“Would you believe me if I told you that while president Rafael Correa was singing “Hasta siempre, comandante” with a band in the main square in central Quito last Thursday night just one block away riot police were tear-gassing and clubbing Ecuadorian citizens? Or that elsewhere in Ecuador the police have been reported to be specifically targeting female protestors’ “intimate parts”?
Ecuador is currently in turmoil. Thousands of people are protesting proposed constitutional amendments, the expansion of the oil frontier, mining projects, changes to water and education policy, labour laws and pensions, a proposed “Free Trade Agreement” (FTA) with the European Union (EU), and increasing repression of freedom of speech, among other things. The government’s response? To send the police and military with batons and tear-gas to beat citizens, make arbitrary arrests, raid homes and even – some people believe – to take advantage of volcanic eruptions by declaring a nationwide “State of Exception”.
The protests have taken different forms. Indigenous people marched for 10 days from the Zamora Chinchipe province in the Amazon to Quito, 1,000s and 1,000s of people gathered in the capital last week, and another march involving approximately 2,000 people was held there on Monday. In addition, a series of demonstrations and road-blocks have sprung up elsewhere in the country.” said theguardian.com
“I’ve never seen anything like it before,” Patricia Gualinga, a Kichwa leader from the Amazon, told the Guardian, talking about the violence that broke out in Quito’s narrow streets last week. “Total brutality. They were using motor-bikes, horses and tear-gas bombs. You can’t imagine what it’s like if you didn’t see it.”
“This week, on Monday 17 August, there was serious violence in Saraguro in Loja province in southern Ecuador, which Luis Maca, a Kichwa Saraguro indigenous man, describes as “practically a battle”. He told the Guardian approximately 1,500 policemen and military descended on his village and were raiding houses and arresting and beating people. According to Maca, this was in response to a peaceful blockade of the Pan-American Highway, which runs north to Quito, which had been in place since 6 am.
Julio Lima, in Saraguro, told the Guardian that women, children and the elderly were beaten, that windows were smashed and doors broken down, and that the violence ran from approximately 10 am to 4 pm. He estimates that there were more than 1,000 policemen and soldiers involved, and says they remain in the surrounding region.
One local man, Darwin J, calls the violence in Saraguro “brutal repression by the police forces without respecting the elderly, women and children”. “The most concerning thing is that army and police entered the communal territories of Lagunas, Ilincho and Gunudel where they went into houses and rooms, mercilessly mistreating the people they found there who weren’t even part of the protests and many of whom were arrested,” Darwin says in a statement circulated by the Fundación Regional de Asesoría en Derechos Humanos (INREDH).
A spokesperson from CONAIE, a national indigenous peoples’ federation, told the Guardian that 31 people had been arrested and various injured in Saraguro. The spokesperson also said that the military moved against indigenous Shuar and Achuar protesters on Sunday night, beating people and throwing tear-gas bombs in response to a peaceful blockade of the highway running between a city called Puyo and a town, Macas, in the Amazon.
Nationwide, scores of people are reported to have been beaten, injured and arbitrarily arrested – the latter numbering roughly 200, according to Gualinga. Those beaten include the president of Kichwa organisation Ecuarunari, Carlos Pérez Guartambel, the prefect of Zamora Chinchipe, Salvador Quishpe, and Perez Guartambel’s partner, Manuela Picq, a French-Brazilian scholar living and teaching in Ecuador who the Ministry of Interior attempted to deport by cancelling her visa.” said theguardian.com
The Ministry’s attempt met with opposition in Quito and internationally – including a petition with more than 8,000 signatories – and a judge ruled against it on Monday. Picq had been beaten by police using batons and detained on the evening of 13 August. She told the Guardian she was effectively “kidnapped by the state” and held “without any due process”.
“I think the goal was to undermine Carlos [Perez Guartambel],” Picq says. “I don’t think they thought there would be so much international support.”
