QUITO – Ecuadorian prosecutors announced on Friday the arrest of two public transportation sector leaders amid road-blocking protests over the government’s decision to scrap decades-old fuel subsidies.
President Lenin Moreno, who declared a 60-day state of emergency on Thursday in response to the protests, withdrew the subsidies this week as part of budget-cutting measures linked to a $4.2 billion loan deal with the International Monetary Fund.
The Attorney General’s Office said on Twitter that Mesias V., secretary general of the Public Transportation Drivers Union of the southern province of Azuay; and Manolo S., president of the Transportation Chamber of the Andean city of Cuenca, have been arrested for allegedly “shutting down a public service.”
For its part, the Confederation of Indigenous Nationalities of Ecuador (Conaie) denounced the “arbitrary arrest of Marlon Santi (the coordinator of Pachakutik, Conaie’s political wing) by the National Police.”
It added that Santi will be taken to the Putuimi prison – in the eastern province of Pastaza – along with Jairo Gualinga, Conaie’s youth director; and two university students.
Interior Minister Maria Paula Romo said at the end of the first day of protests on Thursday that nearly 200 people had been arrested, most of whom were taken into custody in the southwestern coastal city of Guayaquil on looting and vandalism charges.
Numerous stores were forced to close their doors in different parts of Guayaquil amid security forces’ inability to ensure public order and put a halt to massive looting.
Major disruptions to public transportation were continuing on Friday despite the state of emergency, with people forced to walk to work or riding in the back of crowded pick-up trucks.
As they had done the day before, protesters used burning tires to block roads on Friday morning in Quito.
In the capital’s historic district, a UNESCO World Heritage site, there was clear evidence of Thursday’s clashes between demonstrators and the National Police in the form of damaged sidewalks, broken traffic lights and rocks strewn on the street.
Bus terminals in the capital that normally offer inter-provincial service were completely empty on Friday, while in other cities regular urban transport was not being provided.
Just as they had done on Thursday, authorities ordered the cancellation of classes Friday at public and private schools to ensure students’ safety.
In announcing the end to the fuel subsidies on Tuesday, Moreno said the country could no longer afford a program that cost more than $1.3 billion a year.
The withdrawal of the subsidies is expected to cause the price of diesel to climb from $1.03 per gallon to $2.27 per gallon, while the country’s most widely used gasoline (known as “extra”) is to rise from $1.85 per gallon to $2.30 per gallon.
But the president of the FUT labor federation, Mesias Tatamuez, said in a press conference Thursday that its members were angry about the measures announced Tuesday by Moreno, who also said he would send a package of tax and labor-rule overhauls to Congress.
Tatamuez said the government was a adopting a IMF-ordered neo-liberal program in which the “entire weight of the economic project is placed on the backs of the Ecuadorian people.”