President Lenin Moreno declared a national state of emergency Thursday afternoon after talks with national taxi and bus unions failed to reach an agreement. The declaration allows army troops to reinforce police and clear the country’s roadways.
The president also announced that the country’s schools and universities would be closed Friday, extending Thursday’s closures. The Ministry of Education said it is impossible to resume classes due to the transportation strike.
“In order to safeguard citizen security and avoid chaos, I have established a national state of emergency,” Moreno said from the presidential palace in Quito. “We will insist that the rights of all people are respected and everyone be allowed to return to their normal routine in a safe and secure fashion. We will not tolerate illegal activity.”
The emergency declaration will remain in effect for 60 days, Moreno said.
Thursday’s protests followed Moreno’s Tuesday announcement that the subsidy for gasoline and diesel fuel will be eliminated, allowing prices to be set by international market rates. The new prices went into force Thursday.
The nation’s taxi and bus owners began a country-wide strike Thursday morning, blocking major highways and streets in larger towns and cities. There was virtually no taxi or bus service in the country where less than an third of families own a car, preventing hundreds of thousands of workers from reporting to work.
Following Thursday’s talks failure, strike leaders say the work stoppage would continue on Friday.
Political protests were most intense in Quito, Guayaquil and Cuenca Thursday, with some injuries reported of both protesters and police. Looting and property damage were reported in Guayaquil where 159 were arrested.
In addition to ground transportation disruptions, the strike and protests are affecting air travel in and out of Ecuador. Dozens of international flights to Quito were cancelled due to the transit strike and highway blockages between the airport and city.
During his Thursday comments, Moreno said his decision to eliminate fuel subsidies is irreversible. “It is the correct decision and it is non-negotiable,” he said.