Although Cuenca has escaped the disruption and violence suffered by other major cities during the first nine days of the indigenous anti-government strike, that appeared to be changing Wednesday.
Early Wednesday morning, a protester died at roadblock on the Pan American highway in Tarqui after police fired tear gas to clear the intersection connecting Cuenca to Loja and Machala. The 38-year-old man was found lifeless at the side of the highway and some protesters believe he was struck by a gas canister. Paramedics say he showed no head trauma, only slight bruising of the torso.
The man was pronounced dead on the scene, his body taken to the public morgue where an autopsy confirmed he died of cirrhosis of the liver.
Bus service suspended
At 3 p.m. Wednesday, the Cuenca Chamber of Transport,announced that city bus service was suspended until further notice. Chamber President Manolo Solís said the decision was made due to “increasingly dangerous circumstances for drivers and passengers.”
Solís said that protesters had boarded and detained two buses Wednesday morning at the El Vado bridge entrance to the historic district. “We are in discussions with municipal officials about the situation and have told them we cannot risk injury to drivers and passengers or damage to our buses.”
He added there have also been several threats made to drivers on the outskirts of the city since the beginning of the strike. “If the city cannot guarantee the safety and integrity of our service we have no alternative but to put our buses in the garage until circumstances improve.”
At 6 p.m. Wednesday, the city announced it was suspending tram service due to the protests. Earlier in the afternoon, tires were burned on the tram tracks, causing minor damage to the electrical system.
Shortages reported at supermarkets and mercados
Shoppers at the city’s supermarkets and public mercados report the absence of some products and higher prices for others. At the area’s five Supermaxis, some shelves in the vegetable and meat departments were empty while customers at mercados report paying as much as $6 a dozen for eggs.
Long lines at gas stations
Lines of cars stretching four and five blocks were common near city gas stations Wednesday, following morning radio and social media reports that gasoline was in short supply.
Carlos Salazar, president of the Azuay Gasoline Distributors Association, said that the sale of Ecopaís gasoline was suspended because trucks transporting the ethanol additive were unable to reach the fuel transfer station on Cuenca’s west side. “Although gasoline and diesel fuel come to the city via pipelines, the ethanol must be added at the transfer plant. Because the trucks were stopped by roadblocks on the trip from the coast we are unable to provide Ecopaís.”
Salazar said there is no shortage of Super gasoline and diesel. “I’m afraid many of those waiting in line are there because of rumors that we are running out of fuel and this is not true. They will have to buy Super, which is more expensive, but gasoline is available, as is diesel.”
Cuenca remains isolated by roadblocks
Transit police report that that highways remain blocked in all directions from Cuenca. Truck supply convoys, escorted by police and military personnel, continue to come through the roadblocks but travel is not advised for private vehicles on the main highways, police say.
Protests are peaceful
University students, bus and truck drivers and members of the United Workers Front held protest marches Wednesday, all of them peaceful according National Police. The largest march, organized by business owners and workers at Parque Industrial, demanding an end to roadblocks and vandalism, and immediate negotiations between the government and Coanie.