An indigenous protester died in clashes with law enforcement on Tuesday, the ninth day of demonstrations against the Ecuadoran government, which the military described as a “grave threat.”
The man, a member of the Quichua indigenous group, was participating in a road block in the Amazon town of Puyo, when there was “a confrontation and this person was hit in the face, apparently with a tear gas bomb,” said Lina Maria Espinosa, a lawyer with the Alliance for Human Rights.
Since Monday last week, multiple roads have been barricaded nationwide at a cost of hundreds of millions of US dollars to the economy, in demonstrations over fuel prices called by the powerful Confederation of Indigenous Nationalities of Ecuador (CONAIE).
Dozens of people — police and the public — have been injured in clashes.
The death of the protester, identified as Byron Guatatoca, 40, came after a young man died overnight when he fell into a ravine “trying to flee from the military” in a protest on the outskirts of Quito, Cayambe Mayor Guillermo Churuchumbi said.
The episode prompted the prosecutors’ office — which was also stoned by protesters and had its glass doors smashed — to open an investigation into possible homicide.
In Quito proper about 500 protesters — among about 10,000 who arrived in the capital from around the country in the past few days — were on Tuesday tear-gassed as they blockaded a street with burning tree branches.
They quickly regrouped to march on the Casa de la Cultura Ecuatoriana — a cultural center traditionally used by indigenous people to launch protests, but requisitioned by police over the weekend to use as a base.
“The objective of today is to retake the Casa de la Cultura,” protester Wilson Mazabanda said before police used spray to break up the group.
Earlier in the day, Ecuadoran Minister of National Defense Luis Lara said Ecuador’s democracy “faces a grave threat from ... people who are preventing the free movement of the majority of Ecuadorans” with widespread blockades.
Flanked by the heads of the army, navy and air force, Lara said the military “will not allow attempts to break the constitutional order or any action against democracy and the laws of the republic.”
Quito Mayor Santiago Guarderas wrote on Twitter that the demonstrations “continue to escalate,” and that the capital’s markets were running out of supplies.
CONAIE — credited with helping topple three presidents between 1997 and 2005 — called for the demonstrations, as Ecuadorans increasingly struggle to make ends meet.
Indigenous people comprise more than 1 million of Ecuador’s 17.7 million inhabitants and wield much political clout, but are disproportionately affected by rising inflation, unemployment and poverty exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic.
Thousands of demonstrators — many of them had traveled to Quito on foot or on the backs of trucks — took to the streets wielding sticks, fireworks and makeshift shields made of road signs.
“We are already tired of this government,” university student Mazabanda said of former banker Ecuadoran President Guillermo Lasso’s one-year-old presidency.
Tito Zamora, a small-scale farmer, added that costs have risen sharply, “but not the price we get for our products.”
Lasso wrote on Twitter that he was ready to participate in “a frank and respectful dialogue process with CONAIE and other civil organizations.”
“It is our duty to reach consensus for the good of the country,” the president said.
Fuel prices have risen sharply since 2020, almost doubling for diesel from US$1 to US$1.90 per gallon (3.79 liters) and rising from US$1.75 to US$2.55 for gasoline.
CONAIE is demanding a price cut to US$1.50 per gallon for diesel and US$2.10 for gasoline.
It also wants jobs and food price controls.
The movement has since been joined by students, workers and other Ecuadorans feeling the economic pinch.
Dozens have been arrested, human rights observers said.
Lasso on Monday extended a state of emergency to cover six of the country’s 24 provinces, with a nighttime curfew in Quito.
Ecuador’s National Assembly on Monday voted in favor of a resolution calling for the government to conduct a “serious, clear and honest” dialogue with protesters, mediated by the UN, the International Red Cross, universities and the Catholic Church.
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