international flights have been cancelled.

● Police will enforce a nighttime curfew from 8 p.m. to 5 a.m. in the historic district and elsewhere if necessary.

● For information regarding road closures, click here.

● For general strike information: Radio La Voz del Tomebamba, 1070 AM and 102.1 FM, or check their Facebook page; El Comercio; El Telegrafo; El Merucurio.