Hundreds of thousands of Ecuadorians have been mobilising across the country since June 13 as a part of an indefinite national strike against the right-wing government of President Guillermo Lasso and his anti-people economic policies. The strike was called by various Indigenous, peasant and social organisations, with a set of ten demands that address the most urgent needs of the majority of the population.
The demands include: a reduction in and freeze on fuel prices; employment opportunities and labour guarantees; an end to privatisation of public companies; price control policies for essential products; a greater budget for public education and health sectors; an end to drug trafficking, kidnappings and violence; protection for people against banking and finance sectors; fair prices for farm products; a ban on mining and oil exploitation activities in Indigenous territories; and respect for the 21 collective rights of Indigenous peoples and nationalities.
The Lasso administration has been responding to these demands with brutal repression. Since June 13, police and military officials have been repressing the demonstrators with pellets, tear gas and water cannons. According to the Alliance for Human Rights Organization, between June 13–19, state security forces committed 39 types of human rights violations against citizens participating in the national strike, detained 79 and injured 55 people, in addition to killing an 18-year-old Indigenous boy.
President Lasso declared a state of emergency in the Pichincha, Cotopaxi and Imbabura provinces — where protests had been the strongest — on June 18, increasing the militarisation of the provinces and suspending various constitutional rights.
The national police occupied the the Benjamín Carrión Cultural Centre in the capital Quito on June 19, to use its facilities to house police who came from other provinces to contain the social protests. Hours before the police takeover, the officials of the State Attorney General’s Office raided the centre, arguing that they had received an anonymous complaint that protesters were storing explosives there. The authorities found nothing.
The forceful takeover and raid was widely rejected by human rights organisations and opposition leaders. Several leaders said that the centre was targeted because during the October 2019 national strike, it provided humanitarian shelter to citizens in response to the excessive police repression by the government of former president Lenín Moreno.
“It is with great sadness that I have to say that culture has died today. Tyranny, darkness, and terror have won over life, joy, diversity, and plurality. Today, terror is settling on the most important cultural institution in the country,” lamented the centre's president Fernando Cerón. “The last time the House of Culture was controlled by the police was 46 years ago during the dictatorship. Now we are in a dictatorship. This house of freedom of thought has fallen into the hands of terror.”
Lasso, continuing his policies of repression and criminalisation of social protests, extended the state of emergency on June 20 to six provinces: Pichincha, Imbabura, Cotopaxi, Chimborazo, Tungurahua and Pastaza.
Nevertheless, defying the state of emergency and enduring brutal police and military repression, hundreds of thousands continue to remain on the streets.
The Confederation of Indigenous Nationalities of Ecuador (CONAIE), one of the main organisers, said the strike would continue until their demands were met.
According to CONAIE, Indigenous communities have been maintaining roadblocks in at least 16 of the 24 provinces of the country since June 13. On the eighth day of the strike, CONAIE reported that Indigenous people from all parts of the country had been arriving in Quito to press for their demands.
CONAIE condemned the attacks by security forces and right-wing extremist mobs on the demonstrations and roadblocks including on women, children and senior citizens. The confederation also criticised the state of emergency and repression.
“The decree of the state of emergency limits rights and confronts the people against the people. As of the 8th day of the national strike, 81 detentions, 52 injuries, 4 serious injuries, 11 with impacts on the eyes and face, 1 death were registered,” CONAIE said.
“In a state of law and democracy, human rights are not violated, nor is violence, police and military repression legitimised,” stressed the confederation. “In a rule of law, the right to protest is guaranteed, the life and integrity of social leaders, human rights defenders are not threatened, and racism, discrimination and xenophobia are not promoted,” it added.
Actions taken by the opposition
Opposition sectors also condemned the Lasso government for resorting to repression and violence instead of dialogue to deal with the situation. The opposition-controlled National Assembly, with 81 of the 137 votes, approved a resolution on June 21, urging the government to negotiate with Indigenous organisations and other sectors. Through the resolution, the unicameral congress also called on organisations such as the United Nations, the Red Cross and the Catholic Church to attend the negotiations and propose mechanisms to solve the crisis.
[Abridged from Peoples Dispatch.]