Cuenca Mayor Pedro Palacios pleaded with the government and indigenous leaders Sunday night to resolve the nationwide strike. “In Cuenca, we are in an unsustainable situation, a situation where we live in almost complete isolation,” he said. “We demand urgent action from both sides since lives are at risk.”
In a two-minute video, Palacios urged President Guillermo Lasso to provide the leadership to find a solution and pleaded with strike leader Leonidas Iza to open the highways to allow supplies to enter the city. “Mr. Iza, you said you will open humanitarian corridors for essential goods to pass and now is the time to do it.”
Palacios called the tactics of strikers a “return to the past,” asking why, “in the 21st century, are we still living through a situation like this.”
Palacios’ plea to Iza was in reference to a large truck convoy stalled on the Cajas highway near Molleturo. Early Sunday, Iza urged his followers at roadblocks to allow ambulances and trucks with medical supplies, LP gas and food to pass. “In solidarity with all the Ecuadorian people, I ask this cooperation. We have contacted the Red Cross to assist with the logistics.”
According to restaurant owner Luca Pallanca, Iza’s comments were a result of the blockage of trucks bringing medical oxygen and other hospital supplies to Cuenca. Early Sunday, two hospitals said they would soon run out of oxygen if new supplies did not arrive.
Pallanca, whose charitable efforts have provided food and clothing donations to residents of Molleturo during the Covid-19 pandemic, arrived in the community Sunday morning to ask strikers to allow the supply trucks to pass. Earlier, National Police had attempted to clear the highway but withdrew following sometime violent clashes with strikers.
“The people of Molleturo have agreed to allow trucks carrying essential supplies to move through the roadblock,” Pallanca said. “We are asking the police and the military to stay away so this operation can continue peacefully.”
Pallanca, an Italian expat, has donated hundreds of thousands of dollars of supplies to rural communities near Cuenca since 2019 and continues to provide food each morning to Venezuelan and Colombian refugees at his restaurant, Pizza y Focaccia La Matriz, in El Centro.
Amaru Biopark Zoo needs food for animals
Cuenca’s Amaru Biopark on the Azogues autopista is asking the public for help feeding hungry animals. The park says the strike has cut off needed supplies and it needs food donations immediately. See the accompanying graphic for details.
Violence at roadblocks
In addition to conflicts between police and striking roadblockers in Molleturo, a Saturday police operation at a blockage of the Pan American highway in Tarqui resulted in at least seven arrests. Police fired tear gas at a group of rock-throwers and then chased them down by motorcycle.
Cuencanos line up for LP gas and gasoline
Although some trucks transporting LP gas have been allowed to pass roadblocks on the Cuenca – Machala highway, local distributors say that supplies are still insufficient. Over the weekend, people lined up at several companies to buy gas with most purchases limited to one tank per customer.
Local filling stations reported long lines of cars waiting for fill-ups over the weekend. The fixed-price Ecopais gasoline remains unavailable but the regional distributor says there is no shortage of high-test Extra or diesel. Gasoline arrives in Cuenca by pipeline and is not affected by roadblocks.
Fresh food is available at local mercados but not supermarkets
Despite supply concerns, produce and meat vendors at Cuenca’s public mercados say they remain well stocked. In contrast, some supermarket chains are completely out of fresh vegetables, fruits and meats due to highway blockages. Even at the mercados, some products, such as eggs, are not available or in short supply.
The association representing market vendors announced they would march Monday in El Centro in support of the strike.
Garbage collection will be ‘intermittent’
Cuenca municipal service company ETAPA said Saturday that garbage collection has resumed but service will be “intermittent” due the strike.