By Tanya Wadhwa / Peoples Dispatch
Since June 13, hundreds of thousands of Ecuadorians have been mobilizing across the country as a part of an indefinite national strike against the right-wing government of President Guillermo Lasso and his anti-people economic policies. The strike was called for by various Indigenous, peasant and social organizations, with a set of ten demands that address the most urgent needs of the majority of Ecuador’s population.
Their demands include: reduction and freeze of fuel prices; employment opportunities and labor guarantees; an end to privatization of public companies; price control policies for essential products; greater budget for public education and health sectors; an end to drug trafficking, kidnappings and violence; protection for people against banking and finance sectors; fair prices for their farm products; ban on mining and oil exploitation activities in Indigenous territories; and respect for the 21 collective rights of Indigenous peoples and nationalities.
The Lasso administration has been responding to these demands with brutal repression. Since last Monday, the police and military officials have been repressing the demonstrators with pellets, tear gas and water cannons. According to the Alliance for Human Rights Organization, an Ecuadorian NGO, between June 13 and 19, state security forces committed 39 types of human rights violations against citizens participating in the national strike, detained 79 and injured 55 people, in addition to killing an 18-year-old Indigenous boy.
On Saturday, June 18, President Lasso declared a state of emergency in the Pichincha, Cotopaxi and Imbabura provinces, where protests had been the strongest, increasing the militarization of the provinces and suspending various Constitutional rights.
On Sunday, June 19, the national police occupied the the Benjamin Carrion Cultural Center in the capital Quito to use its facilities as a base to house the policemen who came from other provinces to contain the social protests. Hours before the police takeover, the officials of the State Attorney General’s Office raided the center, arguing that they had received an anonymous complaint, according to which protesters were storing explosives there. The authorities, however, found nothing.
The forceful takeover and the raid received widespread rejection from human rights organizations and opposition leaders. Several leaders said that the center was targeted because during the October 2019 national strike, it provided humanitarian shelter to citizens in response to the excessive police repression by the government of former president Lenin Moreno.
“It is with great sadness that I have to say that culture has died today. Tyranny, darkness, and terror have won over life, joy, diversity, and plurality. Today, terror is settling on the most important cultural institution in the country. The last time the House of Culture was controlled by the police was 46 years ago during the dictatorship. Now we are in a dictatorship. This house of freedom of thought has fallen into the hands of terror,” lamented Fernando Cerón, President of the center.
On Monday, June 20, President Lasso, continuing his policies of repression and criminalization of social protests, extended the state of emergency to six provinces: Pichincha, Imbabura, Cotopaxi, Chimborazo, Tungurahua and Pastaza.
Nevertheless, defying the state of emergency and enduring brutal police and military repression, hundreds of thousands continue to remain on the streets against neoliberalism.
The Confederation of Indigenous Nationalities of Ecuador (CONAIE), one of the main organizers of the strike, assured that the strike would continue until their demands were accepted.
According to CONAIE, Indigenous communities have been maintaining roadblocks in at least 16 of the 24 provinces of the country since last Monday. On the eighth day of the strike, CONAIE reported that Indigenous people from all parts of the country had been arriving in Quito to press for their demands.
CONAIE condemned that the demonstrations and roadblocks had been attacked by the security forces as well as right-wing extremist mobs, who unleashed attacks on women, children, and senior citizens. The confederation also criticized the state of emergency and repression.
“The decree of the state of emergency limits rights and confronts the people against the people. As of the 8th day of the national strike, 81 detentions, 52 injuries, 4 serious injuries, 11 with impacts on the eyes and face, 1 death were registered,” stated CONAIE.
“In a state of law and democracy, human rights are not violated, nor is violence, police and military repression legitimized,” stressed the confederation. “In a rule of law, the right to protest is guaranteed, the life and integrity of social leaders, human rights defenders are not threatened, and racism, discrimination and xenophobia are not promoted,” it added.
Actions taken by the opposition
The opposition sectors also condemned the Lasso government for resorting to repression and violence instead of dialogue to deal with the situation. On June 21, the opposition-controlled National Assembly, with 81 of the 137 votes, approved a resolution urging the government to dialogue with the Indigenous organizations and other sectors. Through the resolution, the unicameral congress also called on organizations such as the UN, the Red Cross and the Catholic Church to attend the negotiations and propose mechanisms to solve the crisis.