“Amnesty International has warned that repression by President Lasso’s government is causing a human rights crisis.”
By Lee Brown
A wave of nationwide protests led by Ecuador’s indigenous communities against soaring fuel and food prices has been met by a brutal clampdown from government forces, with reports of six deaths so far.
The demonstrations across the South American nation began on June 13th against the rapidly deteriorating economic situation under neoliberal President Guillermo Lasso, a former banker and one of the country’s richest men.
A coalition of Indigenous, trade union and social organisations have since brought large areas of the country to a standstill and in recent days protests have focussed on the capital city of Quito.
In response to the violent state response, Amnesty International warned that “The repression by President Guillermo Lasso’s government of demonstrations … is causing a human rights crisis with many reports of harassment, excessive use of force, arbitrary arrests, ill-treatment, and criminalisation of protesters, journalists and human rights defenders”. Ecuador’s Alliance for Human Rights has reported that at least 90 people have been injured in clashes and a further 94 detained by state forces
The protests were called by the powerful Confederation of Indigenous Nationalities of Ecuador (Conaie) which has issued a list of demands on the government that seek to address the immediate cost of living crisis, including reduced fuel prices and a one-year moratorium for families to pay their debts.
But their demands go wider and seek to reform key elements of the neo-liberal economic system including through stronger labour rights, an end to mining in indigenous territories and to the privatisation of strategic sector services, and an increase in health and education budgets.
The wave of protests have also deepened the political crisis in Ecuador, with President Lasso facing a vote of no confidence from parliamentarians this weekend that would see him removed as president if successful. That move comes from the country’s main opposition party Union for Hope, linked to Rafael Correa the former left-wing president who was a key part of the wave of progressive government that swept Latin America from the turn of the century.
Article 130 of the Ecuadorian Constitution permits the National Assembly to dismiss the president in case of severe political crisis and internal commotion if two-thirds of parliamentarians back the proposal. Yet Lasso has falsely declared the attempts to oust him a coup and his government has sought to link the protestors to criminal activity.
Nevertheless, in the face of mounting opposition President Lasso lifted a state of emergency on Saturday that he had imposed in six provinces and his government began its first official talks with Ecuador’s largest Indigenous organisation, as parliamentarians began to hear the motion to remove him from office.
While the removal of Lasso is not likely to succeed at this stage, it reflects the deepening opposition in a country rocked by a number of deep crises since Correa left office in 2017 after years of political stability, strong growth and dramatic falls in poverty and inequality.
A wave of popular uprising against IMF-imposed austerity in 2019 also saw a huge state clampdown with the army sent onto the streets, a state of emergency declared with at least 11 people killed, over 1,000 injured and 1,000 detained.
Ecuador’s human rights ombudsman last year released a report into those widespread that took place under then President Moreno which documented how police and military agents of the Ecuadorian state committed crimes against humanity during the uprising, including extrajudicial killings, attempted killings, sexual violence and torture.
Deep cuts to public health budgets undermined Ecuador’s response to the Covid crisis and the country shot to worldwide attention in 2020 with infamous scenes of dead bodies piled high in the streets as the state was unable to respond to the health emergency. The wave of crises has continues under current President Lasso including an unprecedented rise in violent crime in his first year in office, with the number of murders in 2021 double the year before.
Below is a statement of solidarity from the global indigenous, peasant and rural workers organisation La Via Campesina which was published on Friday 24 June,
La Via Campesina expresses its full solidarity with people in Ecuador who are currently resisting repression and persecution, while struggling against the neoliberal policies that have dragged the entire country into a deep economic and human rights crisis. The mobilizations take place as part of a National Strike, which began on June 13 of this year and was called by a broad platform of social movements in which the indigenous and peasant organizations have a special leadership role.
As an international movement that gathers millions of peasants all over the world, including 5 national peasant and indigenous organizations in Ecuador, La Via Campesina supports their action and demand from the government an immediate response to the 10 claims that the mobilized organizations have submitted.
The list of demands is as follows:
- Reduce fuel prices;
- Set a one-year moratorium on the financial system for families to pay their debts; public bank debt cancellation up to $10,000.
- Ensure employment and labor rights;
- Fair prices for rural products;
- No mining in indigenous territories;
- The respect of collective rights;
- Non-privatization of strategic services;
- Development of policies to control price speculation;
- Increase the budget for health and education;
- Take measures to improve security.
We consider this petition as fair, at a time when, according to official statistics, 5 out of 10 people in Ecuador who live in the countryside are living in poverty and 3 out of 10 are in extreme poverty. This is a hard reality that peasants and indigenous peoples and nations, as well as rural populations of the countryside, are going through; those who have been directly affected by the free trade policies that the government has implemented under the pressure of the IMF and other international organizations.
We call for an urgent suspension of the arbitrary use of force and repression that has already resulted in 3 people killed, dozens wounded and others disappeared. We call on international human rights organizations to continue to denounce and make visible these violations so these crimes do not stay unpunished.
La Via Campesina also call on the international community to extend solidarity and give visibility to the National Strike actions.
We express our full support to the indigenous and Afro-descendant peoples and nations who are currently giving us lessons in dignity and resistance facing the dangers that structurally affect the world’s peasantry.
Globalize the Struggle, Globalise Hope!
- The State forces cannot be the executioner of its people – you can view the statement originally published by La Viva Campesina here.