The Ecuadoran government said late Wednesday it would restart talks with Indigenous-led protesters, mediated by the Catholic Church, as a fresh state of emergency was issued more than two weeks into disruptive and often violent daily rallies against rising living costs.
To “return peace to the Ecuadoran people, we have decided to accept the mediation now offered by the Episcopal Conference of Ecuador (CEE),” government minister Francisco Jimenez said.
Without revealing when the talks might begin, Jimenez said the CEE would arrange the details of the negotiations, “so that we can arrive at a final solution in this conflict.”
Discussions to end the protests that have rocked the South American country were suspended Tuesday — on what would have been their second day — after the government blamed the death of a soldier on demonstrators.
And as protesters took to the streets again Wednesday, President Guillermo Lasso declared a state of emergency in four of the 24 provinces where the “most violence is concentrated.”
The state of emergency did not include the capital, where most of an estimated 14,000 protesters have congregated.
Chanting “We don’t want 10 cents, we want results,” a reference to fuel price concessions offered by the government, several hundred people demonstrated in the city center, which was blocked off by police, metal fencing and razor wire.
A protester with a traditional red poncho leading a group of men with makeshift shields addressed the rest by megaphone: “If we need to sleep here… we will.”
Lasso has imposed a month-long state of emergency on the provinces of Azuay, Imbabura, Sucumbios and Orellana, the general secretary of presidential communication said.
The aim is to create a “security zone” — enforced by military and police and where demonstrations are banned — around the country’s oil wells and to protect food, medicine and fuel supplies in those provinces as well as oxygen used in hospitals.
Lasso on Saturday lifted a previous state of emergency in six other provinces — including Pichincha, where the capital lies — in one of several concessions to protesters.
Country held ‘hostage’
The government had called off talks after the military said Tuesday that a soldier died and five police and seven soldiers were injured in an attack by demonstrators on a tanker truck escort in the country’s east.
Lasso, hours before surviving an impeachment vote, then accused Conaie leader Leonidas Iza of self-serving politics and vowed “we will not negotiate with those who hold Ecuador hostage.”
It was the powerful Confederation of Indigenous Nationalities of Ecuador (Conaie) — credited with unseating three presidents between 1997 and 2005 — that called the protests.
But government minister Jimenez struck a different tone Wednesday evening in announcing a return to negotiations.
“The goal of the national government is firstly to guarantee peace to Ecuadorans, and in pursuit of that standard, we will not abandon efforts that allow us to arrive at that long-awaited peace,” he said.
The protests, which began on June 13, have been costly, with losses of some $50 million per day to the economy, according to the government, which has warned oil production — already halved — could come to a complete halt soon.
The nationwide show of discontent over deepening hardship comes in an economy dealt a serious blow by the coronavirus pandemic.
Indigenous people make up more than a million of the South American nation’s 17.7 million inhabitants.
The protesters want fuel price cuts, jobs, food price controls and more public spending on health care and education.
Over the weekend, Lasso announced other concessions in a bid to unlock talks, including a 10-cents-per-gallon cut in diesel and gasoline prices to $1.80 and $2.45, respectively.
That received short shrift from protesters, who want a reduction to $1.50 for diesel and $2.10 for gasoline.
Five demonstrators have died and hundreds on both sides have been wounded in clashes between the security forces and protesters blockading roads and disrupting supply lines.
Some 150 people have been arrested, according to observers.