In Ecuador, indigenous anger pours out on the streets of Quito
As they pass, the streets empty and the shops close. Thousands of indigenous people from across Ecuador are now demonstrating daily in the militarized capital, ready to stay until the government falls or gives in to their demands.
Since they entered Quito en masse at the start of the week, the scenario has been the same. At night, they regain strength in two universities which they occupy.
The breakfast swallowed, they disperse in groups of hundreds of people in the streets. A day of demonstrations – and often clashes with the police – begins.
The protesters carry homemade sticks and shields, brandish whipalas, the multicolored flag of the indigenous peoples of the Andes. Along the way barricades are built with tree trunks, tires are set on fire.
“It can take a month, two months (…) The war will come, but here we will fight until” the conservative president Guillermo Lasso is deposed, roars Maria Vega, 47, who lives on small trades.
When the procession comes face to face with a police roadblock, the walkers stop, change course.
The surroundings of the presidential palace are blocked by metal fences, barbed wire and men in uniform.
President Lasso, a former conservative banker in power for a year, sees in this revolt an attempt to overthrow him. Between 1997 and 2005, three Ecuadorian presidents had to leave power under pressure from the natives.
And this time again, neither the security deployment, nor the curfew, nor the reproaches of other Ecuadorians affected by the country’s paralysis are not deterring them. The natives continue to defy the state of emergency under the nose of the government, which has brought the soldiers out of the barracks in an attempt to regain control.
The natives left their rural communities eleven days ago, but only arrived in Quito on Monday to denounce the high cost of living. Among other things, they demand that the government decree a reduction in fuel prices.
“We want a government that works for the people, for all of Ecuador, and not just for the upper class,” said Luzmila Zamora, 51.
– “Dig his grave” –
The Confederation of Indigenous Nationalities of Ecuador (Conaie) is spearheading the protests, which have already left three people dead and dozens injured.
The leader of the organization, Leonidas Iza, appears in the crowd, megaphone in hand. Agreed for a dialogue, but under conditions, and not before having met President Lasso.
“Do we have any answers comrades?” he asks. “Nooooooooo!” retorts the crowd, massed around him.
Marco Vinicio Morales, a 40-year-old evangelical pastor, does not understand how a country “which produces oil, gold and silver on a large scale” suffers from “the high cost of living”.
“If there is no response, Lasso himself will dig his own grave and should be removed from office,” he said. In addition to fuel, Conaie is asking for a one-year moratorium on the repayment of bank loans for the most modest and a price control policy.
“The costs of chemical fertilizers are so high that we farmers have to work at a loss,” continues Luzmila Zamora. Other demands, such as a higher budget for health and education, add to the demands.
But the mobilization is also affecting merchants and employees in Quito, who are trying to recover from the economic shock of the pandemic.
– Without customer –
In 2019, indigenous people marched on the capital to get the government to rescind a deal with the IMF that ended fuel subsidies.
After two weeks, they had achieved their goal, but left resentment among the middle and upper classes, and the rest of the population.
Efren Carrion, a 42-year-old restaurateur, is already feeling the effects of the protests. “From Monday to Friday, I was selling 120 lunches a day, and today it’s 10 or 25 at most,” he complains. And because of the tear gas, “customers take the opportunity to leave without paying”.
The protests emptied downtown buildings. “The hearings (in court) have been suspended and if there are no hearings, the clients do not pay,” laments a lawyer, Hugo Castro.
The natives are well aware of the inconvenience they cause.
“We are insulted, we are told that we are lazy, that we should let people go to work”, admits Diana Segovia, 32, a clothing merchant. “But they don’t need anything, they don’t understand”.