Leaders of the indigenous strike against the government urged followers to “radicalize their resistance” following the arrest Tuesday morning of Conaie President Leonidas Iza. The Interior Ministry reported an increase in violent events, including attacks on police, following the arrest and said it expects more in the coming hours.
Iza was taken into custody shortly after midnight Tuesday near Pastocalle in Cotopaxi Province and transferred to the Attorney General’s headquarters in Quito, where he was held for several hours before being transferred again to the Cotopaxi prison in Latacunga.
Conaie and Pachakutik National Assembly members condemned the arrest, claiming Iza was arrested on political grounds, not for committing a crime. Among those demanding his release were former Pachakutik presidential candidate Yaku Pérez. “Why does [President Guillermo] Lasso arrest Leonidas on the first day of the strike and let drug lords and murders roam free in Guayaquil for months? Where is justice in Ecuador?”
Others attacking the arrest were Pachakutik party leaders Marlon Santi and Lourdes Tibán, both claiming Iza had not committed a crime. “He is being punished for carrying out his constitutional right to protest and he should be released immediately,” Santi said.
In a late morning news conference, Interior Minister Patricio Carrillo claimed Iza was, in fact, arrested for criminal activity. “In our system, prosecutors will determine the exact charges and several are being considered,” Carrillo said. “He [Iza] called on his followers to block public highways, which is a crime, and visited three roadblocks Monday in Cotopaxi Province, assisting strikers in the blockages. We believe he committed a number of other crimes by inciting violence and these will be explained by prosecutors.”
A large crowd gathered Tuesday morning outside the Attorney General’s headquarters, unaware that Iza had been moved to the Latacunga prison. Hours later, an angry crowd in Latacunga chased five policeman down a city street, beating one of them after he tripped and fell.
In his morning comments, Carrillo said he wasn’t sure how much “more radical” the strike could become. “They are already committing crimes by blocking roads, trespassing on government and private property, kidnapping police officers, threatening private citizens and destroying police vehicles,” he said.
In the Cuenca area, more roadblocks were erected south of the city on the highways to Loja and Machala. In Canar Province to the north, at least four roadblocks are being maintained between Azogues and Zhud. Following the burning of a police cruiser on the Cajas highway near Molleturo, the highway between Cuenca and Guayaquil was opened for several hours before being closed again in the early afternoon by protesters.
No strike-related incidents were reported Tuesday in Cuenca through mid-afternoon but police were stationed outside municipal and provincial buildings anticipating a university student and indigenous march through the historic district. According to social media reports, the march was expected to arrive in Parque Calderon at 4:30 or 5 p.m.