A “different” outlook on the crisis in Ecuador
By Catalina Hinojosa
An account of the recent crisis in Ecuador from a peace-building perspective.
In March 2019 the Ecuadorian government signed an agreement with the International Monetary Fund for a loan of $4,200million. The conditions imposed on the country for such a substantial loan included reducing the fiscal deficit, reducing spending, increasing income, reforming the Employment Code in order to reduce recruitment and redundancy costs.
On 1st October 2019, President Lenin Moreno announced the cancellation of all fuel subsidies. This decision provoked a national strike convened by the Freight Transport Union in protest against the presidential decree.
Two days after this, the indigenous peoples and communities announced their own participation in the national strike. Following this, other sectors and groups in Ecuadorian society gradually joined in the protest. People travelled from all over the country to the urban centers, especially the capital Quito, to protest.
By 3rd October 2019, the tension had spread throughout the country, and the government responded by ordering the military and police to subdue the protests. The subsequent encounters between police and protesters left many injured and hundreds of arrests. The violence led the government to declare a State of Emergency. However, the Freight Transport Union made a settlement with the government whereby they called off the national strike in return for public transport costs to be increased. This meant the fuel increase was being passed on to the travelling public, which in turn generated a counter reaction from people in middle and lower income groups.
At the same time, some indigenous communities and trade unions continued to protest and the strike spread to other cities, motorways were blocked, protesters clashed with politicians and the army.
On 7th October the President suspended government activity in Quito, transferring the seat of government to Guayaquil, in the south of the country, to avoid the protesters established outside the National Assembly and Presidential Palace.
In the days that followed, the protests continued and some public buildings were seriously damaged. As a result the government declared a curfew.
As the situation escalated, calls grew among ordinary people to return to a peaceful social atmosphere. Many NGOs and independent magazines published the demonstrators’ points of view regarding what was happening in the country. Other organizations, such as the United Nations and the Catholic Episcopal Conference of Ecuador promoted dialogue between protest leaders and the government.
On 14th October the leaders of the indigenous communities made an agreement with the government to abandon their strike action in exchange for the promise to renegotiate the economic measures demanded by the IMF, in order to protect the interests of vulnerable sections of the population and of rural areas dependent on guarantees for sustainable agriculture.
Throughout all the difficult days of demonstrations and civil conflict, many sectors of society be they citizens or universities, NGOs and others, found ways of sustaining the indigenous representatives who came to Quito to protest. Many voluntary groups gave their time, money and other help to support them. And when the protests ended, many volunteers (students, workers, families, police and citizens) gathered together to clean up the public spaces that had been affected in Quito, as a sign of common citizenship and an action of unity.
Many open wounds remain. Many challenges are still to be faced by the government and citizens alike. However, this crisis has also demonstrated another face, the face of hope and unity, visible in many young people who as protagonists, put their lives on the line for their fellow citizens, giving of themselves generously in order to build a better society.
One such is Mayumi Alta, a young woman from the indigenous community. She is a member of Epaz, an Ecuadorian organization which promotes peace as a means to face the problems of violence, war and lack of respect for others. We report a piece she wrote which gives valuable insights into the situation of the indigenous communities in Ecuador today.
The country has witnessed popular discontent over a series of economic measures drawn up on the desks of those governing the country, by representatives who have idealized the viability of economic theories on the actual national situation.
The October revolt, led by the citizens and peoples of Ecuador, has taught us a lot: exceptional pride, frustration mixed with deep sadness, feelings provoked not only by the socio-political situation facing us, but also by the violence instigated by a government which continues to label us “infiltrators”, “idlers”, “vandals” or even “terrorists”.
The national media ignored the demonstrations for several days. The security forces violently repressed the very people they have sworn to protect. And the situation worsened when the state of emergency and curfew were declared.
While on the one hand there was this scenario of terror, on the other there was the solidarity of hundreds of people, largely concentrated around the major universities (UPS, PUCE, UCE, UASB) which became places of refuge and humanitarian help. For seven days volunteers and institutions offered security to the adults, youth, children and elderly who formed the communities of indigenous peoples travelling to Quito to ask for their voice to be heard, without any guarantee from the government to keep their promises to dialogue.
Every day these people would turn out onto the streets full of conviction and also of uncertainty, longing for the conflict to end. But such hopes would decline by nightfall, or when morale fell because of exhaustion, being wounded or hungry, or far from family members who were often away protesting in different cities.
These were difficult days. Thousands of citizens helped as volunteers in the refuges, cooking hundreds of meals, serving food, treating wounds, collecting donations or playing with the children who were often terrified by the sounds of tear-gas exploding nearby.
The young activists, full of energy, worked in different places throughout the day. Their work started in providing humanitarian assistance, and ended in cleaning up the conflict zones. Now we can look back and admire, analyze and even criticize our participation in those days of protest. Personally, I choose to underline the hope of a new generation, committed to help those in difficulty, to battle against social injustice, but above all to respond immediately with concrete actions.
Some commentators think that the country has been split apart, others believe it was already divided. There’s probably truth in both points of view, but what we now need to do is heal the open wounds, face our crisis of identity, battle against social injustice, and learn to respect differences. The most important thing is to understand that life is the most precious thing to protect, that we must all uphold the honor of every individual, the dignity of every people and the right of every citizen to express and demonstrate their own opinions.