Indigenous Activists Block Roads To Protest Economic Policies In Ecuador

In protest against the economic policies of conservative president Guillermo Lasso, Indigenous groups have blocked roads throughout Ecuador with barricades of sand, rocks, tree branches, and burning tires. These protests have been organized by the Confederation of Indigenous Nationalities of Ecuador (C.O.N.A.I.E.), who have accused Lasso of neglecting Indigenous communities’ economic well-being and submitting to pressure from the International Monetary Fund (I.M.F.).

Indigenous and social organizations have requested 10 concessions from Lasso, including a freeze on gasoline costs at a lower price, a halt on additional oil and mining development, and an extension of deadlines for small farmers to pay off debts with banks, as well as a request that the government address widespread poverty and unemployment, price controls on agricultural products that hurt farmers, and mining concessions granted in Indigenous territories.

“We have had to resort to resistance in view of the national government putting in place more and more policies of death, which don’t allow us to sustain our small economies,” said Leonidas Iza, head of C.O.N.A.I.E. Iza argued that certain sectors of society are benefitting more than others from Lasso’s policies, claiming that proposals made by Indigenous communities would equalize the economic burden. “Nobody wants to ignore the crisis that the Ecuadorian state faces, but we must understand that the crisis affects everyone,” he said. Indigenous people make up over a million of Ecuador’s 17.7 million inhabitants, all of whom are currently grappling with rising levels of inflation, unemployment, and poverty.

Ecuador reached a $6.5 billion financing deal with the I.M.F. regarding tax hikes, eliminating subsidies, and greater coverage of economic help for vulnerable sectors, which wraps up this year. According to Iza, however, I.M.F. policies to improve the country’s fiscal deficit, international reserves, and risk do not live up to reality on the ground. Iza and other Indigenous protesters contend that the government has too rigidly followed the I.M.F.’s plan, which has worsened the economic effects caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Last October, Lasso froze diesel and the most-used gasoline prices at particularly expensive rates. Diesel prices have nearly doubled since 2020, and gasoline prices have risen from $1.75 per gallon to $2.55. This decision resulted in protests that only ended when the government opened talks with Indigenous groups.

Francisco Jiménez Sánchez, the government minister tasked with managing negotiations, told journalists that many of the demands had been met, citing that gas prices had remained steady for six months. However, while the talks have continued, Indigenous leaders say the government is ignoring their concerns. Roads have been blocked in at least 16 of the country’s 24 provinces, C.O.N.A.I.E. wrote on Twitter. Meanwhile, the government has warned of increased violence in protests in a number of areas, adding that demonstrations were smaller than expected and promising to protect strategic sectors. Lasso has vowed to prevent roads from being blocked and to keep protestors from seizing oil wells and public services.

Ultimately, it appears that both Indigenous communities and the government agree that Ecuador’s struggling economy must be addressed. However, the government should take action to ensure that its policies improve the livelihoods of all of its citizens, rather than focusing on numbers and individual sectors. Indigenous communities make up a significant portion of the Ecuadorian population, and regardless of how the size of that portion compares to the majority, they deserve a voice in policy making.