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Police chase El Centro protesters with tear gas as public transit strike paralyzes city

After they dispersed a morning rally in Parque Calderon with tear gas, police spent the rest of Thursday in a cat-and-mouse game with bands of protesters roaming the streets of Cuenca’s historic district. Police used armored trucks with tear gas cannons and motorcycles as well as mounted police brigades to scatter protesters, most of whom wore masks or bandanas, some carrying sticks and metal pipes.

Mounted police rest after chasing protesters on Calle Sucre.

Parque Calderon was barricaded before noon, moving most of the protests to surrounding streets which were closed to traffic. As of 6 p.m., the street action showed no sign of letting up and a police captain posted at Gran Colombia and Malo said the crowd appeared to be growing.

The day began as a nationwide transportation strike. Almost all taxis and buses — both city and inter-provincial — were out of service, many of them participating in blockades of major city streets. In several locations, protesters of the government’s decision to raise gasoline and diesel prices burned tires. At 1 p.m., 40 streets and highways in and around Cuenca were reported blocked.

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The Parque Calderon protest, made up mostly of University of Cuenca students, turned unruly when some protesters threw rocks and paintballs at the police protecting the Gobernacion building. When police responded with tear gas, the crowd dispersed. Some students blamed the rock throwing on infiltrados, or thugs, who joined the protest to engage with police.

Parque Calderon protesters shortly before the tear gas flew. (El Tiempo)

A larger crowd of taxi and bus owners and drivers and their supporters was expected to gather at the park in the afternoon but the protest was called off due to the the park closure and the disturbances on surrounding streets.

For many of those observing the action in El Centro, the afternoon took on a festival atmosphere. “This reminds me of the old days and I can’t say that I don’t enjoy it in a perverse sort of way,” said Jeff Seamans, who moved to Cuenca since 2001. “Some of it is disturbing but it’s also about kids having fun and challenging authority. It reminds of my student protest days back in California.”

Seamans said when he first arrived in Cuenca, protesters were routinely dispersed with tear gas in Parque Calderon. “The cops also threw gas down on 12 de Abril when the college kids would march to Banco Pichincha and throw rocks at the windows.”

He added: “Please don’t misunderstand me. There’s a lot of bad shit happening but so far I haven’t seen anyone hurt or much property damage other than some new graffiti. Fortunately, the police have been pretty restrained.”

Business owners along the protest routes were less forgiving, most of them closing early and pulling down their metal shutters. “This is a mess and I will be happy when the soldiers come to town tomorrow,” said Graciela Ortiz, who owns a tienda on Mariscal Sucre. Like the college students, she blamed most of the unrest on infiltrados. “Look at them. They look like glue sniffers and thieves. They aren’t students,” she said.

The soldiers Ortiz referred to could take up positions in the city as early as tonight as a result of President Lenin Moreno’s afternoon state of emergency declaration.

According the ministry of transportation, access to Cuenca, Quito, Ambato and Riobamba was closed by the protests and many taxi and bus drivers were out in the streets despite a steady morning rain in all four cities.

Fights were reported at several blockades in Cuenca as angry motorists attempted to pass through. Near the Feria Libre market on Av. Las Americas, a truck attempting to deliver produce rammed two taxis and police interceded to prevent a fight.

34 thoughts on “Police chase El Centro protesters with tear gas as public transit strike paralyzes city

  1. “some of the protesters, mostly university students…..” This is just the tip of the iceberg. Wait and see what happens when the government cuts back on Higher Education spending….. I believe that last time, the proposed cut was $8 million.

  2. the true evil is the consortium of taxi drivers in Cuenca, only followed by the bus owners and drivers…the best possible solution would be for the government to take control of all public transit

      1. The government has done such a great job on the light rail…..why not hand over more control? …….aside from the fact they could never do what Louis proposes anyway

      2. This is the ONLY way that will benefit everyone. Less government and market fluctuations in control.

  3. Thank God for the police. I hope they, along with the military, totally quash these unruly law breakers.

    Additionally, it’s okay for the taxistas to protest by going on strike. However, when they take it to the next step by illegally blocking streets, they have gone too far. Such blockages impede emergency vehicles, such as ambulances and fire trucks, from doing their jobs.

    All taxistas who participated in these illegal acts should be fined and severely reprimanded, at the very least.

