Unrest Worsens In Ecuador As Government Is Forced To Move From The Capital

Violent protests have erupted in Ecuador after President Lenín Moreno announced a chain of unpopular labour and tax reforms the discontinuation of fuel subsidies that had been holding down fuel prices. According to The Guardian, the reforms include “a 20 percent cut in wages for new contracts in public sector jobs, a new requirement forcing public sector workers to donate one day’s worth of wages to the government each month and a decrease in vacation days for public workers from 30 to 15 days a year.” The government has justified both the subsidy cuts and the reforms by pointing to the states’ large foreign debt and fiscal deficit, the subsidies were costing the government $1.3 billion dollars annually and as Ecuador has recently signed a loan agreement with the International Monetary Fund (IMF), it is required to cut public spending.  The subsequent discontent acted as a catalyst for a strike by transport unions, which then developed into full-scale protests, with thousands of indigenous protesters converging on Quito and forcing Moreno to move his government to the coastal city of Guayaquil. There have been reports of protestors barricading roads, smashing cars and storefronts, hurling rocks and confronting security forces at the country’s National Assembly. President Moreno has declared a two-month national emergency over the unrest.

Moreno responded to the civil unrest by claiming that his predecessor is trying to destabilize Ecuador, “This is not a protest of social dissatisfaction faced with a government decision, but the looting, vandalism, and violence show there is an organized political motive to destabilize the government.” However, deflecting blame will do little to quell the concerns of the population, they have been clear in their demands, Al Jazeera has quoted Maria Boada, a citizen that has been present for the protests, “We are rejecting the economic package implemented for the government of Moreno… We are demanding that he lift the state of emergency and end the repression and stop the labour reforms.” Additionally, indigenous groups have joined in on the protesting, with the Confederation of Indigenous Nationalities of Ecuador stating that “troops and police who approach indigenous territories will be detained and subjected to indigenous justice,” as well as adding that the government has failed to address the concerns and welfare of Ecuador’s most vulnerable people.

The latter part of that statement is the most salient to the issue in my opinion, the reforms and subsidy cuts put in place are set to affect the broader population, not the creditors or the domestic elites. There are various factors that could contribute to sustained unrest, the people are bearing the brunt of the measures when the minimum wage is just $394/month, the government refuses to repeal the reforms or reinstate petrol subsidies, Ecuador is in massive debt and obligated to uphold the conditions of the loan deal with the IMF. The stubbornness of the Moreno government will be its downfall, there are other viable economic solutions, such as establishing capital control measures and limiting dollar flight from unnecessary imports, the people do not have to bear the pressure while the elites are unaffected.

Zac Williams