Lasso says he’s ready to talk; New roadblocks isolate Cuenca suburbs; Corpus Christi kicks off with huge crowd following peaceful protest in Parque Calderon
As the anti-government strike enters its fifth day, the Catholic Episcopal Conference, Amnesty International, the National Assembly and the city of Cuenca have offered to mediate talks between the Confederation of Indigenous Nationalities (Conaie) and the government.
Strike leader and Conaie President Leonidas Iza said he is ready to talk but sees no “concrete actions of good will” from President Guillermo Lasso. He insists major concessions must be made by the government before talks can begin.
In a three-minute video message released Thursday night, Lasso insisted he is prepared to negotiate but will not hesitate to use “progressive force” against violent protesters. One unnamed cabinet official said the option of an emergency declaration is “on the table” if an agreement to end the strike is not reached soon. He said such a declaration would involve a large-scale military intervention.
In its offer to host talks, Monsignor Luis Cabrera, archbishop of Guayaquil, said the government must recognize the hardships that many Ecuadorians are suffering. “This must be acknowledged as a starting point to talks and for finding solutions that will end the strike,” he said.
In his mediation offer, Mayor Pedro Palacios, said Cuenca is “removed from the epicenter” of the protest and can provide the “relaxed atmosphere necessary for reaching an agreement.”
In his comments, Lasso said he was encouraged that protests have led to “very few” injuries and arrests and only limited violence. “We are actively looking at mechanisms to relieve the debts of the poorest people and provide the assistance they need.” He added there are no plans to privatize public institutions or services, one of Conaie’s demands.
In Cuenca, more roads were blockaded Thursday, isolating several suburban neighborhoods. The Transportation Ministry’s list of blocked highways, indicates that the only option for long-distance travel from the city is by air to Quito and Guayaquil.
Among the new roadblocks were two on the E35 autopista to Azogues. As of Friday morning, the populous Challuabamba surbrub was isolated.
In downtown Cuenca, police removed barriers on several streets Thursday and city officials insisted they would keep the city open.
A large protest march arrived at Parque Calderon late Thursday afternoon following a pledge by University of Cuenca President Maria Hermida that the event would be peaceful and not disrupt Corpus Christi activities. University students were joined by members of two teachers’ unions and the United Workers Front, swelling the crowd to more than 500, according to police.
LP gas distributors said no progress was made Thursday to bring new supplies to the city as lines formed at the gas supply companies offering one tank per customer. Other suppliers posted “no gas” signs and were closed entirely.
Gerardo Maldonado, manager of regional gas distributor Austrogas said he saw no immediate solution except for military convoys to transport gas from the coast but said this would not happen until next mid-week at the earliest.
Following the late afternoon protest, the weeklong Corpus Christi celebration, with what organizers said was one the largest opening night crowds ever, got underway in Parque Calderon. They estimated 8,000 to 10,000 filled the plaza and side streets to buy sweets and watch the fireworks show at the cathedral.
When he made his offer to host negotiations between strike leaders and the government, Palacios praised Cuenca residents for “maintaining the calm” and avoiding a repeat of the violence that occurred in October 2019. “Among the country’s larger cities, Cuenca is the only one that has not experienced acts of violence and vandalism.”
In pre-dawn hours Friday morning, Ecuador Armed Forces and National Police carried out roadblock cleaning operations on the Cuenca-Giron-Machala highway, including at the Y-intersection in Tarqui. The transportation ministry said the operation was intended to “open and maintain” a supply route between Cuenca and the coast.