Indigenous Protesters in Ecuador
The president of Ecuador, Guillermo Lasso, lifted a state of emergency imposed as a response to mass protests by Indigenous protesters in Ecuador on June 26, 2022. The demonstrations, beginning on June 13, 2022, were in opposition to the high prices of gasoline and agricultural products and a low education budget. Six civilians have died as a result of them. Ecuador’s largest Indigenous organization, the Confederation of Indigenous Nationalities of Ecuador (CONAIE), has been spearheading the movement and met with President Lasso in late June 2022.

Ecuadorian Indigenous Organizations: CONAIE

According to the International Work Group of Indigenous Affairs (IWGIA), around 1.1 million Ecuadorians are Indigenous and 24.1% of them live in the Amazon. Fourteen Indigenous groups live in Ecuador, including the A’i Cofán, Shiwiar, Siekopai and Chachi.

There are many Indigenous organizations in Ecuador. However, CONAIE is the most involved in these Indigenous protests in Ecuador.

In 1986, the organization started operating in Ecuador’s capital, Quito and cited “the continuous struggle of the communities, centers, federations and confederations of Indigenous peoples” as the reason for its existence. Since then, the organization has become known for its direct action and uprising. In 1996, CONAIE famously formed its political movement called the Pachakutik/Nuevo País after halting alliances with other political movements and candidates. Leonidas Iza, who has been representing CONAIE in government dealings, currently leads the Indigenous group.

Poverty and Prices

Poverty in Ecuador has significantly risen in 2022. Among the country’s population of 18 million, 35% live in poverty. Additionally, poverty is commonly and historically found among Ecuador’s Indigenous people, sometimes attributed to discrimination. In 2006, the United Nations Population Fund reported that some 88% of Ecuador’s Indigenous households live under the poverty line.

As aforementioned, recent Ecuadorian protests by members of the country’s Indigenous populations result from high gasoline and agricultural product prices and low education and health care budgets.

In recent months, Ecuadorian fuel prices have distinctly increased. Before President Lasso made adjustments, standard gasoline cost $2.55 a gallon (40 cents higher than neighboring Colombia’s price) and diesel $1.90 a gallon.

Agricultural product prices, another point of protest, have been rising since the end of 2021. Fertilizer prices have also been increasing, potentially leading to less agricultural production and income heading to farming households.

The Ecuadorian educational budget has been declining since 2019, currently at a mere 11.5% of government expenditure and is comparably lower than neighboring South American countries (Colombia is at 14.5%, Bolivia at 14.2%).

Ecuadorian Government Response

Indigenous protesters in Ecuador agreed with their country’s government on the subjects of protest and fuel prices in late June.

After lifting the state of emergency he imposed and the beginning of talks between his government and Indigenous leaders, Ecuadorian President Lasso cut fuel prices– but not to the degree CONAIE wanted. He decreased petrol and diesel price per gallon by 15 cents, whereas the Indigenous organization called for a 45-cent decrease per gallon of petrol and a 40-cent decrease per gallon of diesel, Al Jazeera reported.

Furthermore, CONAIE leader Iza signed a deal with the Ecuadorian government that aims to lower fuel prices, among other costs, limit oil expansion and prohibit mining in protected areas and cease protests. Iza announced the suspension of protests after signing, according to Al Jazeera.

Although the nearly two-week-long protests in Ecuador caused more than 150 arrests, stunted transport and led to at least six deaths, they have amounted to a deal between Indigenous protesters and the Ecuadorian government, hopefully bringing peace and security into the country.

– Sophie Buibas
Photo: Flickr

COVID-19 in Quito
COVID-19 has ravaged the entire world, and each country has experienced the pandemic and suffered losses in its own way. However, the pandemic has a very unique impact on under-resourced countries than it does on developed countries. The New York Times reported that the death toll in Ecuador from the novel coronavirus is among the worst in the world, and the nation became an epicenter in Latin America for the deadly disease. By August 12, 2021, Ecuador recorded 493,767 cases and 31,870 deaths due to COVID-19. Many people suspect that the actual numbers of cases and deaths are much higher. Because Ecuador is a small country with a population of around 17 million people, these figures are extremely high. Here is some information about COVID-19 in Quito, Ecuador, a community that has faced significant challenges due to the pandemic, as well as the teacher who is making a difference.

Health care System in Quito

The health care system in Quito was extremely limited before the pandemic. The public health system in Ecuador lacked capabilities to facilitate contact tracing, appropriate screening and isolation measures and early detection measures. A lack of emergency response preparation and PPE equipment added to the inability of public hospitals to maintain safe conditions and keep up with the influx of patients. Additionally, Ecuador did not receive sufficient supplies of vaccines, and therefore, struggled to roll out vaccines to frontline workers and vulnerable populations in a timely manner. When the virus hit Quito, hospitals became quickly overwhelmed, forcing most people to seek care in tents outside them.

This was the case for Pilar Salazar, a middle-aged teacher from Comite del Pueblo, an impoverished neighborhood in Northern Quito, who shared her story in an interview with The Borgen Project. When her mother fell sick with the flu, Pilar took her to the hospital, where she received treatment in a tent in the cold outside, without space to distance from other patients. Her mother contracted COVID-19 at the hospital and subsequently gave it to Pilar, her primary caretaker.

Pilar then spent the next two months quarantined in her bedroom with pneumonia developed from COVID-19, unable to go to the hospital because of overcrowding. Her husband passed her oxygen tanks and food through her window while she recovered, unsure if she would survive. This story is not unique during the period of COVID-19 in Quito. Due to a lack of education and infrastructure, COVID-19 ravaged Quito and other Ecuadorian cities. Many of Pilar’s friends and her entire immediate family contracted the virus at some point in 2021, and she still feels damage in her lungs.

Economic Impact of COVID-19 in Ecuador

COVID-19 also deeply impacted Quito economically. The GDP in Ecuador was at risk of dropping 11% from the year 2019 to the year 2020. As one of the more underserved neighborhoods in Quito, Comite del Pueblo was particularly vulnerable to economic decline. When the after-school tutoring foundation that Pilar taught at closed down due to COVID-19, she had deep concern for the 40+ students she taught.

In March 2020, the Ecuadorian government implemented a national school closure. This mandate, still in effect today, affected around 4.5 million Ecuadorian school-aged children.

Pilar explained that without somewhere to go during school hours and after school, children are susceptible to abuse at home and drug trafficking in the area. When the foundation closed, some of her students lost their only place to catch up in school and receive direct homework help, while others lost their only meal of the day. This is the reality of the economic downturn and school shutdowns in an underdeveloped neighborhood during the COVID-19 pandemic in Quito.

Pilar’s Solution

In response to these immense challenges, Pilar has begun renovating a building in her neighborhood on her own to open a foundation for the children in her neighborhood. She is one example of many ways in which people have responded to COVID-19 in Quito with resilience. She said that she wants them to have a safe space to go, to study and succeed away from home and the traumas of daily life.

– Abigail Meyer
Photo: Flickr