The Ecuadorean capital Quito, currently bracing itself for a potential geothermal eruption from the nearby Cotopaxi volcano, has only just started recovering a social eruption on an even bigger scale.
Growing discontent among various groups came to a head last Thursday when a ‘national strike’, led by indigenous organizations, descended into violent clashes with security forces, lasting late into Saturday.
Quito experienced the most violent demonstrations as 10,000 protesters and state security forces repeatedly clashed in the capital’s historic district,according to the Associated Press. Sections of the anti-government protesters breached police lines and were driven back, reaching a pro-government counter-demonstration in the San Francisco Plaza close to Ecuador’s Presidential residence Carandolet.
Elsewhere, roadblocks in six of the country’s 24 states were reported, including along the Pan-American Highway that connects much of the country.
Demonstrators, mainly from indigenous groups, repeatedly clashed with police and army personal who used tear gas and pepper spray to disperse protesters at roadblocks.
— CONAIE (@CONAIE_Ecuador) August 14, 2015
“Correa, you clown, this isn’t a failure.” Indigenous leaders tweeted.
Roads were systematically cleared and re-blocked in what digital newspaper Cuenca Highlife describes as ‘a cat and mouse game’ between the police and demonstrators.
The leaders were also quick to denounce the violence via twitter, tweeting: “This march is peaceful. We reject the violence”.
However, teleSur posted footage of strike leaders calling on supporters to ‘surround’ the Presidential palace as well as indigenous strike leaders Jorge Herrera and Zamora city Governor, Salvador Quishpe, clashing with police.
Carlos Perez, a key figure in the indigenous movement warned of further action, speaking to the Associated Press he commented: “If we don’t get answers we’re prepared to continue the protest for two days, or 15 days.”
Despite strike leaders calling for general participation much of the country continued to function, including education, health and transport services operating normally in the largest cities, according to AP.
Andes news agency recorded Correa in a typically defiant stance branding the national strike a failure, saying “They’ve been defeated again.”
Indigenous organizations, Unionists, Environmentalists and Right-wing opposition
The national strike, which was originally called for by indigenous groups, was joined on Thursday by a loose cabal of other interests, including unions, environmentalists and right-wing political opposition groups. The coalition was a disjointed one, each with a specific set of grievances against the country’s left-leaning President, Rafael Correa.
Indigenous groups, headed by the Confederation of Indigenous Nationalities of Ecuador (CONAIE), Ecuador’s largest indigenous organization, oppose the nationalization of water as well as oil and mining activities on indigenous lands. Unionists joined the national strike to denounce labor and organizational reforms.
Right-wing opposition protests, which often descended into violence, had taken to the streets, as early as June, unhappy with a set of proposed reforms to windfall capital gains and inheritance taxes which, the government estimated, would affect two percent of the population.
A more general theme among protesters, are attempts to reform Ecuador’s constitution, proposing the removal of current term limits and allowing elected officials, like Correa who is constitutionally barred from re-election, to stand indefinitely.
Correa, a former economist, has enjoyed high popularity since first being elected in 2007, thanks to his economic and social policies. However, a global drop in oil prices, from which Ecuador derives a large portion of its GDP, has led to Correa implementing cost-cutting measures causing social discontent to increase during recent months.
— Perfiles de Opinión (@PerfilesOpinion) August 11, 2015
A recent poll by Cedatos-Gallop recorded Correa’s approval ratings at a record-low 45 percent. However, contrasting Ecuadorian pollsters Perfiles de opinion registered support at 65 percent.