QUITO, Ecuador >> Violent protests by Indigenous people demanding a variety of changes, including lower fuel prices, have paralyzed Ecuador’s capital and other regions, but the government today rejected their conditions for dialogue.
Quito, the capital, is experiencing food and fuel shortages after 10 days of demonstrations in which protesters at times have clashed with police. After officials rejected the conditions for negotiations, the United States government issued an advisory urging travelers to reconsider visiting the country due to “civil unrest and crime.”
The demonstrations are part of a national strike that the Confederation of Indigenous Nationalities began June 14 to demand that gasoline prices be cut by 45 cents a gallon to $2.10, price controls for agricultural products and a larger budget for education. Protests have been especially violent in six provinces in the north-central part of the South American country.
The Indigenous leader Leonidas Iza on Tuesday demanded among other things that the government eliminate the state of emergency in those provinces and remove the military and police presence around places where protesters have gathered in Quito. But the Minister of Government today said the government could not lift the state of emergency because it would leave “the capital defenseless.”
“This is not the time to put more conditions, it is not the time to demand greater demands, it is the time to sit down and talk, we are on the tenth day of the strike,” Minister Francisco Jiménez told a television network. “And we can’t keep waiting, the capital can’t keep waiting, the country can’t keep waiting.”
The protests have been characterized by intermittent roadblocks on the main roads in the six provinces, while in the capital, groups of protesters roam the city attacking vehicles and civilians and forcing the closure of businesses, some of which were looted. They have also punctured the wheels of buses, forcing passengers to walk.
The situation prompted several embassies, including that of Germany, Britain, Canada and the U.S. to issue a public statement expressing concerns about “the fundamental rights of all citizens,” and calling for the parties to negotiate and reach “concrete agreements.”
The U.S. Department of State in today’s advisory warned travelers about widespread protests and crime in Ecuador, including the presence of international criminal organizations and gangs.
“Public demonstrations can take place for a variety of political and economic issues,” the department said. “Demonstrations can cause the shutdown of local roads and major highways, often without prior notice or estimated reopening timelines. Road closures may significantly reduce access to public transportation and airports and may disrupt travel both within and between cities.”
The United Nations and the Organization of American States are among the 300 institutions that have also called on the government and Indigenous leaders to reach an agreement at time when the country is facing a serious social, economic and political crisis.
The Minister of the Interior, Patricio Carrillo, told reporters that in the city of Puyo, in the Amazon, protesters on Tuesday attacked police and civilians “in absolutely irrational acts, with explosives, with ancestral weapons and with carbine-type firearms.”
Elsewhere, protesters also attacked the building housing the Attorney General’s Office and occupied oil fields, forcing the government to invoke contract clauses that prevent lawsuits from being filed by hydrocarbon operators over unfulfilled contracts. The country’s main export is oil.