Quito is a city under siege: its shops are closed and the streets are empty except for thousands of indigenous protesters demanding a better life, with police and soldiers keeping them under control.
Some 10,000 demonstrators gathered in Ecuador’s capital from across the country to protest high fuel prices and the rising cost of living.
And they vowed to stay until the government met their demands or fell.
“It could be a month, it could be two… The war will come, but here we will fight,” said Maria Vega, 47, who earns a living from odd jobs and is one of about a third of Ecuadorians who live in poverty.
Almost a third do not have a permanent job.
Demanding jobs, lower fuel prices, better health care and education, they arrived in Quito on foot or in trucks, many hundreds of miles away.
At night, after long hours on the streets, they recharge by being housed on two university campuses and relying heavily on food provided by the church and other groups.
Shields, sticks and flags
They come out in groups in the mornings, carrying sticks, makeshift shields made from road signs or trash cans, and the wifalu, the colorful flag of the indigenous peoples of the Andes.
Among the offended crowds, traditional red ponchos stand out, which arrange road barricades from burning tires and tree branches, make fires in broad daylight.
Access to the presidential palace is blocked by metal fences, barbed wire and chains of harsh security forces.
“They have weapons. How can a weapon be compared to a stick or a stone? We are not on an equal footing,” protester Luzhmila Zamora, 51, complained about the show of force.
President Guillermo Lasso, a former banker who took office a year ago, sees the uprising as an attempt to overthrow him.
Ecuador has a reputation for being unruly after three presidents left between 1997 and 2005 under pressure from indigenous peoples, who make up over a million of Ecuador’s 17.7 million inhabitants.
In 2019, protests led by the Ecuadorian Confederation of Indigenous Peoples (Konaye) – which also sparked the latest demonstrations – forced the government to abandon plans to eliminate fuel subsidies.
This time they seem just as determined: to stand firm despite the state of emergency in six of Ecuador’s 24 states, the overnight curfew in Quito, the massive deployment of the military, and the insults from residents whose lives and livelihoods have been left to fend for themselves. in turmoil.
“We want the government to work for the people, for all of Ecuador, not just the upper class,” protester Zamora insisted.
Another, 40-year-old pastor Marco Vinicio Morales, said he couldn’t understand how people were falling further behind in a country with vast reserves of oil, gold and silver.
“If there is no answer [to the protesters’ demands]”Lasso dug his own grave,” he said.
Visitors run from tear gas
Business owners, shopkeepers and workers in the capital, which is just starting to recover from the coronavirus pandemic closure, are unhappy.
Efren Carrión, a 42-year-old chef, said his restaurant typically sells around 120 items on a weekday. “These days there were at most 10 or 25,” he said.
And with tear gas ubiquitous in the air, “customers often run away without paying.”
According to Carrion, workers like him shouldn’t have to pay the price for protesting.
“The best revolution is to work and negotiate, to negotiate,” he said.
So far, no talks are scheduled, as both sides are on their toes.