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Ecuador government, Indigenous leaders sign deal to end protests

Thousands of Ecuadoran protesters gathered outside the negotiations venue in Quito
Thousands of Ecuadoran protesters gathered outside the negotiations venue in Quito - Copyright AFP GABRIEL BOUYS
Thousands of Ecuadoran protesters gathered outside the negotiations venue in Quito - Copyright AFP GABRIEL BOUYS

Ecuador’s government and Indigenous leaders signed a deal Thursday to cut fuel prices and end cost-of-living protests that partly paralyzed Ecuador for 18 straight days.

The agreement, mediated by the Catholic Church and signed in Quito, provides for a five-cent-per-gallon reduction in the price of diesel and gasoline on top of a 10-cent cut already conceded by the government.

Fast-rising fuel prices were the catalyst for the protests called by the powerful Confederation of Indigenous Nationalities (Conaie) and marked by burning roadblocks and sometimes violent clashes with the security forces.

Five civilians and a soldier have died since the protests started on June 13, hundreds were injured on both sides, and some 150 have been arrested.

Signed by Conaie leader Leonidas Iza and government minister Francisco Jimenez, the agreement foresees the creation of a negotiating forum, an end to the roadblocks, and the lifting of a state of emergency.

It also provides for the review of government decrees on oil exploitation and mining in Indigenous lands in the Amazon.

Iza announced after the signing that “we will suspend” the protest.

President Guillermo Lasso, an ex-banker who took power 13 months ago, said of the deal that: “We have achieved the supreme value to which we all aspire: peace in our country.”

He added on Twitter: “The strike is over. Now we begin together the task of transforming this peace into progress, well-being, and opportunities for all.”

An estimated 14,000 Ecuadorans — most of them in Quito — have taken part in the nationwide show of discontent against deepening hardship in an economy dealt a serious blow by the coronavirus pandemic.

Thursday’s agreement provides for “the cessation of the mobilizations and the gradual return (of the demonstrators) to the territories” where they came from to join the protest.

Indigenous people make up more than a million of the South American nation’s 17.7 million inhabitants.  

The protesters called for fuel price cuts, jobs, food price controls and more public spending on healthcare and education.  

– $50 million per day –

Talks started on Monday but were cut short the following day after the killing of a soldier the government blamed on protesters.

On Wednesday, the government said it would re-enter the talks, but also imposed a fresh state of emergency in four of the country’s 24 provinces as violence continued to mar the country-wide uprising.

The action has 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. 

Crude is the South American country’s main export, but production has been halved from the pre-protest rate of some 520,000 barrels per day, the government said.

Operations at more than 1,100 wells have been affected.

Lasso survived an impeachment vote Tuesday brought by opposition politicians blaming him for the “serious political crisis and internal commotion” caused by the protests.

Protest instigator Conaie, is credited with unseating three presidents between 1997 and 2005.

Poverty affects more than a quarter of Ecuadorans, according to 2021 data, and only about one in three have “adequate employment” in a country with a large informal job sector.

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