Quito, Jun 14 (EFE).- The arrest of an indigenous leader and chief organizer of this week’s protests against Ecuadorian President Guillermo Lasso has further heightened tensions in that Andean nation and led to calls for more radical action.
Leonidas Iza, president of the Confederation of Indigenous Nationalities of Ecuador (Conaie) and leading opposition figure, was arrested early Tuesday while visiting demonstrators near Pastocalle, a town in his home province of Cotopaxi that is located just south of Quito.
A few minutes later, Lasso said in an address to the nation that arrests had begun against those responsible for planning or perpetrating “violent acts” on Monday, the first day of the protests.
The president was referring to isolated incidents in different parts of the country, including the torching of a police vehicle in the southern Andean province of Azuay, the seizure of a oil pumpjack at Block 16 in the Amazon region and efforts to coerce flower producers to join the protests.
The arrests also were triggered by an action in which members of an indigenous community retained a group of law enforcement personnel and subjected them to a purification ritual, an incident Interior Minister Patricio Carrillo described as a “kidnapping.”
Apart from those actions, the first day of the “national and indefinite strike” called by Conaie, Ecuador’s largest indigenous organization, unfolded with a handful of roadblocks that, according to Lasso’s administration, caused little disruption to essential services.
Government Minister Francisco Jimenez had said, for his part, that far fewer people than expected had heeded the call to protest.
The indigenous movement was therefore taken by surprise when a large police contingent swooped in to arrest Iza and drive him away to an unknown destination.
Four other people also were detained along with Iza, according to Carrillo, who did not reveal their identities.
The leader of Conaie, which represents Ecuador’s 14 indigenous peoples, was arrested on charges of obstructing the Pan American Highway and instigating “actions to aggravate the violence,” the Interior Ministry said in a statement.
Iza initially was transferred to a heavily guarded lockup in downtown Quito. A few hours later, he was taken by helicopter to Latacunga, in Cotopaxi province, where he is awaiting his initial court appearance.
Outside the lockup in Quito, one of Iza’s attorneys, Lenin Sarsoza, said he had presented a writ of habeas corpus to secure the indigenous leader’s immediate release, adding that his arrest was “illegal, arbitrary and illegitimate.”
Other Conaie leaders issued a call for “radicalizing” the demonstrations and urged international organizations to monitor what they described as human rights violations and denial of their right to protest.
Through two days of protests, the demonstrators have destroyed public and private property and retained four law-enforcement personnel and a prosecutor, although they were subsequently released, the government said in a press conference.
The roadblocks continued on Tuesday. A total of 87 of them have been detected, mainly in the Andean provinces of Chimborazo, Imbabura and Pichincha, as well as in the Amazonian province of Pastaza.
Defense Minister Luis Lara said for his part that the armed forces had control over strategic areas. “We have no news, except for the closure of two oil wells,” he said, without providing further details.
HOST OF DEMANDS
This latest protest action, called by the indigenous movement to coincide with the one-year mark of Lasso’s administration, was launched after different attempts at dialogue had ended with no breakthroughs.