Quito, Jun 20 (EFE).- Ecuador on Monday marked the end of the first week of anti-government protests over high cost of living, doing so with the first death among the demonstrators, a person whose fell into a ravine as he was en route to Quito, where the indigenous movement wants to focus its protests and challenge the “state of exception” declared by President Guillermo Lasso.
The death was denounced by the Alliance of Organizations for Human Rights and confirmed to EFE by the National Police, although according to the official version “three demonstrators fell into a ravine and one of them died, but not in a confrontation” with security forces.
According to the human rights organizations, however, the death occurred on Monday morning in northeastern Quito when a police contingent allegedly used teargas to try and stop the advance of a group of demonstrators from northern Imbabura province who wanted to reach the capital and join the protest.
Besides the one fatality, the Alliance said that during the first week of demonstrations, 61 people had been injured, five of them with damage to their eyes and 18 with other serious injuries and for which the group held the government directly responsible.
In addition, the group reported 86 arrests, including the president of the Confederation of Indigenous Nationalities of Ecuador (Conaie), Leonidas Iza, the main promoter of the protests, who was held by authorities for almost an entire day until a judge released him conditionally after charging him with paralyzing public services.
Meanwhile, Interior Minister Patricio Carrillo said that the protests included acts of violence against the security forces that have injured 61 officers so far, along with 14 police officers who were temporarily held by the demonstrators, two vehicles destroyed and another 21 with assorted damage.
On Sunday night, a number of groups of indigenous people arrived in Quito to join the protests despite the state of exception decreed on Saturday by Lasso in the provinces of Imbabura, Cotopaxi and Pichincha, where the right to free association and free gathering has been suspended.
Police and Ecuadorian army troops were deployed along the northern and southern access routes into the capital to prevent the arrival of caravans of indigenous protesters, but authorities quickly ended attempts to halt them and ultimately they were able to get into Quito.
In the capital’s downtown area, security forces occupied the Casa de la Cultura Ecuatoriana to prevent a situation like that of October 2019, when another wave of protests headed by Conaie ended in violent clashes there with about 10 deaths and some 1,500 people injured nationwide.
The indigenous movement headed by Iza for the moment is refusing to engage in the dialogue repeatedly offered by Lasso, claiming that the different conversations they have held during his first year in office have borne no fruit.
As a result, Iza has announced that the protests will continue despite the fact that Lasso has already agreed to some of the 10 demands put forward by Conaie.
The president has approved a 50 percent subsidy on urea, which is used as a fertilizer, forgiven up to $3,000 in debts incurred by peasant families, reduced the interest rate from 10 percent to 5 percent for existing loans, increased the human development bonus from $50 to $55 and doubled the budget for intercultural education.
Nevertheless, Conaie is also demanding a freeze on certain fuel prices, price controls on essential products and a moratorium on new mining concessions in the Amazon region.
“We’re attending to the legitimate demands of the citizens. Their response: more violence and new threats to attack Quito. We cannot permit a few violent people to prevent millions of Ecuadorians from working,” said Lasso on Monday in a televised message to the nation.
“I’m here to defend Quito, each family in the capital and the country,” he added.
Minutes before he spoke live, in a message posted on the social networks, the president said that the demonstrators “are seeking chaos, want to throw out the president.”
“Democracy or chaos, that is the great battle. The battle for democracy,” he added.
Lasso reported that several civil organizations had accepted the calls to act as mediators in a dialogue between the government and the protesters.
“We all want dialogue, except for a few violent people. I’m issuing a call for peace. We want to sit down at a table and together seek solutions for each of the legitimate needs of Ecuadorian families,” the president concluded.