Ecuador’s military vows to stop protests from damaging democracy
QUITO — Ecuador’s armed forces on Tuesday said they would not allow ongoing protests against President Guillermo Lasso’s economic policies to damage the country’s democracy, as indigenous protesters clashed with security forces in Quito.
Thousands of protesters have marched in Quito over the last week to demand a list of concessions from Lasso, including a fuel price cut, a halt to the expansion of oil production and mining, more time for farmers to pay debt and budget increases for healthcare.
The government has responded to the demands in a communication with indigenous leaders and is a awaiting a response. It also accepted mediation offers from civil society organizations, it said.
Security forces and protesters clashed in the capital on Tuesday afternoon, with some demonstrators throwing sticks. Security forces responded by firing tear gas and non-lethal projectiles, according to a Reuters witness.
The attorney general’s office said in a statement its main office had been attacked, though it did not specify by whom.
Protests first erupted last October after Lasso, a conservative former banker, froze prices for the most-used gasoline and diesel at higher rates than before he took office. The situation calmed after the government opened talks but indigenous leaders say it is not listening to their concerns.
Police commander Fausto Salinas told journalists security forces had confiscated cans of diesel and gasoline as well as sharp weapons from some demonstrators.
Eighty people had been arrested and more than 100 members of the security forces injured, he added.
Lasso, who has repeatedly blamed drug gangs for rising violence, on Monday expanded a state of exception decree – used in times of public order disruption – to six provinces from the previous three.
Protesters in the largest city Guayaquil have told Reuters they are being hit by high prices for food and other basic items.
At least 55 protesters have been injured over the last week.
Residents of the capital awoke to find some roads closed and parts of the public transport system shuttered. Major highways into Quito have been blocked since protests began a week ago and the city’s airport said some flights were being affected.
“The armed forces will not allow constitutional order to be broken or any action against democracy and the laws of the republic,” Defense Minister Luis Lara, accompanied by military commanders, told journalists.
“We urge Ecuadoreans toward national unity,” he said, adding that drug traffickers and organized crime were behind the violence at protests.
Indigenous leaders blamed the uprising on poverty and inequality.
“No one is against anyone. We are against corruption, the injustice which has caused a deterioration in the majority of Ecuadorean society,” said Leonidas Iza, leader of CONAIE, an indigenous group.
Fuel subsidies cost the government some $2.8 billion a year.
The protests have prevented some 189,000 barrels of crude from being produced, the energy ministry said in a statement, extending a force majeure declaration by state-run oil Petroecuador to include private operators.
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