Reports suggest that female protestors are being particularly targeted by the police and military. A statement from “Women of the Strike” reads, “We strongly condemn the macho and criminal brutality with which the State has attacked and criminalised women having participated in the demonstrations… We demand that international human rights institutions call on the Ecuadorian Government to cease these aggressions against people participating in the strike and in particular against women human rights and nature’s rights defenders.” Another statement, from CONAIE, INREDH and the Comisión Ecuménica de Derechos Humanos (CEDHU), reads, “We especially denounce the violence against women, who say that they were beaten and violently dragged out of their traditional clothing.”
Some people are deeply skeptical of the government’s move to declare a national “State of Exception” in response to eruptions at Cotopaxi, a volcano approximately 45kms from Quito, which puts all the country’s armed forces and police at two ministries’ disposal and permits the suspension of “constitutional rights to the inviolability of home, to movement, to assembly and to correspondence” in case of possible emergency. There have been some eruptions and ash blown onto the capital, but does the “State of Exception” need to be nationwide? And why does it ban Ecuadorian media and social media from reporting on the volcano unless using “official” government sources? Lima told the Guardian “It [the volcano] really doesn’t affect us in any way”, and Gualinga says “it isn’t going to affect the whole country” and believes the government is “manipulating the issue to generate repression.”
“CONAIE’s spokesperson told the Guardian “the eruption of Cotopaxi doesn’t justify [the State of Exception] in any way.” CONAIE issued a statement in response saying:
“We want to make it clear that the nationwide declaration of State of Exception is not justified to respond to the emergency presented by the Cotopaxi volcano, and the restriction of constitutional rights to the inviolability of the home, to movement, to assembly and to correspondence in the entire Ecuadorian territory even less so. It surprises us that this declaration includes zones that are not affected, especially when there are demonstrations underway demanding the president and his government rectify their policies directly impacting the rights and freedoms of [indigenous] Peoples and Nations, as well as Ecuadorians in general.”
The “State of Exception” was declared on 15 August. Over the following two days the military were involved in breaking up protests in “Loja, Zamora (Bomboiza) Canar and Morona Santiago”, and the Puyo-Macas highway and Bomboiza parish in Zamora were militarised, according to a Collective of organisations including CONAIE, the Workers United Front (FUT) and the General Union of Ecuadorian Workers (UTGE). “Given the repressive actions that are being implemented, we are warning that the State of Exception decreed for all the national territory on Saturday by president Correa could be a pretext to repress areas that have nothing to do with the Cotopaxi volcano,” the Collective states.” said theguardian.com
Marlon Santi, ex-CONAIE president, is similarly concerned. In an article published by Ecuador en Vivo Santi is reported as saying Cotopaxi eruptions don’t merit an emergency to be declared in “all national territory”, and that “various provinces have been militarised due to the indigenous protests, thanks to the State of Exception.”
Amazon Watch’s Kevin Koenig describes the move as a “huge, huge media distraction” and an “incredible pretence to mobilise the military.” “It would be almost comical if there wasn’t such repression,” Koenig told the Guardian.
One of the fundamental concerns of the protestors is the proposed amendments to Ecuador’s Constitution which would allow president Correa to be re-elected indefinitely when his third term expires in 2017.
The protests are part of an “Uprising and National Strike” announced on 11 August by CONAIE, Ecuarunari and other organisations. Their demands include the definitive abandonment of the constitutional amendments, the immediate return of unemployment funds belonging to workers, the repeal of water laws, the immediate suspension of negotiations for an “FTA” with the EU, the immediate suspension of oil operations in the Yasuni National Park, and the liberation of “all the defenders of Mother Earth and Human Rights unjustly prosecuted.”
Yesterday, 18 August, workers’ organisations – including the FUT and UGTE – announced a march in Quito this afternoon and a national factory workers strike will be held.
Ecuador’s National Secretary for Communication (SECOM) did not respond to questions.