Fights break out at Cuenca roadblocks as anti-strike sentiment grows; City warns against ‘vigilante’ groups; No bus service Friday but tram will run
Police were called to the scene of at least three disturbances late Thursday as some Cuenca residents attempted to dismantle roadblocks on city streets. Several fist fights were reported as pro- and anti-strike supporters clashed.
At the Tres Puentes redondel at Av. Solando, rocks were thrown when several drivers began removing obstacles from the roadway. One man was reported injured. Other confrontations occurred at the José Peralta redondel below Todo Santos and at the redondel at the Social Security hospital on the Azogues autopista.
“We are asking people to remain calm and not take the law into their own hands,” said National Police captain Rodrigo Sanchez, who broke up two fights at Tres Peuntes. “We are attempting to keep city streets open but it does not help matters when confrontations result in fights. People get hurt and the obstacles remain.”
At José Peralta, opposing groups shouted at each other, with residents of nearby condominiums claiming the protesters blocking the streets were from out of town. “Why are you here? You have no right to cause trouble in Cuenca,” yelled Gustavo Jarrín, who lives adjacent to the redondel. “You should be back in the campo and feed your pigs.”
A protester yelled back at Jarrín, “We are the people and have the right to demand the government take care of us.”
In response to social media calls to organize “peace brigades” against roadblocks and anti-government protesters, the Cuenca mayor’s office urged calm. “We appreciate citizens’ interest to protecting the city but we discourage activity that will escalate the violence,” the office said in a statement posted on several Facebook pages. “This is a tense and complicated situation and we do not need additional conflict as we seek solutions.”
At least three protesters were injured Thursday night on Av. Doce de Abril near the University of Cuenca campus as police cleared the street. According to police, the injured threw rocks and bottles at officers who responded with tear gas. At least one of the protesters was injured as he was being subdued by police.
For the second consecutive day, supporters of “dialog and reconciliation” gathered at various locations in the city. About 200 marched on Av. Doce de Abril early Thursday afternoon while two groups marched on the autopista near Challuabamba. In one confrontation on the autopista, the group demanding the road be opened exchanged insults with those maintaining the roadblock.
“There are 40,000 people living in Challuabamba and we can’t go to work and we can’t go to the store to buy food,” Cynthia Vera told Radio Tombebamba in an interview. “We are completely blocked by these people from going to Cuenca or going to Azogues. The government told us they would keep the roads open so why aren’t they doing it?”
No bus service Friday but tram will run
Due to roadblocks and the threat of protests, municipal buses will not operate on Friday. The Chamber of Transportation announced Thursday night that it has decided to suspend service due to the growing number of street closures and protests. “We cannot guarantee the safety of our passengers, drivers and equipment,” the Chamber said. “We will resume service when the social situation improves.”
The tram will operate as usual Friday, the city announced. The management plans to add additional five-car units to the system due to increased rider demand. After city buses suspended service Thursday afternoon, all tram units traveled at “over-capacity,” according to management.