Ecuador government, protesters agree deal to end deadly unrest

Indigenous protesters celebrate Ecuador government’s cancellation of an austerity package that triggered violent protests. (AP)
Updated 14 October 2019

Ecuador government, protesters agree deal to end deadly unrest

  • ‘With this agreement, the mobilizations ... across Ecuador are terminated and we commit ourselves to restoring peace in the country’

QUITO: Ecuador’s president and indigenous leaders reached an agreement Sunday to end nearly two weeks of violent protests against austerity measures put in place to obtain a multi-billion-dollar loan from the IMF.
President Lenin Moreno met with Jaime Vargas, the head of the indigenous umbrella grouping CONAIE, for four hours of talks in the capital Quito broadcast live on state television.
“With this agreement, the mobilizations ... across Ecuador are terminated and we commit ourselves to restoring peace in the country,” said a joint statement, adding the government had withdrawn an order that removed fuel subsidies.
Rocketing prices after Moreno cut the subsidies to obtain a $4.2 billion loan from the International Monetary Fund sparked 12 days of demonstrations that left seven people dead.
The statement was read by an official from the United Nations, which mediated the talks along with the Catholic Church.
“The measures applied in all our territories are lifted,” confirmed Vargas, wearing face paint and a head wreath of feathers.
Moreno had declared a curfew and placed Quito under military control to quell the unrest.
On Sunday, violent clashes continued before the talks began as police fought to disperse protesters who tried to put up a barricade of debris from Saturday’s unrest.
“Native brothers, I have always treated you with respect and affection,” Moreno said as the talks opened. “It was never my intention to affect the poorest sectors.”
Protesters had converged on Quito from around the country. Authorities said 1,349 people had been injured and 1,152 detained in the demonstrations.
The violence forced Moreno to relocate his government to Ecuador’s second city, Guayaquil, and hit the oil industry hard with the energy ministry suspending more than two-thirds of its distribution of crude.
Protesters seized three oil facilities in the Amazon.
CONAIE had previously rejected an offer of dialogue but reversed course Saturday.
UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres earlier called on all groups “to commit to inclusive and meaningful talks, and to work in good faith toward a peaceful solution.”
Ecuador’s indigenous groups make up a quarter of the country’s 17.3 million people. Thousands from disadvantaged communities from across the Amazon and the Andes have traveled to Quito to spearhead demands the subsidies be reinstated.
Demonstrators on Saturday ransacked and set fire to the building housing the comptroller general’s office, which was shrouded in thick smoke after being attacked with fire bombs.
The prosecutor’s office said 34 people were arrested.
Protesters on Saturday also targeted a television station and a newspaper.
The Teleamazonas TV channel interrupted its regular broadcast to air images of broken windows, a burned vehicle and heavy police presence on the scene.
The station evacuated 25 employees, none of them hurt.
Nearby, protesters built barricades in front of the National Assembly building as police fired tear gas at them.
“We have nothing to do with the events at the comptroller’s office and Teleamazonas,” said CONAIE.
El Comercio newspaper reported on Twitter that its offices were attacked by a “group of unknowns.”
Protesters did not immediately heed the curfew that went into effect on Saturday, with security forces struggling to impose order in some parts of the city.
“Where are the mothers and fathers of the police? Why do they let them kill us?” cried Nancy Quinyupani, an indigenous woman.
The restrictions in Quito, a city of 2.7 million, came on top of a state of emergency Moreno had declared on October 3, deploying some 75,000 military and police and imposing a nighttime curfew in the vicinity of government buildings.
Moreno is struggling with an economic crisis that he blames on waste and corruption by Correa’s administration.


