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ECUADOR: Nationwide Protests End with Triumph by Indians

by Kintto LucasInter Press Service
February 7th, 2001

The nationwide protests or ''uprising'' by Ecuador's indigenous people that has brought much of this Andean nation to a standstill over the past two weeks ended Wednesday with the signing of a pact with President Gustavo Noboa, who agreed to lower the price of gasoline, one of the demonstrators' main demands.

The government pledged to lower the price of gasoline from 2.00 to 1.60 dollars a litre, and to freeze the price for one year. It also agreed to create a system of subsidised prices for gasoline for poor rural sectors, and to make credit available for the poorest rural workers.

Fifty provincial and national leaders of the country's indigenous and peasant movement met with Noboa.

The first thing the leaders did at the meeting was to call for a minute of silence to honour the six indigenous protesters killed in the demonstrations this week.

''We are asking the government representatives to stop and remember the people who fell in this fight,'' said Miguel Lluco, the coordinator of the Pachakutik Movement, the political force representing the country's indigenous people, who number roughly 3.5 out of a total population of 12.4 million.

The president of the Confederation of Indigenous Nationalities of Ecuador (CONAIE), Antonio Vargas, said the advances achieved in the accord belonged to all Ecuadoreans, and were ''just one more step along the way, because they will not put an end to the poverty and marginalisation of millions of Ecuadoreans.''

Sociologist Alejandro Moreano told IPS that the agreement to overturn a recent increase in fuel prices - which led to a soaring of the cost of bus tickets and cooking gas - was not the most important achievement of the protests.

The biggest triumph, he said, was that Ecuador's indigenous movement once again demonstrated that it was alive and well, and was thinking in national terms, with a united vision.

''The Indian peoples constitute a social and ethical force, which is the basis of our history, the imagery and artistic forms of which impregnate the cultural practices of broad sectors of the Ecuadorean nation, and are a decisive factor in the preservation of the identity and future of Ecuador,'' said Moreano.

After the agreement was signed, the 6,000 indigenous protesters who had trekked into the capital from the provinces last week marched through Quito, and were joined by thousands of people from a broad range of social sectors.

While a theatre troupe demonstrated its solidarity, writers, journalists and artists distributed a manifesto reproaching Noboa for agreeing to dialogue only after several people were killed.

The nationwide protests and roadblocks became even more radical Monday after four people, including a child, were killed when the army cracked down on demonstrators in the Amazon jungle province of Napo.

And in Ecuador's Andean highlands, more than 25 people were shot and injured during army repression of the roadblocks that were cutting off several highways and making provisions scarce in a number of areas.

Although the conditions were in place for a direct dialogue between the Indian leaders and Noboa last Friday, the president refused to participate, and designated Vice-President Pedro Pinto as his representative.

The leaders of the protests said they would only hold talks with the president, and CONAIE announced the rupture of the dialogue and an intensification of the uprising at a national level.

After the announcement that the protests would become more radical, 50 leaders of indigenous groups and other sectors declared a hunger strike in the Salesian University in Quito. An hour later, the government declared a state of emergency based on the Law on National Security.

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