Despite earlier claims that the indigenous protest against the government was not a repeat of the October 2019 strike, officials in Quito said Monday night that road closures and reports of violence were increasing.
“Throughout the afternoon, we are receiving reports of violent acts and vandalism as a result of strike activities,” Interior Minister Patricio Carrillo said at a government press conference. “Although less than 5,000 people are involved in today’s protests, they are causing great disruption and great harm.”
Although Carrillo insisted that the number of roads blocked is “far less” than the 2019 blockages, he conceded that inter-provincial ground transportation in much of the country is at a standstill. He said that “about 20 to 25” highways have been shut down by strikers. “Unfortunately, these are major roadways the country depends on to move people and products.”
Strike leader and Confederation of Indigenous Nationalities President Leonidas Iza called Carrillo’s numbers “ludicrous” and said more than 80 highways have been blocked. “You can expect these kind of lies from a corrupt government and there will be more to come,” he said Monday night.
The Transportation Ministry said that most major cities in the inter-mountain valley, including Quito, Cuenca, Ambato and Riobamba, are isolated by road blocks. Police commanders said they temporarily reopened roads during the day Monday but said many of the roadblocks were later restored.
Carrillo said most strike activity was centered in Imbabura, Cotopaxi and Pichincha Provinces in the north but added that protest activity in the mountain region extended to the Peruvian border in the south. “The only area of the country that is without major disruption at this time is the coast.”
Among the violent incidents reported Monday night was an attack on a police vehicle on the Cuenca-Guayaquil highway in the Cajas Mountains. According to a reporter for the El Universo newspaper, the vehicle was blocked west of Molleturo and burned. The officers escaped and hid in nearby underbrush until they were rescued by another police patrol.
South of Cuenca, in Saraguro, a police officer was reported kidnapped at a roadblock on the E35 highway. Protesters claimed he “invaded heritage territory” and would undergo a ritual cleansing.
Incidents of violence and vandalism were widespread in Quito, Otavalo, and Ibarra although the government said it had no reports of injuries. Near Otavalo, protesters entered a flower plantation and threatened workers if they did not join the strike. The plantation owner said protesters carried machetes and sticks and threatened his employees. In Quito, a crowd of about 50 ran through the historic district, breaking windows and spraying graffiti on walls.
Also in Quito, police arrested six students from a local high school, charging them with theft and vandalism at the school. According to Carrillo, they were the only arrests made Monday.
Cuenca remained calm Monday, free of street closures or violence, municipal officials said. “The morning protests were peaceful and orderly and we do not anticipate anything different in the coming days,” said city spokesman Carlos Ramirez. He said schools, businesses and public services were continue to operate as usual.