Ecuador Declares State of Emergency as Violent Protests Sweep Major Cities

Demonstrators confront riot police in Quito, on October 3, 2019, after Ecuadoran President Lenin Moreno declared a "state of emergency" following protests against rising fuel prices due to the government scrapping subsidies. - The demonstrations -- the largest in a decade -- came in response to increases of up to …
RODRIGO BUENDIA/AFP via Getty Images

President of Ecuador Lenin Moreno declared a 60-day state of emergency on Thursday after transportation workers and leftist groups began rioting against the repeal of a decades-old government gasoline subsidy.

Moreno ended the subsidy, in vigor for 40 years, as part of an economic plan to reduce government spending in exchange for a large loan from the International Monetary Fund (IMF). Among other reforms, Moreno also announced this week that he would withdraw from the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) so that Ecuador would no longer be beholden to that cartel’s production limits, increasing oil supply and thus driving down the price of gasoline without government spending.

Transportation professionals – drivers of buses, taxis, and trucks – led citywide strikes in the capital Quito, and Guayaquil, the nation’s economic hub, to protest the gasoline price increase, which would adversely impact their businesses. The strikes rapidly turned into chaos as protesters threw Molotov cocktails, burned tires, and blocked major roads. Businesses also reported looting and vandalism.

Moreno published a state of emergency decree on Thursday evening.

“Rights are demanded without hurting that which is fundamental for the progress of the nation: work, education, and freedom of mobility,” he wrote on Twitter. “We guarantee citizens’ security, free movement, and protection of their property”:

While the violence was largely centered in Quito and Guayaquil, the state of emergency applies nationwide. Moreno’s declaration stated that the strikes against his economic policies “alter the public order, impede the normal circulation of traffic, [and] provoke situations of manifest violence that put at risk the security and integrity of people.”

The decree strips Ecuadorian citizens of the right to free assembly, giving police the authority to break up any group of people who appear to be preparing for violence. There is no curfew; Ecuadorians do not have the right of free assembly for 24 hours a day.

The Ecuadorian military, now deployed throughout the country to keep relative normalcy for civilians and businesses, will be offering transportation to those attempting to get to work and complete errands in lieu of the regular transport services that are on strike, Quito also announced.

Moreno agreed to a deal with the IMF this year to boost Ecuador’s languishing economy with a $4.2 billion loan. In exchange, the IMF demanded the imposition of austerity measures to cut the lavish government spending that had become a norm during the years of Moreno’s predecessor, socialist Rafael Correa. Moreno ran his 2017 presidential campaign as Correa’s handpicked successor, but quickly abandoned most of his policies and his government has issued a warrant for Correa’s arrest. Correa is currently in exile in Belgium.

The IMF supported Moreno’s proposed reforms in a statement published Tuesday.

“The reforms announced yesterday by President Lenin Moreno have as their objective improving the resiliency and sustainability of the Ecuadorian economy and creating solid and inclusive growth,” the IMF statement read. “The announcement included important decisions to protect the poor and most vulnerable, as well as to generate employment in a more competitive economy.”

Taxi and bus drivers’ unions responded with outrage to the end of the gas subsidy, which would take more money out of their pockets in the short term. Some drivers began using their cars to block roadways in protest, according to the country’s El Telégrafo, and were joined by leftist student protesters. When police arrived, protesters began to “hurl rocks and burn tires,” the newspaper noted. The violence forced businesses to shut down in Quito.

The Red Cross condemned protesters for violence against emergency personnel, publishing a video on Twitter showing protesters throwing blunt objects at an on-duty ambulance.

“[Red Cross Ecuador] rejects the aggression of those we have been victims of in the last few hours against humanitarian staff lending pre-hospital aid in our ambulances,” the organization said on Twitter. “We are neutral, impartial, and independent”:

Moreno traveled to Guayaquil on Thursday night to declare that the chaos was over, and thank Ecuador’s police and armed forces for subduing the rioters. He accused the transit workers of “little seriousness” in attempting to dialogue with the government and condemned rioters for attempting to “destabilize a democratically and legally constituted government.”

“These coup plotters, as always, we will say no to, Ecuador is saying no to them, so they had better assess the consequences”:

As of Friday, police and military units arrested 275 people and counted 28 police officers injured. Interior Minister María Paula Romo described the state of the country on Friday as one of “normalcy,” which law enforcement will continue to maintain in place for the next two months. The government also announced the controversial arrest of the head of the transport union leading protests, Jorge Calderón, on charges of paralyzing public transport. Local reports suggested that residents in Guayaquil were still struggling to find ways around the city given the lack of available transport and heavy military presence.

Follow Frances Martel on Facebook and Twitter.

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