According to transit police, all major highways leading into and out of Cuenca were impassable early Wednesday night.
After a massive landslide closed the Cuenca-Guayaquil highway through the Cajas Mountains, transportation officials suggested drivers use alternative routes through Cañar and El Oro provinces but later issued a statement on Twitter that those routes were also closed due to the indigenous protests and other landslides.
“Between the weather and the strike, transportation in our region is difficult if not impossible,” said police spokesman Ramon Sanchez. “Earlier [Wednesday afternoon] we believed we could divert traffic north through Zhud or south through Santa Isabel for Guayaquil but these routes were later closed by the protests and rockfall. This is a frustrating situation.”
Sanchez said the highway from Cuenca to Gualaceo and Paute was open for most of Wednesday but was blocked by protesters at the Europeo Bridge after dark.
The indigenous strike was called last week to protest the National Elections Council decision not to recount more votes in the February 7 presidential election. Indigenous candidate Yaku Perez is currently in third place and needs to pick up 30,000 votes to move to second and a runoff spot against Andres Arauz in the April 11 runoff.
Strike roadblocks in Tarqui and Cumbe, on highway E35 south of Cuenca, were temporarily dismantled on several occasions Wednesday to allow the passage of traffic but most vehicles waited hours for the openings. “We are negotiating with the protesters but they are only allowing traffic to move every three or four hours,” Sanchez said. “We hope for more cooperation on Thursday.”
The transportation ministry reports that E35 through Cañar Province was blocked in several locations Wednesday night with almost no traffic moving at the intersection with the coastal highway in Zhud. A ministry spokesman also said that mud and rock slides due to heavy rains were affecting the local traffic that was able to bypass strike roadblocks.
In a Wednesday morning statement, The Cuenca Chamber of Commerce and the Azuay Transport Chamber pleaded with indigenous leaders to take down highway barriers. “Why are you blocking the roads in Cuenca and Cañar?” a Chamber of Commerce spokesman asked. “This is the area that gave Yaku the most support in the entire nation. Why do you punish us? Why don’t you block the roads in Quito and Guayaquil?”
In another statement, the transport chamber said the roadblocks are hurting the indigenous cause. “We are already suffering from the pandemic and many of us struggle to make a living. If the roadblocks continue you will lose the support of the voters in future elections.”
The transportation ministry reported that debris from landslides and flooding covered roadways throughout the inter-mountain valley between Loja and Quito, especially on E35. “We are working to keep passages clear but continuing rain makes this difficult,” the ministry said in a Tweet. “Unfortunately, the forecast is for more rain.”