By Fernando Gimeno
Quito, Jun 26 (EFE).- The exhaustion of two intense and tough weeks of protests shows on their faces, but the spirit of thousands of indigenous people who on Sunday said they are “standing up and fighting” against the Ecuadorian government remains more than strong, spurred by the deaths of demonstrators in recent days.
From practically every corner of the country, the protesters came to Quito a week ago to make their voices heard loud and clear in the capital, where they were received with tear gas deployed by police, and that suppression tactic has been employed almost every day since then with security forces facing off against the members of the indigenous communities.
“We’re not leaving here without an answer,” the vice president of the Confederation of Peoples of Kichwa Nationality of Ecuador (Ecuarunari), Nayra Chalan – one of the spokespeople of the indigenous movement that is leading the protests over their increasingly dire situation in their homelands – told EFE.
The word among the indigenous leaders is clear – “Don’t slack off until the 10 points on the list of demands are met” – those points ranging from alleviating the poverty in the lowest-income households to other demands that directly clash with the policy being pursued by the government of conservative President Guillermo Lasso.
The protesters are demanding that fuel prices be lowered and frozen, that the price of basic necessities be controlled, that the debts of peasant families be forgiven and that indigenous rights be respected, but also they want the state to stop privatizing state-run companies and not to increase mining and petroleum activities on their lands.
“We’ve seen our economies strangled,” said Chalan waving the flag of the peoples who have been most vocal in decrying the inequalities in an economy that has not recovered from the Covid-19 crisis and that has been hit, just like the rest of the world, with price hikes resulting from Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
“We’re demanding social justice. The 10 points are to minimally bring into balance the unequal situation which our country is experiencing,” said the Ecuarunari VP before delivering a speech at the state-run Central University of Ecuador.
The university campus once again has become an improvised center welcoming thousands of indigenous people from all over the country and on the Plaza Indoamerica there is dancing and traditional music with delegations from practically all of Ecuador’s indigenous groups taking part side by side.
Andean peasants are there and, in a well-trained manner, are acting as a type of internal security force, along with Amazon peoples carrying the rudimentary shields and spears that they have been using to protect themselves from Ecuadorian riot police.
“These people are the lazybones that the Ecuadorian right talks about. … (But) if we don’t produce in the fields, you don’t eat. If we don’t work, you are not going to be able to eat the money you have piled up in the banks,” Chalan said.
In the crowd is Yaku Pacto, a representative of the Federation of Ecuadorian University Students (FEUE), who reminded Lasso of the promise he made during his election campaign to allow free university admission.
“Many of our brothers have migrated to other countries and have died on international borders because there was no room for them to study,” said Pacto, a student at the Cotopaxi Technical University, who said he comes “from the high plateaus of the municipality of Alausi.”
Running through the campus is a generalized feeling of “indignation,” in particular with Lasso, to the point where some of the protesters are demanding that the National Assembly remove him from office since they consider him to be responsible for the deaths so far of some of their fellow protesters.
In addition, they say that the government is labeling them violent despite the fact that there have been only isolated incidents of significant violence, such as the burning of a police station in the city of Puyo, where 18 vehicles were destroyed, and the attack on a military convoy near Quito, in which 17 soldiers were injured.
“They’re discriminating against us. They’re saying we’re terrorists, that we’re (former President Rafael) Correa supporters … We’re indigenous people to the bone and we’re fighting for our rights,” Marcio Marcatoma, who came to Quito six days ago from Chimborazo province, told EFE.
His aim, he said, it to remain in the capital waiting for the demands of the indigenous movement to be met by the government, a conflict that now could be directed into a dialogue after on Saturday an initial contact between the Lasso administration and the protesters was made and the president canceled the “state of exception” he had decreed due to the protest in six of the country’s 24 provinces.