Protests are peaceful while low turnout is blamed on pandemic; Coastal highways remain closed
A crowd estimated at 10,000 marched through the streets of Quito’s historic district Wednesday afternoon protesting the government’s refusal to restore fuel subsidies. The leadership of the United Workers Front, the National Union of Educators, the General Union of Workers and the Confederation of Indigenous Nationalities led the march that concluded with a series of speeches at Santo Domingo Plaza.
Smaller marches in Cuenca and Guayaquil were also peaceful. In Cuenca, several hundred marched from San Blas Plaza to Parque Calderon where local labor and education leaders attacked the policies of President Guillermo Lasso.
Protest leaders say they were disappointed at size of the Quito crowd but said the Covid-19 pandemic kept many away. “We were hoping for 50,000 but are pleased with the crowd we have,” said FUT President Ángel Sánchez. “We have the forum necessary to get our message to the government and to warn that future mobilizations will be much larger. We are only beginning.”
In her comments, teachers’ union president Isabel Vargas claimed that Lasso is lying about being open to dialog. “It is only a slogan for him and a deflection for finding solutions to the crisis that has overwhelmed the country. Unless he changes his attitude and comes to the table, our movement will be radicalized and future strikes will be intense and massive.”
Conaie President Leonidas Iza repeated Vargas’ claim of larger mobilizations to come. “I will convene all elements the movement to plan national action to promote our struggle,” he said. “Fuel prices are in focus today but we will include in our fight all the elements of the neoliberal agenda in the future. We had greater hopes for Lasso but it is clear he has adopted the perverse policies of [former president] Lenín Moreno. He wants to impose an economic model that plays to international financial interests, not to the people of Ecuador. He is taking orders from the International Monetary Fund and we will put an end to this.”
Other groups, including the National Confederation of Peasants, Indigenous and Black Organizations, expressed their support for the protest but did not participate. “We send out full-hearted support and plan to join the mobilizations in the future,” the confederation said in a statement. “At the present time we feel it is our obligation to protect our members from the Covid-19 virus and to avoid mass gatherings.”
In media interviews on Tuesday and Wednesday, Lasso again said his “door is open to dialog” but said the fuel subsidy will not be reinstated. “We will not repeal the fuel decree since that would cause serious damage to the economy by raising interest rates and increasing risk ratings in international markets,” he said. “We are working to find alternative solutions for fuel increases in the case of public transportation so the people do not pay higher fares. We will respect the condition of our most vulnerable citizens.”
He added: “This government will not respond to threats from populist and authoritarian actors. We will not respond to lies and to urban legends.”
Although they were not part of the labor protest, banana and rice farmers in El Oro, Guayas and Los Rios Provinces blocked highways in several locations on Wednesday, demanding government price supports. Highway E-25 was blocked to two locations when farmers dumped tons of bananas in the roadway. As of early Thursday morning, as least three highways remain blocked.