QUITO – A protester died in the demonstrations against the Ecuadorian government’s decision to eliminate fuel subsidies to comply with the terms of the International Monetary Fund (IMF) loan agreement, the Ombudsman’s Office told EFE on Thursday.
The demonstrator, a Confederation of Indigenous Nationalities (Conaie) leader, was killed on Wednesday during the protests in Quito, Ecuador’s capital.
On Thursday, protesters at the Ecuadorian Culture House (CCE) in Quito took four police officers hostage and threatened to subject them to ancestral justice if the security forces attack the building, a spokesman for the group told EFE.
“They’re telling us outside that the government has started sending the tear gas bombs, so now our indigenous leaders are not going to release the policemen because we want respect. If they attack us, we will impose indigenous justice,” said Fabian Masabanda, a protester from Imbabura province.
Conaie leaders at the CCE called on the army to stop supporting President Lenin Moreno.
Jaime Vargas, president of the Conaie, told the thousands of indigenous people gathered at the cultural center that the indigenous leaders negotiating with the government were “traitors.”
On Wednesday, Moreno welcomed the start of talks with the Conaie and said he expected the turmoil in the country to end soon.
“We already have the first good results of the dialogue,” Moreno said in a Twitter post, adding that he was glad that the indigenous protesters had separated themselves from violent groups.
The protests began on Oct. 3 with the Moreno administration’s enactment of a package of austerity measures adopted at the urging of the IMF.
The most controversial aspect of the plan was the end of fuel subsidies, which spurred a 123 percent increase in the price of diesel, but the government also slashed public employees’ pay by 20 percent and took steps toward the privatization of pensions.
The Conaie leader, according to the Ombudsman’s Office, died from a blow to the head during the protests, which were repelled by the security forces using tear gas.
The death toll from the protests now stands at five.
Last weekend, a man was struck and killed by a vehicle whose driver was reportedly trying to get away from a demonstration in southern Ecuador and three other people apparently fell from a bridge in Quito during the protests.
Government Minister Maria Paula Romo said in a press conference on Wednesday night that “no person has died in a clash with the police.”
On Thursday morning, Government Ministry officials told EFE that an investigation would be opened following a complaint filed by the Conaie, which said in a statement that it was “in mourning.”
The Conaie said that “comrades lost their lives” due to the “brutal repression” experienced on Wednesday.
Quito residents experienced problems once again on Thursday with bus service.
Few buses operated in the city due to a strike by transportation workers’ unions, forcing many people to walk to their destinations or ride in the back of pick-up trucks whose drivers stepped in to offer their services.
Moreno, who responded to the protests by declaring a state of emergency, abandoned Quito on Monday for the coastal city of Guayaquil, Ecuador’s economic hub.
In a nationally televised address from Guayaquil, Moreno said the unrest was being orchestrated by unidentified elements from the government of his predecessor and political mentor, Rafael Correa.
Moreno, who served for a time as Correa’s vice president, won election on a promise to maintain the center-left policies of the Alianza Pais party.
Instead, he has moved to reverse virtually all of Correa’s initiatives and programs.