QUITO (Reuters) – Indigenous protesters paralyzed roads around Ecuador and blocked a main highway into the capital on Monday in a fifth day of action against government austerity measures that have sparked the worst unrest in years, resulting in 477 arrests.
People participate in a protest against Ecuador’s President Lenin Moreno’s austerity measures in Quito, Ecuador, October 7, 2019. REUTERS/Carlos Garcia Rawlins
The umbrella indigenous organization CONAIE said demonstrations would continue until President Lenin Moreno withdraws last week’s measure to eliminate fuel subsidies.
“More than 20,000 of us will be arriving in Quito to demand that the government overturn the decree,” CONAIE President Jaime Vargas told a news conference, saying the mobilization would coincide with a national strike planned for Wednesday.
Moreno, 66, who has abandoned his predecessor and one-time mentor Rafael Correa’s leftist policies, says he will neither tolerate disorder nor overturn the fuel price hike that is part of a liberal economic reform package.
Interior Minister Paula Romo told local Radio Quito detentions had risen to 477 since Thursday, mainly for vandalism, including the destruction of a dozen ambulances.
Indigenous and workers’ movements again blocked roads on Monday, from the Andean highlands to the Pacific coast, with stones, tires and burning branches.
The northern entry to Quito was paralyzed.
Police erected barricades around the presidential palace, closing off the downtown area while Moreno presided over a government security council meeting to assess the crisis.
MORENO: ‘I WANT TO TALK’
The government says two dozen policemen have been injured in clashes with protesters, while a man died when he was hit by a car and an ambulance could not reach him through the barricades.
It said scores of indigenous protesters looted the warehouses of dairy company Parmalat Ecuador in Cotopaxi province on Monday, injuring some workers there. “We condemn aggression and looting, and any action that risks human life and public and private property,” it said in a statement.
Flower and broccoli farms were also attacked in Cotopaxi, officials said, accusing Correa supporters of being behind the trouble.
As well as the detainees for unrest, authorities have also rounded up about 20 shopkeepers for raising food prices illegally in a knock-on effect of higher fuel costs.
A state of emergency is in place.
Although he enjoys the support of business and the military, Moreno’s popularity has sunk to under 30%, compared with 70% after his 2017 election.
Indigenous-led protests brought down three presidents in the years before Correa’s rule.
In a national address on Sunday night, Moreno reiterated calls for dialogue. “I want to talk with the indigenous brothers, with whom we share causes,” he said, adding that resources would be set aside to help the poor and compensate for price rises.
The government is struggling with a large foreign debt and fiscal deficit and earlier this year reached a $4.2 billion loan deal with the International Monetary Fund that hinges on belt-tightening reforms.
As well as ending fuel subsidies, the government is trimming the state work force and planning some privatizations. Moreno says the fuel subsidies, in place for four decades, distorted the economy and cost $60 billion.
Correa, who lives in Belgium, has been fiercely criticizing Moreno, including with a video circulating on social media where he sings “Ecuadoreans, to the streets … Goodbye, Lenin!”
Reporting by Alexandra Valencia, Jose Llangari and Carlos Garcia Rawlins in Quito, Cristina Munoz in Machachi, Alberto Fajardo in Cayambe, Yury Garcia in Guayaquil; Writing by Andrew Cawthorne; Editing by Mark Heinrich, Dan Grebler and Cynthia Osterman