‘We can’t get by’: Indigenous people keep up protests in Ecuador

Quito, Ecuador – Thousands of Indigenous people continue to demonstrate in the Ecuadorian capital, as their calls for social and economic reforms grow louder despite a crackdown by authorities in the South American nation.

The protesters, predominantly led by the powerful Confederation of Indigenous Nationalities of Ecuador (CONAIE) group, began blocking roads and marching in provincial capitals on June 13 before bringing their demonstration to Quito.

Several key streets in the city have been blocked since Tuesday, as protesters engage in a standoff with police at major intersections near the city centre. Protests have also taken place in cities across the country, including Guayaquil, Cuenca and Riobamba.

Indigenous leaders have presented the government of President Guillermo Lasso with a list of 10 demands, including a freeze on national gas prices, greater investments in education and healthcare, and more jobs.

Demonstrators in the capital, including families with children and the elderly, told Al Jazeera that the COVID-19 pandemic and other crises over the past two years have hit them particularly hard. Many said they could no longer bear the burden of rising inflation and unemployment.

Lasso has said he would engage in dialogue, but CONAIE leaders say talks can only begin once the government lifts a state of emergency implemented this week.

In the meantime, the protests have at times turned violent, with clashes reported between demonstrators and police and the military.

The Ecuador Alliance for Human Rights said on Friday that at least four people have died since the protests began, while 166 protesters have been injured and 108 others detained. The general commander of the country’s national police force, Fausto Salinas, told reporters on Wednesday that 114 police officers were also injured.

Al Jazeera spoke to protesters in Quito about what pushed them into the streets, what they want from the government, and how long they plan to keep up their demonstrations.

Alfonso Estrella, 47, construction worker, Indigenous Quichua, from Sumbawa in Cotopaxi province

Alfonso Estrella, 47 (right), and his son German Estrella, 20, travelled to Quito from Cotopaxi to join in the demonstrations [Kimberley Brown/Al Jazeera]

“We came here to claim our rights, because the government has done bad. Within one year, everything has increased.”

“He [President Lasso] offered to work with Indigenous people. But he doesn’t know who Indigenous people are, or what Indigenous people need, because most of us are … in poverty.”

“How much were we getting paid during [former President Raphael] Correa’s time? $170. How much are they paying now – $100 … My family of five people, imagine that. How we are going to survive on this?”

“If we are in debt, we cannot afford to pay the interest surcharges … Since the pandemic, [I’ve acquired] $20,000 [in debt].”

“We want Lasso to get out of office, because he can’t govern.”

Maria Isabel Humagingan, 42, Indigenous Quichua, from Sumbawa in Cotopaxi province

Ecuador protest
Maria Isabel Humagingan says agricultural workers can no longer get by [Kimberley Brown/Al Jazeera]

“For fertiliser, for example, it used to be worth $15 or up to $20, now it costs up to $50 or $40. Sometimes we lost everything [the whole crop]. So we no longer harvest anything.”

“We came to demonstrate because they raised all the prices on us. To the Indigenous people, those who work in agriculture, and we can’t get by.”

“Gasoline, oil, all things went up … Even the Ecovia [public transport] fares, for example, are charging 10 cents more and that also affects us here.

“Rural people also live here, working, but no, what they pay is not enough.”

Segundo Munoz, 41, Indigenous Quichua, from Guamote in Chimborazo province, living in Quito for 20 years

Ecuador protester
Munoz, 41, says he understands the protesters’ plight [Kimberley Brown/Al Jazeera]

“Today, you have to make do with the bare minimum. The same at home – what you spend at home is the minimum now, only what is necessary.”

“Even my salary is the same as before. What they pay now has not gone up, but the things all around have gone up. That’s what happens.”

Lidia Caringkia Nichik, Quichua-Achuar, from Amazonian province of Pastaza

Ecuador protest
Lidia Caringkia Nichik (centre) from Ecuador’s Amazon poses with other Amazon Indigenous protesters who she travelled with from the province of Pastaza to Quito [Kimberley Brown/Al Jazeera]

“I have come here for a purpose that has affected all the Ecuadorian people.”

“I am a [single] mother of four children and I have felt the pain when I go shopping for basic necessities. With $100, this is no longer enough.”

“I have had to stop buying [cooking] oil … I am not a woman who earns a salary … I earn a daily income by making my handicrafts; that is what I earn and it is not enough.”

“Now I am here for my children because I want them to have a good education. I want the hospitals not to be privatised, I want the medicines to arrive. I want there to be less corruption in Ecuador. That is why I am here.”

“Many citizens say that we are not fighting for them. [But] we are fighting for them, for the people, for the peasants who do not have the possibility of having enough food for our children.”

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