Ecuador indigenous group rejects talks to end fuel protests

Demonstrators protesting. Photograph:( AFP )

AFP Quito, Ecuador Oct 12, 2019, 11.15 AM (IST)

The indigenous group leading mass protests in Ecuador on Friday rejected an offer of direct talks from President Lenin Moreno to end days of deadly protests against fuel price hikes.

"The dialogue that he's seeking lacks credibility," the indigenous umbrella group CONAIE said in a statement, adding that it would negotiate with the government only when a decree to remove fuel subsidies has been "repealed."

Moreno earlier Friday proposed the direct talks as the protests stretched into a 10th day.

"It is essential to stop the violence," he said in a brief address on television. "I call on the leaders to talk directly with me."

In their statement, the indigenous group replied that "the dialogue that the national government says it promotes... is based on one of the worst massacres in the history of Ecuador."

Clashes between protesters and security forces have left five dead and more than 2,000 wounded, according to the ombudsman's office.

Indigenous groups from disadvantaged communities in the Amazon and the Andes have spearheaded demands that Moreno reinstate fuel subsidies that were cut last week -- part of a deal his government struck to obtain a $4.2 billion loan from the IMF.

Police, protester clashes 

Riot police clashed with indigenous demonstrators at various areas in Ecuador's capital again Friday.

Demonstrators responded to volleys of tear gas with homemade mortars and fireworks launched through tubes, turning the area around the Congress building in Quito into a battleground.

Also arriving in the capital to protest were a thousand Amazon Indians, armed with spears.

Roadblocks were reported in 17 of Ecuador's 24 provinces, according to authorities.

On Thursday, indigenous leaders had hardened their stance in the face-off, rejecting UN and Catholic Church-mediated talks, and calling for a "radicalization" of the protests.

The violence has brought much of the capital to a standstill since Monday and forced Moreno to relocate his government to Ecuador's second city, Guayaquil.

The government declared a state of emergency for 60 days and deployed some 75,000 military and police, in addition to imposing a curfew in the vicinity of government buildings.

The end of the fuel subsidies has meant that prices shot up by as much as 120 per cent from October 3.

"If it weren't for us people from the countryside, city people, the rich, couldn't survive," said 52-year-old indigenous protester Maria Escobar as she called for the president's dismissal.

Diego de la Vega, a student who joined the indigenous crowd, said that "we don't just protest about gas, but about Moreno's entire agreement with the IMF, as it affects all of us."

"All countries that have signed agreements with the IMF, it didn't turn out well for them, like Argentina for example," the 24-year-old said.

More protesters

CONAIE claimed around 20,000 indigenous people arrived in the capital last weekend from Amazon and Andes communities.

Ecuador's indigenous groups make up a quarter of the country's 17.3 million people.

"Human rights are being violated here," Marlon Vargas, a leader of the indigenous communities, said in a video broadcast by CONAIE.

The protests have hit the country's oil industry hard, forcing the Energy Ministry to suspend more than two-thirds of its distribution of crude.

Protesters seized three oil facilities in the Amazon earlier this week.

US support

The United States expressed its support for Moreno's government Friday.

"We recognize the difficult decisions that the Government of Ecuador has taken to advance good governance and promote sustainable economic growth," Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said in a statement.

"We are aware and monitoring claims of external actor involvement in these demonstrations," Pompeo said.

Struggling to deal with an economic crisis, Moreno has accused his predecessor and ex-ally Rafael Correa along with Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro of an "attempted coup d'etat" using indigenous groups.

Maduro, a leftist firebrand whom Washington is seeking to oust, has denounced allegations of involvement as absurd, but praised the "popular insurrection" against the IMF.

Story highlights

'The dialogue that he's seeking lacks credibility','the indigenous umbrella group CONAIE said in a statement, adding that it would negotiate with the government only when a decree to remove fuel subsidies has been 'repealed.'