Government rejects Conaie ‘demilitarization’ demand, assesses riot damage in Quito and Puyo; Bus and tram service to resume Thursday in Cuenca
Government Minister Francisco Jimenez says he and President Guillermo Lasso are reviewing the Confederation of Indigenous Nationalities’ response to its offer to begin negotiations but said it cannot comply with the demand to “demilitarize” Quito or revoke the state of emergency.
At the 10-day mark, Conaie’s anti-government strike has disrupted transportation and the delivery of essential goods throughout the country, shutting off many communities from the outside world. In addition, violence related to the protest has left two people dead and more than 240 injured.
“While acts of violence continue to be committed, it would be irresponsible to withdraw the law enforcement and military personnel necessary to protect citizens and property,” Jimenez said in a Wednesday morning interview on Televistazo.
In a statement issued Tuesday night, Conaie insisted that the government revoke the state of emergency imposed in six provinces, including Pichincha. It also demanded that police withdraw from the Casa del Cultura and Arbolito Park, where hundreds of protesters have gathered.
Jimenez said the government is “open to dialog under any format that serves the interest of restoring order,” a response to Conaie President Leonidas Iza’s demand that talks be “direct and without intermediaries.” The non-profit Fundación Esquel, backed by the United Nations, the Catholic Church, and others, had on Tuesday offered to mediate talks between the two sides.
One possible complication to direct talks: Lasso tested positive for Covid-19 Wednesday afternoon and will need to isolate for several days. Doctors say the president is asymptomatic for the virus.
On Wednesday, the government assessed damage in Puyo where one man was killed and 120 people were injured, most of them police, in a Tuesday night riot. At least 20 businesses were vandalized and looted, including a branch of Banco Guayaquil. According to National Police Commander Fausto Salinas, police were heavy outnumbered and forced to “run for their lives” during the riot. At one point, it was believed that 18 officers had been kidnapped but Salinas said Wednesday night that they had all been accounted for. Only two were taken hostage by protesters and both have since been released.
“Because of the destruction and insecurity in Puyo, we were forced to call in army troops and they are currently patrolling the town,” Salinas said.
In Quito, the national prosecutor’s office was attacked and vandalized. Army General Paco Moncayo said several dozen hooded men broke into the offices, destroyed equipment and burned records. “The facility suffered hundreds of thousands of dollars in damage but, fortunately, there were no injuries among employees or police.”
On Wednesday night, Moncayo said army units were being deployed to sensitives sites throughout Quito. “Following threats of a coup d’état, we are posting 2,000 troops at Plaza Grande to protect Carondelet Palace and stationing personnel in other locations facing attack.” He added that, under the emergency declaration, troops are authorized to use the force necessary to maintain order.
During a march through the Quito historic district Wednesday afternoon, Iza again urged his followers to avoid violence. “Ours is a peaceful uprising and we regret that some actors who are not part of our movement have committed violent acts.” He added that violence was “minimal” and had prompted an overraction by the government.
Bus and tram service to resume in Cuenca
Officials representing owners of the Cuenca’s municipal bus fleet and the Cuenca transit office announced Wednesday night that buses and the tram will operate normally Thursday morning. Both services were suspended Wednesday afternoon following an attack on two buses near the University of Cuenca.
City transportation office spokesman Juan Carlos Lara said that municipal police will “monitor closely” public transportation operations. “If we observe a serious threat to passengers, drivers or equipment we will suspend the service again. We hope this is not necessary, since hundreds of thousands of residents depend on it.”
Roadblock death unrelated to protest
An autopsy of the man found dead at a roadblock on the Pan American highway in Tarqui Wednesday morning revealed he died of cirrhosis of the liver and “other alcohol-related issues.” Some protesters at the scene insisted he was struck and killed by a tear gas canister fired by police.