India’s coronavirus lockdown hits poor, tests Modi’s support

Updated 1 min ago

India’s coronavirus lockdown hits poor, tests Modi’s support

  • Thousands of desperate day laborers have walked hundreds of miles home — and more than 20 have reportedly died on the way
  • In slums, anxious families are low on food, while homeless shelters are overflowing

MUMBAI/NEW DELHI: Ravi Prasad Gupta, a worker at a pipe plant in the western Indian state of Gujarat, for years proudly supported Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his promise to usher in “good days” for millions of impoverished laborers.
But Modi on March 24 announced a three-week lockdown to fight the coronavirus, which meant Gupta lost his job and so decided to head home, first by train and then on foot.
“I voted for Modi in all the elections but now I’m very sure that he works only for the big people and not for a man like me,” Gupta told Reuters in the northern town of Lucknow where he was getting on a truck for the next leg of his journey home.
The shutdown has dealt a body blow to India’s neediest, many of whom have long backed Modi, the 69-year old son of a tea seller whose Hindu nationalist administration was first elected in 2014.
Thousands of desperate day laborers like Gupta have walked hundreds of miles home — and more than 20 have reportedly died on the way. In slums, anxious families are low on food, while homeless shelters are overflowing.
Modi says the lockdown is necessary to avert a humanitarian calamity in India, where health care has long been weak and millions live in crowded, unsanitary conditions.
The country has reported more than 2,000 coronavirus cases and 56 deaths but many health experts are bracing for a surge of infections despite the government’s efforts.
Modi has apologized to the poor and two days after announcing the lockdown, his government unveiled a $23 billion economic plan to hand out cash and food.
Government critics say the shutdown was poorly planned, and that authorities are now scrambling to contain its fallout instead of focusing on the coronavirus.
Rivals also accuse Modi of being tone-deaf to the suffering of the poor and of seeking to polish his image with the crisis.
‘Know yourself’
During a radio address on Sunday, Modi encouraged Indians cooped up at home to reach out to childhood friends on social media, dust off old musical instruments and introspect.
“Don’t go out but go inside,” said Modi. “Try to know yourself.”
He has also shared some cartoon videos called “Yoga with Modi” for keeping fit, and encouraged people to watch them on a special Modi app.
He has also created a relief fund — PM-CARES — sidelining a decades-old traditional prime ministerial aid fund.
“Why the self-aggrandizing name, PM-CARES? Must a colossal national tragedy also be (mis)used to enhance the cult of personality?” historian Ramachandra Guha, a Modi critic, said on Twitter.
The Prime Minister’s Office did not respond to requests for comment.
Shaina NC, an official with the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party, said criticism of the lockdown was unwarranted and authorities were providing food and shelter to those in need.
“There is bound to be a little hardship when a decision such as this is taken,” she said.
“Prime Minister Modi is popular and continues to be so, but I don’t think he is looking for a certificate of popularity at this juncture.”
Some state governments blame Modi’s top-down management style for what they see as the chaotic implementation of the shutdown, which has complicated operations for e-commerce, medical device makers and farmers.
“Did the prime minister talk to any of the state governments before unilaterally announcing it? No,” said Bhupesh Baghel, the chief minister of opposition-ruled Chhattisgarh state. If given proper notice, he said, Chhattisgarh could have stocked up on essentials and coordinated with neighboring states.
‘Not anticipated’
Two central government officials dealing with the shutdown said Modi’s administration had not expected it to trigger the exodus of migrant workers.
“This was not anticipated, perhaps the time was too short,” said one, referring to the advance notice, who declined to be identified as he is not authorized to speak to media.
Modi said on Thursday the lockdown would end in phases, amid fears there could be a second wave of infections.
To be sure, Modi remains India’s most popular politician and some of his supporters are blaming others for the problems.
“Modi is 100% right. He should extend the lockdown. It’s because of middlemen that we are not getting food,” said unemployed laborer Prahlad Kushwaha, 45, as he cooked flatbread in an idled textile mill in Mumbai.
More than 80% of Indians said the government was handling the coronavirus pandemic well, according to a survey by the CVoter polling agency conducted days after the shutdown began, but largely before the migrant exodus dominated headlines.
Political analysts say it is too soon to say how the lockdown will affect Modi — especially with the opposition in disarray.
Voters have in the past been fairly forgiving of Modi, said Sadanand Dhume, a fellow at the Washington-based American Enterprise Institute, citing the government’s 2016 ban of big bank notes, which triggered chaos but failed to significantly dent Modi’s popularity.
“This is the first game in a five-set match. It could go either way,” said Dhume.