Ecuadorian indigenous peoples are blocking roads to protest rising fuel prices.
Ecuadoreans protested skyrocketing fuel costs by blocking highways with rocks and burning tires on Tuesday, as the country grapples with a state of emergency and many challenges.
The government had warned that it would take steps to “avoid road closures” for passengers and cargo, and police and troops were stationed across the country to keep an eye on demonstrators.
In a standoff with demonstrators in at least one area, police used gas canisters, and the office of rightist President Guillermo Lasso stated 18 arrests had been made by afternoon.
The unrest occurs as Ecuador grapples with an economic collapse exacerbated by the coronavirus pandemic, widespread popular discontent, violent crime blamed on drug gangs, and allegations of corruption against Lasso, an ex-banker whose center-right economic policies are viewed with suspicion by many.
Protesters shut down traffic in five of Ecuador’s 24 regions, including Pichincha, where a march to the capital Quito was planned for later Tuesday.
“The security forces will ensure that law and order is observed,” said Carlos Jijon, a spokesperson for the presidency, reiterating Lasso’s prior promise to avoid traffic closures.
Demonstrators have not been deterred by the use of force.
“In the face of new economic policies that are rapidly squeezing our populations, our transport workers, and our towns,” protest organizer Julio Cesar Pilalumbo told AFP.
“We will fight any repression,” he stated during a roadblock in Zumbahua, Ecuador, where poncho-clad women armed with spades and sticks assisted men in moving huge stones to obstruct traffic.
The “paralysis” of the protests, according to Lasso, means “economic losses for tiny enterprises, which support thousands of Ecuadorian families and households.”
Since last year, gas costs have virtually doubled.
Last Friday, Lasso announced another price increase, this time to $1.90 per gallon (3.8 liters) of diesel (up from $1 in 2020) and $2.55 per gallon (3.8 liters) of gasoline.
He promised that would be the final hike, but it was insufficient to quell public outrage over economic policies in a country that exports oil but imports much of the fuel it uses.
Protesters affiliated with the Confederation of Indigenous Nationalities of Ecuador (Conaie) want the price of diesel and gasoline regulated at $1.50 and $2, respectively.
Between 1997 and 2005, Conaie is credited with helping to depose three presidents, and in 2019, he spearheaded successful protests against the government’s decision to eliminate fuel subsidies.
Indigenous people make up 7.4% of the country’s population of 17.7 million people.
Students and labor unions were asked to participate in the demonstration on Tuesday. The Washington Newsday Brief News is a daily newspaper published in Washington, D.C.