Indigenous-led protests block Ecuador roads to demand fuel price cuts

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Indigenous protesters blocked roads across Ecuador Monday to demand a fuel price cut, in the latest such demonstration amid rising inflation, unemployment and poverty in the oil-producing South American country.

The nationwide demonstration kicked off at midnight and saw roads blocked with burning tires and barricades of sand, rocks and tree branches in at least 10 of Ecuador's 24 provinces, authorities said, with access to the capital Quito partly cut off.

The protest was called by the powerful Confederation of Indigenous Nationalities of Ecuador (Conaie), which is credited with helping topple three presidents between 1997 and 2005.

Indigenous peoples make up over a million of Ecuador's 17.7 million inhabitants.

"This is our show of strength until the government listens," 42-year-old Manuel Cocha, one of dozens of protesters blocking part of the Pan-American Highway south of Quito, told AFP.

President Guillermo Lasso warned late Sunday that the government would not allow roads or oil installations to be taken over by protesters.

On Monday, Interior Minister Patricio Carrillo said police and soldiers were deployed to "guarantee public order" and Defense Minister Luis Lara said fuel depots and other strategic installations were "under control."

- We will go on  -

Police commander Fausto Salinas appealed to protesters to stay within the law, saying, "We cannot bring the country to a standstill."

But Conaie leader Leonidas Iza insisted the demonstrations would continue for as long as was necessary.

The organization wants the fuel price lowered to $1.50 per gallon (about 3.78 liters) for diesel and $2.10 for gasoline.

Fuel prices have risen sharply since 2020, almost doubling for diesel from $1 to $1.90 per gallon and rising from $1.75 to $2.55 for gasoline.

Lasso froze prices at this level last October after a round of protests led by Conaie that saw dozens arrested and several people, including police, injured in clashes.

Lasso's price freeze failed to assuage simmering anger in a country that exports crude oil but imports much of the fuel it consumes.

Poverty affects more than a quarter of Ecuadorans, according to 2021 data, and only about one in three have "adequate employment," in a country with a large informal job sector.

The protesters are demanding the government address these issues, as well as price controls on agricultural products that hurt farmers and mining concessions granted in indigenous territories.

Lasso, who took office a year ago, warned on Twitter late Sunday that "we cannot allow political groups that seek to destabilize... to paralyze the country again."

In 2019, Conaie-led protests resulted in 11 deaths and forced then-president Lenin Moreno to abandon plans to eliminate fuel subsidies -- a way for the government to reduce public spending in exchange for loans from the International Monetary Fund.

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