Rice and banana farmers join today’s protests as the Conaie president warns of future violence

Sep 15, 2021 | 11 comments

Unions representing small rice and banana producers in Guayas, El Oro and Los Rios provinces plan to join today’s anti-government protests, their leaders say. The growers, who blocked highways north of Guayaquil last week, say they will take to the roads again, warning motorists in the area to use alternate routes.

Leonidas Iza talks to the press following the negotiations that ended the October 2019 strike.

The farmers, who are protesting the lack of government price supports for their products, will join labor, indigenous and student organizations in protests in major cities, with the largest concentration planned Quito.

In Cuenca, leaders of the United Workers Front say they will mobilize at San Blas Plaza in the historic district and march west on Calle Simon Bolivar beginning at 4 p.m. Protesters will gather for a rally at Parque Calderon.

Organizers say today’s marches will be much larger than those in August, which drew small crowds. They blamed the poor attendance on fear of Covid, which they say is now in rapid decline.

Although today’s protests are expected to be peaceful, Leonidas Iza, president of the Confederation of Indigenous Nationalities of Ecuador (Conaie), warns that a repeat of the October 2019 violence is likely if the government doesn’t respond to the economic crisis.

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“There are many possibilities for violent outbreaks on the horizon,” he said in a radio interview Tuesday. “If the suffering of the population is not recognized and addressed by the government, there will be trouble. People cannot continue to live under current circumstances. They simply cannot take it anymore.”

Iza, a leader of the 2019 protests that led to six deaths, 1,500 injuries and an estimated one billion dollars in property damages, says that rising fuel prices, President Guillermo Lasso’s proposed labor law changes and failure of the government to renegotiate debts for the poor are among the main issues.

“During the time of the previous and current governments, there has been a refusal to consider the plight of workers and the poor and the people will rise in anger and demand justice,” Iza says. “Soon, the government will no longer be able to hide behind the excuse of the pandemic to suppress the anger.”

As it was in 2019, fuel prices are at the heart of public discontent, Iza says. Following talks with the government, former president Lenin Moreno cancelled his plan to increase the price of diesel fuel and gasoline but later reinstituted a plan of gradual increases. “If it were not for the pandemic, people would have taken to the streets again to protest this betrayal,” Iza says. “This plan, which is now supported by the Lasso government, was a violation of the agreement reached in October 2019. It was a capitulation to the IMF and international financial interests.”

Iza says that the Lasso’s offer to provide fuel subsidies for public transportation companies does not solve the problem. “There is a ripple effect through the economy and the people will pay more for food and other essential products. We are demanding an immediate freeze on all fuel prices and a roll-back to previous subsidy levels.”

The other issues stoking public anger, says Iza, such as proposals he says reduce the rights of workers and ignore the economic hardships faced by Ecuadorian families, must be addressed in the coming months. “The government will soon learn the hard way that the people will no loner tolerate inaction and the adoption of neo-liberal policies,” he says.

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