Quito, Ecuador – Paralysing protests in Ecuador continued on Tuesday over a series of labour and tax reforms and President Lenin Moreno’s decision to scrap decades-old fuel subsidies.
Thousands of indigenous people who had been marching towards the capital, Quito, descended on the city on Tuesday. Protesters were reportedly able to briefly cross security lines into the National Assembly, before being moved out by police. Late on Tuesday, Moreno issued a decree that restricted movement from 8pm to 5am local time around government buildings.
Tuesday’s demonstrations came less than 24 hours after President Moreno moved his administration out of Quito following nearly a week of anti-austerity protests that paralysed public transportation and brought hundreds of arrests.
“We are rejecting the economic package implemented for the government of Moreno,” said Maria Boada, 56, who was at Monday’s protest representing the women’s rights collective, Women for Change. She spoke to Al Jazeera through a face mask doused in vinegar to help filter tear gas used by police on protesters.
“We are demanding that he lift the state of emergency and end the repression, and stop the labour reforms,” she said, referring to the state of emergency declared by Moreno last week.
People demonstrate outside the national assembly in Quito during clashes with riot police [Martin Bernetti/AFP]
Some protests have turned violent with police using tear gas and water cannon on demonstrators. According to officials at least 570 people had been arrested in the unrest.
Roads continue to be closed on Tuesday, disrupting travel plans and supply deliveries. Photos circulating on social media showed empty supermarket shelves in several major cities.
Reforms, subsidy cuts
The demonstrations erupted last week after the government announced it was cutting fuel subsidies, which had been in place for 40 years.
The government has been struggling with large foreign debt and a fiscal deficit. Moreno said the cuts to the fuel subsidies were a necessary part of the belt-tightening reforms the government has undertaken since accepting a $4.2bn IMF loan earlier this year.
Following the cuts, the price of diesel more than doubled and the price of petrol rose by nearly 30 percent.
Moreno also announced a series of unpopular labour and tax reforms, including a 20 percent cut in wages for new contracts in public sector jobs, a new requirement forcing public sector workers to donate one day’s worth of wages to the government each month and a decrease in vacation days for public workers from 30 to 15 days a year. The government, however, also decreased income taxes.
The cuts have angered many in Ecuador, where the minimum wage is just $394 a month.
Indigenous protesters gesture as they arrive to back the protests against Ecuador’s President Lenin Moreno’s government austerity measures [Daniel Tapia/Reuters]
Supporters say the reforms are essential to grow the economy and lift the country out of debt.
But Andres Arauz, economist and former general of banking at the Central Bank of Ecuador, disagreed.
“‘There is no alternative’ is a false narrative, because there is always an alternative. What is different is who bears the cost of the measures,” Arauz told Al Jazeera.
The current measures were taken in order to “not hurt creditors or the domestic elites” while the cost of the reforms are all “being born by the majorities”, he said.
“Ecuador’s main problem is actually a balance of payment problem, that it needs more dollars, more foreign exchange to pay back its loans,” he said.
“Establishing capital control measures and limiting dollar flight from unnecessary imports” are valid alternatives that wouldn’t have such as major effect on the Ecuadorian people, he added.
In an address on Monday night, Moreno accused protesters of organising a coup and being allied with the former government of Rafael Correa, with whom Moreno broke ties when he was elected in 2017.
“What has happened is not a manifestation of social discontent in protest of a government decision. The lootings, vandalism and violence show there is an organized political motive to destabilize the government,” he said.
He also told social movements that he was open for a dialogue, but refused to back down on reforms or reinstate the petrol subsidies.
Protesters meanwhile pledged to stay in the streets until Moreno reverses the reforms and cuts.