By Alexandra Valencia
QUITO – Ecuador’s armed forces on Tuesday said they would not allow ongoing protests against President Guillermo Lasso’s economic policies to damage the country’s democracy, as road blockades continued ahead of more planned demonstrations.
Thousands of indigenous protesters marched through Quito on Monday to demand a list of concessions from Lasso, including a fuel price cut, preventing further expansion of Ecuador’s oil and mining industry, more time for farms to pay debt and budget increases for health and education.
Lasso said on Monday he responded to the demands in a communication with indigenous leaders.
He also expanded a state of exception decree – used in times of public order disruption – to six provinces from the previous three.
Residents of the capital awoke to find some roads closed and parts of the public transport system shuttered. Several major stores were not open. Major highways into Quito have been blocked since protests began a week ago.
The city’s airport said some national and international flights were being affected.
Indigenous demonstrators attempted early on Tuesday to gather at a university for fresh protests, but were dispersed by security forces.
“The armed forces will not allow constitutional order to be broken or any action against democracy and the laws of the republic,” Defense Minister Luis Lara, accompanied by military commanders, told journalists.
“We urge Ecuadoreans toward national unity,” he said, adding that drug traffickers and organized crime were behind the violence that had broken out at the protests. At least 55 protesters and 61 members of the security forces have been injured in the violence.
Lasso, who took office 13 months ago, has repeatedly blamed drug gangs for rising violence, including prison riots which have killed hundreds.
“This uprising is because of poverty and inequality,” said Leonidas Iza, leader of CONAIE, an indigenous group. “No one is against anyone. We are against corruption, the injustice which has caused a deterioration in the majority of Ecuadorean society.”
Fuel subsidies cost the government some $2.8 billion a year.
The protests have prevented some 102,000 barrels of crude from being produced, the energy ministry said in a statement. State-run oil company Petroecuador declared force majeure on Saturday.