QUITO – Ecuador’s indigenous movement released 10 police officers who had been held at the Agora Casa de la Cultura Ecuatoriana in Quito since Thursday morning after the staged funeral of one of its leaders who died in the protests.
Interior Minister Maria Paula Romo confirmed the news at a press conference, in which she also said that journalists held inside the building were also allowed to leave.
The group released the agents after the funeral of leader Inocencio Tucumbi, who died on Wednesday during riots, during which four were made to carry the coffin to the main stage of the Agora for the ceremony.
The leaders of the Confederation of Indigenous Nationalities of Ecuador (Conaie) made the four officers carry the coffin because, according to the indigenous justice system, they represented the violent repression that they claim has been created against them during the past week’s protests.
After the funeral, the 10 police officers were watched over by the “Indigenous Guard” in a march surrounded by hundreds of people to Alameda Park, near Quito’s historic center.
In the park they were handed over to representatives of the United Nations in Ecuador and the Ombudsman’s Office.
“We thank Conaie for the peaceful handing over of the police officers. We consider this as a goodwill act that contributes to creating conditions of greater trust in order to prevent violence and seek agreed solutions to this situation,” said a message by networks spread by the UN delegation in Ecuador.
The symbolic march and the delivery of the officers were led by Conaie president Jaime Vargas and Leonidas Iza, leader of the Peasant Movement of Cotopaxi province.
Their capture and detention for more than 10 hours took center stage of the protests Thursday in Quito.
The indigenous group, outraged by the death of one of their representatives and by what they call the “repression” of the police since the wave of protests began a week ago, kept the officers in the Agora as shields against any police action during their demonstration.
During the rally, they took the officers on stage, removed their boots and socks so that they could not easily flee and forced them to use their radios to communicate with the police outside.
They also held about 30 journalists from local and international media. Some were made to speak on stage and admit they were they were there of their own accord.
In a statement, Conaie acknowledged that access to and exit from the Agora was restricted but assured that it was with the aim of preventing the entry of individuals who might turn into violent.
Since it arrived in Quito on Monday to protest against the measures and cutbacks of President Lenin Moreno, the indigenous movement has tried to distance itself from violence and their demonstration on Wednesday, declared a day of general strike, ended in an orderly manner.
However, the demonstrations organized by the trade unions and left-wing groups since last week were violent, as they clashed with the authorities in Quito and other cities of the country, leaving serious damage and a toll of five dead, 554 wounded and a thousand arrested.
The most violent part of the indigenous movement was seen before arriving in Quito on Monday from the faraway provinces.
On their way to the capital, they blocked roads, confronted the armed forces and looted some industries and farms.
Another incident that spoiled their demonstration on Thursday was the brutal assault on a journalist from the Teleamazonas channel.
Videos broadcast of the event show the journalist walking and followed by several people, when an aggressor throws a rock with great force from close proximity, which knocks him to the ground with serious head injuries.