Ecuador: Will Ongoing Protests Overthrow The Government?

Thousands of indigenous demonstrators from all corners of Ecuador have travelled to the capital, Quito, to join the ongoing revolt that has gripped the nation for over a week. Some have come from as far as the Amazon forests to be part of the protests.

Removal of fuel subsidies

The mobs have been demanding the re-administration of fuel subsidies, which the government ended last week. It was part of an initiative to reduce public spending in a deal made with the International Monetary Fund (IMF) in exchange for a loan. The agreement, which was made in March, would permit the South American country to borrow $4.2bn. President Moreno said the subsidisations were no longer affordable since it cost $1.3bn a year. Therefore, he claimed that his plans to remove them were a way to bolster Ecuador’s declining economy and relieve some of the debt. The new move, however, is likely to create a bigger gap between the rich and the poor.

Following the new legislation, petrol costs skyrocketed, with crowds taking to the streets in protests. Over the past few days and with no signs of relenting, they have built barricades, stormed buildings, and fought with police who have tried to disband them with flash grenades and tear gas. Demonstrators have claimed that police have used live rounds of ammunition against them.

It is believed that five people have, so far, been killed in the ensuing violence and around 1,000 arrested. Ten police officers who were taken as hostages and brazenly paraded in front of the masses have since been freed.

The struggle of the indigenous population

Despite comprising of only about 7% of the population, the indigenous population has garnered political strength over the past few decades, becoming more organised and playing a crucial role in an uprising that saw the two of Ecuador’s neoliberal Presidents – Jamil Mahuad and Lucio Gutiérez, overthrown in 2000 and 2005 respectively. Some in the anti-government march have called for the resignation of President Moreno, who has issued a two-month national “state of emergency” and a curfew on the capital – a strategy that has been criticised as being unconstitutional.

Historically, indigenous Ecuadorians have experienced harsh discrimination at the mercy of the white and mestizo population, and tend to be some of the country’s most impoverished and oppressed inhabitants.

After the removal of fuel and petrol subsidies, which benefitted Ecuador’s working-class sector, President Moreno said, “The zanganería is over!”

Zángano is the Spanish word for male worker bees – otherwise known as drones – which has been a derogatory term that the elitist in society use to refer to the poor. Yet, in a strange twist, the slang has now become emblematic of the struggle – dubbed as “the revolution of the drones” – with the image of a bee being used as a symbol in the protests.

Freddie Heredia, an indigenous farmer told Bloomberg the fuel price increases imposed last week, as part of an International Monetary Fund-backed austerity drive, will make his precarious existence even tougher.

“To others, these reforms might look like progress, but for us it means underdevelopment and higher living costs,” Heredia said.

Heredia, 33, and his wife work on a 20-acre plot of land that they share 130 people. The women do most of the cultivation by hand, while the men go into the city to seek out work in trades such as construction and gardening. He and his wife consume much of the food they produce. Beyond that, they spend about $100 per month on food for themselves, such as chicken from a neighbour or canned tuna, and about $40 per month on utilities in their shack. To take his produce to the local market by pickup, Heredia also needs to spend about $120 a month – a price he fears will soar with the end of the subsidies. Many debt-laden farmers are fearful that they will face ruin if the policy is not reversed.

Representatives for the UN have said that Ecuador’s government and the indigenous groups are planning to hold talks soon.