  4. The president is doing what he needs to do in order to keep the IVA at 12% instead of 16% which would cripple most families. At least the taxi and bus companies can raise rates to help compensate with the cost of fuel.

    1. Taxis, buses, tractors, tractor trailers, cars, and on and on it goes. Just raising the cost of fuel raises the cost of everything, thereby crippling most families. The price of gasoline just DOUBLED overnight. Gas costs the same for everyone. The only difference is the poor spend a much higher percentage of their income to get to work than the rich do.

      This has nothing to do with the IVA. Every dollar of the fuel subsidy adds a dollar to PetroEcuador´s profits and every dollar of PetroEcuador´s profits goes right back into the national treasury. The net effect on the budget is ZERO. This isn´t about the subsidy. It´s about making PetroEcuador more attractive to investors when he moves to privatize it.

      1. Never the less, it is DQL for the spender when bucks leave the pocket more frequently with nothing to neutralize or compensate the loss. Government’s persistently, additional indebtedness ultimately becomes irretractably more desperate continually Diminishing the Quality of Life. Movement occurs along a Darwin downward course of new normal and the eventual extinction of that nation. Centuries of precedence exists. Argentina, Ecuador, and Costa Rica in that order with disorder morphing into something not recognizable but hopefully phoenixing into the next, young order.

          1. No. Sometimes go by RVM (rear view mirror) otherwise referred to as history. Over indebtedness (per world economist Carmen Reinhart) history. You’ll realize this time is different. You have to extrapolate with little vision, maybe with help letting a door slam on you while going out. This is short term vision/future, particularly the countries named. U.S. and China has the mark on their heads for the next decade, 2020’s. I’m only referring to DQL. Troublesome DQL.

      2. Up to now most poor folk spend 30 cents for a bus ride to work. The “rich” drive to work in private vehicles that are also used for other reasons such as recreation.
        It doesn’t help our economy if fuel subsidies produce a zero net effect on the budget. We need our oil to produce profit. What good does it do subsidizing (encouraging) a family’s weekend getaway in a private vehicle? Most of the time, if you have the money for a car, you’ll have the money to fill it with unsubsidized gasoline.

        1. First off, it’s 30 cents per bus. Most people take 2-3 buses each way. Second, it’s not only the rich who drive cars. Most of the working middle class also drive cars. For a person making $10 a day spending $1.80 to get to and from work, increasing that cost by 60 cents is significant. Maybe you can give up an extra 6% of your income and not notice, but for people living paycheck to paycheck it’s significant.

          But you did hit on the important point. We need our oil to produce profit. The question is profit for whom. That’s why the IMF insists that Ecuador sell its oil at “international prices”. That means Ecuadorian consumers have to compete with US consumers, European consumers, etc. for their own oil. Encouraging the family weekend getaway does a lot of good, or have you not noticed how important tourism is to the economy?

    2. Donna, I thought the same way until I learned that part of this government “ordinance” is they can NOT pass along these increases…that is a discussion point in the negotiations going on. The fares and rates for taxis and truckers are regulated!

  5. The president has declared marshal law.

    For the record, the last Ecuadorian president to do that was Lucio Gutierrez. He fled the country 3 days later.

      1. Constitutional rights have been suspended for 60 days. Play word games if you want. The effect is still the same.

        1. I get it — after years in Chile and now in Ecuador almost 10 years, mine is fading as well! I love languages so I keep using both. I like your posts which keep a balance in these over-reactive times…

  6. Hi! I’m a tourist, i have to take bus tomorrow from Cuenca to Alausi, will the strike end tomorrow?

    1. you are asking here ?

      btw Lars (spelling right this time LOL) I agree with you 100%. When the taxistas realize that they are not making any money they will get back to work probably today

  7. Economic writing of 500 years of history of indebtedness of empires’ and sovereign states’ declines spells it out. Look around the world now and see it exhibited in the respective stages of nations’ decline. Ecuador, Argentina, and Costa Rica have the disease at different levels. 800 pound guerillas U.S. and China get honorable mention with such status in progress. Citizens and their offspring present and future experience DQL (diminished quality of life) going forward, otherwise referred to as “new normal.” Just right for the Chinese Belt and Road initiative to arrive like the cavalry to save the day. Day, however, turns to night in that saga.

    1. Trump is the greatest president of all time. He may be among the five greatest human beings of all time. BTW – we need a great Wall on the border of Ecuador and Colombia.

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