Above photo: The protests over fuel subsidy cuts had turned into a major challenge for President Lenin Moreno [Ivan Alvarado/Reuters]
As transport unions suspend strike, indigenous groups vow to keep protesting until Moreno overturns austerity measure.
Indigenous organisations and workers’ groups in Ecuador have vowed to continue protests against President Lenin Moreno’s scrapping of decades-long fuel subsidies.
The pledge on Saturday came a day after Moreno, who took office in 2017, refused to back down over the austerity policy, imposed under a deal with the International Monetary Fund (IMF) that doubled the price of fuel overnight and sharply raised gasoline prices.
The measure, which came into effect on Thursday, prompted two days of unrest, with transport unions calling a strike and protesters clashing with police and blocking roads with tires, stones and branches.
Authorities have arrested more than 350 people and Moreno, who declared a two-month state of emergency, told reporters: “Listen clearly. I am not going to change the measure. The subsidy is finished.”
Transport unions suspended the strike on Friday after handing a list of demands to the government.
It was unclear why they called off their strike, though leaders said they were satisfied the government had heard their complaints. Officials have promised a revision of fare tariffs to compensate for fuel price rises.
Indigenous groups, however, continued to block some roads around the Andean nation of 17 million people.
“The student, workers and indigenous movement will not stop,” the Confederation of Indigineous communities wrote on Twitter. “We will continue, indifinitely, until we end with these neoliberal measures.”
Mesias Tatamuez, head of the Workers’ United Front umbrella union, called for a national strike on Wednesday.
“The Ecuadorean people are indignant at this package, which is a prize for businessmen and bankers, to comply with the IMF’s recipe,” he said.
Moreno’s government, struggling with a large foreign debt and fiscal deficit, recently reached a three-year, $4.2bn loan deal with the IMF, contingent on belt-tightening economic reforms.
The deal allowed Ecuador to receive an immediate disbursement of $652m and paved the way for an additional $6bn in loans from other multilateral institutions.
Moreno said the fuel subsidies, in place for four decades, had distorted the economy and cost $60bn. Diesel prices have risen from $1.03 to $2.30 per gallon, while gasoline went from $1.85 to $2.39.
Ecuador hopes to save about $1.5bn a year from ending fuel subsidies.
The IMF welcomed the change saying the new measures were “aimed to improve the resilience and sustainability of Ecuador’s economy”.
However, Moreno’s popularity has sunk to below 30 percent compared with above 70 percent after his 2017 election.
Ecuador has a history of volatility and sudden government changes: protests toppled three presidents in the decade before Moreno’s predecessor, Rafael Correa, took power in 2007.