Ecuador Suspends Negotiations With Protest Leader

The president of Ecuador, the right-wing Guillermo Lasso, on Tuesday suspended negotiations with the top indigenous leader to end protests over the cost of living, which have lasted 16 days, after a soldier was killed in an attack against the military.

In a speech, the president accused Leonidas Iza, who is promoting the demonstrations indefinitely, of only defending “his political interests.”

“We are not going to negotiate with those who hold Ecuador hostage,” he said.

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The powerful Confederation of Indigenous Nationalities (Conaie), led by Iza, responded by accusing Lasso of “authoritarianism, lack of will and incapacity” and said that he must answer for “the consequences of his warmongering policy.”

The Armed Forces reported that one soldier died and twelve soldiers were injured in an attack by protesters with “lances and firearms” against soldiers and policemen who were protecting a fuel convoy in the Amazon.

The secretary of the OAS, Luis Almagro, stated on Twitter that the “protest must be peaceful and democratic (…) Violent destabilization of a democratic government is always reprehensible.”

A first face-to-face meeting between Conaie and an Executive delegation headed by the Minister of Government, Francisco Jiménez, took place for more than six hours on Monday in an attempt to defuse the crisis.

But a second day of talks failed on Tuesday when the official representation did not appear in response to the attack.

“You deserve more than an opportunist as a leader (…) It is a criminal act to play with the lives of innocents. The country has witnessed all the efforts we have made to establish a fruitful and sincere dialogue,” said Lasso, a former banker who assumed power a year ago.

Iza referred to “a brutal attack” but said there is no evidence pointing to the protesters.

“Deadpoint”

The head of Conaie acknowledged that the negotiation is at a “stalemate” but was open to continuing the dialogue. “Why go back if enough progress has already been made?” he expressed.

He asked the Ecuadorian Episcopal Conference to intercede in the crisis on behalf of Pope Francis, who on Sunday called for “dialogue” and “social peace.”

Jiménez replied on Twitter: “There are no conditions for dialogue when violence continues to be promoted.”

After Lasso’s announcement, hundreds of indigenous people returned to the fray in Quito. In groups and in a disorganized manner they mobilized through the streets and as they passed the shops closed.

The high cost of living fueled by the increase in fuel prices has pushed thousands of protesters onto the roads since June 13, most of them in Quito, to demand measures to cushion the economic blow to agricultural production and the basic food basket.

With festive marches, roadblocks, violent clashes between the public force, the indigenous people put pressure on the unpopular president, who drags a 17% acceptance rate but has the support of the military.

Also harassed by an ongoing impeachment debate in Congress, Lasso gives in little by little to the demands of the protesters, who consider them insufficient.

It reduced fuel prices, although not in the proportion requested by Conaie; granted a debt moratorium of up to 3,000 dollars for peasants and lifted the state of emergency, under which the military left the barracks in six of the 24 provinces of the country and a curfew was imposed in Quito.

assault on democracy

In the midst of the social unrest, Parliament has been discussing since Saturday the possibility of dismissing the president, whom a sector of the opposition considers responsible for the “serious political crisis and internal commotion” in Ecuador.

“Those of us who defend democracy are not going to allow them to destroy Ecuador’s institutions,” the president replied on Twitter.

Until Tuesday, on the third day of deliberations, 109 of the 137 assembly members had spoken. After the debate, the Legislative -where the opposition has a majority, although it is fragmented- has up to 72 hours to vote.

The removal of the president requires 92 votes.

The opposition wants to “assault democracy (…) I make a call to defend the country from this coup attempt,” Lasso said in a video posted Tuesday on Twitter.

Ecuador’s indigenous movement participated in revolts that toppled three rulers between 1997 and 2005.

The nation, whose dollarized economy was beginning to recover from the effects of the pandemic, loses some 50 million dollars a day due to the crises, according to official figures.

The protests leave a total of six dead (including five demonstrators), more than 600 injured (including agents and civilians) and about 150 detainees, according to various sources.

Worn out by the crisis and shortages of some products, Quito is also the scene of counter-protests.

Hundreds of Ecuadorians and caravans of high-end vehicles travel daily through well-off areas, honking their horns and waving white flags.

AFP is a major global information agency that offers fast, verified and comprehensive coverage.

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