Takin’ it to the streets: My first Primero de Mayo in Cuenca was marked by political protests

May 1, 2018

A teachers’ union marches on Simon Bolivar in 2015.

Editor’s note: Today is the International Day of the Worker, commonly known as May Day, and millions of workers will march in parades throughout the world. Expat Tom Larsen describes his first Primero de Mayo march in 2015, an event marked by political protests against former president Rafael Correa. Today in Cuenca, labor union begin their marches about 9, heading west from San Blas Plaza on Calle Simon Bolivar. Labor events will continue throughout the day in various locations around the city.

By Tom Larsen

May 1, 2015: Over the course of nearly a year in Cuenca, I’d experienced the celebrations for Tres de Noviembre, Día de los Difuntos, Carnaval, and more. This, however, looked and felt different.

Taxi and bus drivers march in 2015.

An estimated 5,000 to 7,000 marchers gathered in Cuenca for the International Worker’s Day celebration. Due to reports of rioting in Quito, there was a robust police presence. Eight hundred police, many in riot gear, and some mounted police as well. Police helicopter flew low overhead, and you could spot the occasional assault rifle-armed member of the Policia Nacional on the roof tops.

Police said that anti-Correa marchers outnumbered Correa supporters two to one, but to me it seemed just the opposite.

Correa supporters gathered at Otorongo Plaza and went up the stairs while another group was coming east on Mariscal Sucre. The two groups met at Plaza San Sebastion, then headed north on Coronel Talbot and on to Plaza Santo Domingo.

A man carries the flag of the Marxist-Leninist Communist Party of Ecuador.

The combined group carried banners proclaiming: Correa Respaldamos (We Support Correa), and Quatro Años Más (Four More Years).

There was even a bigger than life-sized papier-mâché likeness of the president on the back of a flatbed truck. Rumors flew that the prez himself would appear, but he was a no-show.

The anti-government protesters were definitely more colorful. Led by the FUT (United Worker’s Front), the group included communists, anarchists, gay rights activists, indigenous advocates, and labor unions. There was even a five-foot tall cuy. I’m not sure what he was protesting

The parade included protests against former president Rafael Correa.

Some of marcher’s big complaints were: the administration’s decision to stop funding the IESS (Social Security) to the tune of forty percent of its budget, the recent salvaguardias (tariffs) and environmental concerns over gold and oil extraction.

It appeared that the two sides were intentionally issued permits so that they would not get within ten or fifteen blocks of each other. Despite my earlier trepidation, it turned out to be a beautiful day and a peaceful demonstration of democracy in action.

Although International Worker’s Day is no longer celebrated in the United States, the first such demonstration is believed to have occurred on May 1, 1886, when more than 300,000 workers from 13,000 companies walked off their jobs across the U.S.

Source: Industrial Workers of the World Archives.

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