Violent protests against the economic policies of Ecuador’s President Guillermo Lasso have paralysed the country’s capital and other regions, but the government on Wednesday rejected their conditions for dialogue.
Quito 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 travellers to reconsider visiting the country due to “civil unrest and crime”.
The demonstrations led primarily the Indigenous organization Conaie, began on 14 June 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. The protests began with peaceful roadblocks but levels of violence have escalated in parts of the country, including the capital, Quito, prompting conservative ex-banker Lasso to decree a state of exception in six provinces.
The Indigenous leader Leonidas Iza on Tuesday demanded – among other things – that the government eliminate the emergency decree and remove the military and police presence around places where protesters have gathered in Quito.
But the minister of government on Wednesday 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 10th day of the strike,” 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 – longer-lasting and larger than marches over fuel prices in October last year – are testing Lasso’s ability to restart the country’s economy and kickstart employment.
Lasso has an adversarial relationship with the national assembly, where lawmakers have blocked his proposals, and he has struggled to contain rising violence he blames on drug gangs.
Demonstrators armed with guns, ancestral spears and explosives clashed with soldiers in the city of Puyo, in Pastaza province, on Tuesday night, the interior minister, Patricio Carrillo, said.
The protesters burned a police station and patrol cars, tried to loot a bank and attacked civilians, Carrillo told journalists, blaming the incidents on radical groups.
“We cannot guarantee public safety in Puyo right now – they have burned the entire police infrastructure and the entrance to the city is under siege,” he said.
Leaders from Indigenous Amazonian communities said in a statement they rejected vandalism in Puyo and accused security forces of worsening violence in the city.
One protester died amid the incidents and six police officers were seriously injured, while 18 are missing, the government said.
The protester was killed after being struck in the head by a police teargas canister, according to human rights groups.