Thousands of indigenous people mobilize in Quito after their leader's release

Indigenous caravan arrives south of Quito to join the demonstration against the government of Ecuador – AFP

Thousands of indigenous people arrived in Quito this Wednesday, the third consecutive day of protests against the government of Ecuador, as their leader Leonidas Iza, accused of paralyzing public transport by blocking roads, was released.

On foot and in trucks, the protesters entered an avenue in the south of the capital, followed by police and military cars.

Last Monday, the indigenous people started indefinite protests, blocking roads with barricades to demand a reduction in fuel prices and the renegotiation of peasant debts.

The demonstrations were convened by the opposition Confederation of Indigenous Nationalities (Conaie), an organization currently chaired by Iza and which, between 1997 and 2005, participated in revolts that overthrew three rulers.

“We are outraged by this neoliberal government,” indigenous Hugo Toaquiza told AFP. “They said they would eliminate poverty and they are just starving us.”

A uniformed person who was at the scene estimated that at least 2,000 people participated in the caravan, which intends to reach the historic center, where the Executive’s headquarters are located. Security in the colonial center and around the presidency’s headquarters was reinforced.

Interior Minister Patricio Carrillo said that the government has control over the demonstration in Quito: “We can guarantee that we will contain the violence with the progressive use (of force), with the firmness demanded by Ecuador.”

In 2019, Quito was for more than a week the scene of violent protests led by the indigenous movement, which left eleven dead. The demonstrations forced then-President Lenín Moreno to give up his plan to eliminate multimillion-dollar fuel subsidies.

– ‘More strength’ –

Conaie highlighted that the “National Strike continues with more force from the provinces that are added after the release of Iza, arrested yesterday on charges of interruption of services and who is facing a trial.

Protesters are also protesting the lack of jobs and the delivery of mining concessions in indigenous territories, and demanding price controls on agricultural products.

At first, officials estimated that 9,300 people participated in roadblocks in 14 of the 24 provinces on Wednesday morning. But according to Carrillo, “the number of people participating in these acts of chaos does not exceed 5,500”.

Iza is banned from leaving the country and must appear at the Public Ministry twice a week until July 4, when her trial will begin. Conaie considered the arrest of its holder “violent, arbitrary and illegal”, while the government defends that the measure is in accordance with the legislation.

In addition to Iza, 20 other people were detained, according to Carrillo. Ten soldiers were injured when they prevented protesters from taking over an oil station in the Amazon “through acts of violence”.

– Loss of US$ 20 million –

Iza leads the demonstrations against the government of conservative President Guillermo Lasso, in which indigenous people demand a reduction in fuel prices and the renegotiation of rural workers’ debts with banks.

Conaie, which between 1997 and 2005 participated in protests that toppled three presidents, also protests against the lack of jobs and the granting of mining licenses in indigenous territories, in addition to demanding price controls on agricultural products.

Carrillo celebrated the court’s decision to sue Iza for the alleged stoppage of public transport service with the blockade of highways.

“The administration of justice has declared that Mr. Iza’s detention is legal in the first place. Second, it opened a tax investigation” against the leader, he said.

Iza was arrested on Tuesday amid fights with police and military personnel. “A lot of strength, we will not be demoralized,” he said, according to a Facebook broadcast by Conaie.

The leader was greeted by some supporters with hugs. “Long live the struggle” and “Long live the strike”, shouted the protesters. An indigenous woman approached Iza and performed a “cleanse”, which consists of passing plants considered medicinal over the body.

Lasso and Iza were at the center of fruitless negotiations last year. The president reiterated today on Twitter that his government has “open doors for dialogue”, but warned: “We will not give in to violent groups that intend to impose their rules.”

The first two days of demonstrations left about $20 million in economic damage, according to Miguel González, head of the Ecuadorian Business Committee.

The indigenous population, which represents one million of Ecuador’s 17.7 million inhabitants, proposes that the price of fuel be reduced to 1.50 dollars per gallon for 3.78 liters of diesel and 2.10 for 85-octane gasoline.

The value of diesel nearly doubled (from 1 to 1.90 dollars) and gasoline rose 46% (from 1.75 to 2.55) between May 2020 and October 2021.

“The protest agendas of different social groups are legitimate, but they cannot be carried out based on deceit and violence,” the president wrote.

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