(CN) — Ecuador’s President Lenín Moreno announced a curfew Tuesday and moved the seat of government outside the capital, Quito, as hundreds of thousands of protesters paralyzed the country with road closures and calls for a general strike.
The unrest comes as the government refuses to negotiate over its cancellation of fuel subsidies, which doubled the cost of diesel gas and threatens a dramatic increase in the cost of public transport.
To comply with terms of a $4 billion loan from the International Monetary Fund, Ecuador, a country of 17 million, is implementing the austerity that the IMF demands.
According to the North American Conference on Latin America (NACLA), Moreno ran for office as a leftist but has governed as a rightist, joining conservatives to push for deregulation, a major reduction in social spending and policies that aim to isolate and demonize the Left.
The Citizens’ Revolution, led by then-President Rafael Correa from 2007 to 2017, came after a period of instability and high inflation. Deregulation, dollarization and the neoliberal model had failed to meet the public's demands and Correa restored a healthy economy with public projects, infrastructure improvements and tax reforms.
"Rafael Correa's election marked a fundamental change in Ecuadoran politics,” NACLA reported. “His Citizens' Revolution passed one of the world's most progressive constitutions in 2008. The new constitution marked a clear departure from neoliberalism by enshrining the principle of good living, buen vivir in Spanish, and emphasized social and cultural rights and socially and environmentally sustainable development."
Correa was constitutionally blocked from a third term and campaigned for his vice president, Moreno, who was elected president in 1917. Now Moreno is trying to extradite Correa from Europe on corruption charges and Correa calls Moreno the biggest phony in the world.
Leading the insurrection is the Confederation of Indigenous Nationalities of Ecuador, CONAIE, a group that brought down three governments from 1996-2006 with massive demonstrations and civil disobedience.
Their demands include restoration of the fuel subsidies and removal of Moreno from office.
While Quito is the focus of the mass movement, strikes and blockades are occurring in cities and towns across the country. In Cuenca, Ecuador's third-largest city, the historic district was covered in tear gas this week as police struggled to break up crowds demanding the president step down, according to the Diario Mercurio.
El Comercio newspaper in Quito reported that a group of Indian leaders visited the Pucara hydroelectric plant in Tungurahau and asked workers to stop providing electric service and water until further notice. The plant is considering the request.
In Guayaquil, Ecuador's largest city, burning tires and ransacked shops followed police attempts to break up demonstrations against the fuel price increases, according to the daily El Universal. In an editorial, the paper blamed attacks at 17 ranches on infiltrators who are attempting to discredit the movement to peacefully present demands to the government.
CONAIE insists its actions are nonviolent, but designed to bring down the government with a general strike. It blames provocateurs for the looting and sacking of shops and farms, thugs who want to influence public opinion against the largely indigenous uprising.
CONAIE president Jaime Vargas, commenting on the various marches descending on Ecuador's cities for the general strike, said: "We have received affection from all of our Ecuadoran sisters and brothers."
(Courthouse News correspondent Miguel Patricio is based in El Salvador.)
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