Thousands of protesters poured into Ecuador’s capital Tuesday — a move that has prompted the country’s president to move his administration to a city about 240 kilometres away.
Anti-government protests have flared across the country in the last week, with violent clashes happening in the nation’s capital, Quito, and across the country over the announcement of austerity measures that would more than double some diesel and gas prices.
Previous demonstrations saw the seizure of two water treatment plants and oil installations, the burning of an armoured military vehicle and a crowd of protesters reaving storefronts and buildings in an area to the southwest of the capital.
A nationwide strike on public transport has previously left millions without access to transit but has since ended.
The president’s private secretary Juan Sebastian Roldan said 570 people have been arrested so far, according to The Associated Press.
But despite the chaos that’s erupted in the South American country, Ecuadorian President Lenin Moreno says that he would stand by his decision to implement the measures in order to curb the country’s burdening debt.
How did the protests start?
The protests, now almost a week long, sparked when President Moreno announced that he would eliminate a US$1.3 billion fuel subsidy during an Oct. 1 national broadcast.
The austerity measure would lead to a sharp increase of gas prices, specifically from US$2.30 per gallon (CAD$0.79 per litre) from US$1.85 (CAD$0.64 per litre) for gasoline and US$2.27 per gallon (CAD$0.79 per litre) from $1.03 ($0.35) for diesel.
The decision came as a means to combat Ecuador’s high national debt — a result of the 10-year administration of the country’s previous president, Rafael Correa — which was left to Moreno.
Moreno has previously garnered financial credit with several agencies, especially the International Monetary Fund, with which Ecuador has struck a $4.2 billion plan — which includes the austerity measures.
Protesters immediately took to the streets in the following days, culminating with a nationwide transport strike that would prompt Moreno to issue a state of emergency Thursday.
Public transport across Ecuador’s major cities was shut down, and the country descended into chaos with street clashes continuing late into the night.
Ecuadorian authorities moved the next day to arrest several of the union leaders in charge of the transport strikes, who later announced they would suspend the protest action.
But despite the halting of the strike, another faction would emerge. Indigenous groups came forward to condemn the measures, believing that they would widen the country’s economic gap.
Carrying out what they called “civil disobedience” in response to the government’s “closed-door agreement” with the IMF, Indigenous groups took to the streets in further protest, according to The Associated Press.
What is the president doing? What happens next?
Moreno would move his administration out of Quito Tuesday to the port city of Guayaquil, alleging that he’d been targeted by a coup attempt and pointing a finger at his predecessor, Correa, for trying to destabilize the country.
In a previous address Monday night, Moreno called for dialogue to resolve the political crisis, but he would not budge from his decision to cut the fuel subsidies.
Several Latin American countries — including Argentina, Brazil, Colombia and Peru — expressed their support for Moreno, and denounced Venezuelan president Nicolas Maduro for allegedly trying to interfere with Ecuador’s and their country’s democracies.
The Organization of American States has since asked for talks in order to end the country’s unrest.
“The kidnapping of police and military personnel is totally unacceptable, as is the destruction and looting of public goods, the burning of patrol cars and attacks on ambulances,” said the regional bloc’s general secretariat, The Associated Press reported.
Seeking help in the form of foreign intervention, Ecuador also reached out to the UN and the Catholic Church.
The Confederation of Indigenous Nationalities of Ecuador, the country’s largest Indigenous group, said Moreno failed to tackle the welfare of the country’s “most vulnerable people.”
“We have shown throughout Ecuador’s history that Indigenous peoples have the power to shut down the country when our rights are put at risk and power is abused,” the groups said in a statement.
– with files from The Associated Press and Reuters