Demonstrators defied coronavirus safety restrictions to stage protests in Quito, Guayaquil and Cuenca on Monday and Tuesday against President Lenin Moreno’s drastic economic measures to tackle the country’s economic crisis.
Moreno last week announced deep public spending cuts including the closure of state-owned companies and embassies around the world, but trade unions Monday said workers were paying a disproportionate price compared to Ecuador’s elite. Students joined the protests, objecting to a proposed 10 percent budget cut to higher education.
“This protest is because the government is firing workers to avoid making the rich pay,” Mecias Tatamuez, head of the county’s largest union, the United Workers Front (FUT), told reporters at a march in Quito. Around 2,000 people marched in the capital, waving flags and banners and shouting anti-government slogans.
Although most protesters wore masks, few appeared to respect distancing measures recommended against the spread of the coronavirus that has caused at least 3,200 deaths in the country, making it South America’s worst hit nation, per capita. Authorities say more than 2,000 further deaths are likely linked to the virus.
In Guayaquil, 3,000 labor union marchers defied social distancing rules and were pushed back by police at several points although no violence was reported.
Protests were more orderly in Cuenca, where several hundred supported various causes including university funding, payment for doctors as well the rights of workers. The governor of Azuay Province, Xavier Martinez, met with students and doctors, who say they have not been paid for their services. The governor promised payment to the doctors and said the issue of higher education funding was in the hands of the national Constitutional Court.
Ecuador’s indigenous movement has so far not been involved in protests and the elimination of fuel subsidies has not appeared to be an issue. Indigenous organizations staged a nationwide strike in October 2019 that effectively closed the country for three weeks until Moreno backed down on the subsidy issue.