QUITO, July 1, 2022 (AFP) – Thousands of Indigenous protesters left the Ecuadoran capital of Quito Thursday evening after their leaders and the government signed a deal that would cut fuel prices and end their cost-of-living demonstrations that largely paralyzed the country for 18 straight days.
The agreement, mediated by the Catholic Church and signed in Quito, provides for a five-cent-per-gallon reduction in the price of diesel and gasoline on top of a 10-cent cut already conceded by the government.
“Very likely we are tired… so it’s time to go home,” protest leader Leonidas Iza told a crowd of some 4,000 demonstrators after announcing an end to the protests earlier in the day.
The Indigenous protesters funneled out of the city peacefully in buses and trucks, many of them waving Ecuadoran and Indigenous multi-color wiphala flags.
President Guillermo Lasso, for his part, said on Twitter that the parties had achieved “the supreme value to which we all aspire: peace in our country.”
Later, in a radio and television broadcast, he said it was “time to heal wounds, to overcome the division between Ecuadorians and unite in a single objective: to rebuild Ecuador.”
Fast-rising fuel prices were the catalyst for the protests called by the powerful Confederation of Indigenous Nationalities (Conaie) and marked by burning roadblocks and sometimes violent clashes with the security forces.
Five civilians and a soldier have died since the protests started on June 13, hundreds were injured on both sides, and some 150 people have been arrested.
Signed by Conaie leader Iza and government minister Francisco Jimenez, the agreement foresees further negotiations between the two sides, an end to the disruptive roadblocks erected countrywide, and the lifting of a state of emergency in four of Ecuador’s 24 provinces.
It also provides for a review of government decrees on oil exploitation and mining in Indigenous lands.
An estimated 14,000 Ecuadorans — most of them in Quito — took part in the mass show of discontent against deepening hardship in an economy dealt a serious blow by the coronavirus pandemic.
Thursday’s agreement provides for “the cessation of the mobilizations and the gradual return (of the demonstrators) to the territories” where they came from to join the protest.
In a statement, the UN office in Ecuador welcomed the protests’ end and indicated that guarantees of peace were essential in “addressing polarization and exclusion, and in moving towards reconciliation.”
Indigenous people make up more than a million of the South American nation’s 17.7 million inhabitants.
The protesters called for fuel price cuts, jobs, food price controls and more public spending on healthcare and education.
Among the concessions made, Lasso increased from $50 to $55 the monthly aid for Ecuador’s poorest inhabitants, and cancelled small loans held by rural Ecuadorans with the public bank.
Iza vowed Thursday that “we will continue the fight” for a better life, including for a raise in the fuel subsidy for rural Indigenous people.
Thousands of Indigenous protesters who had gathered outside the negotiations venue with makeshift shields met the news that an agreement was struck with cheers, then dispersed peacefully.
Celebratory car horns were sounded on the streets of the capital, where many workers and business owners had been exasperated by the effect of the mobilization on their lives and livelihoods.
Talks to end the protests had started on Monday but were cut short the following day after the killing of a soldier that the government blamed on protesters.
On Wednesday, the government said it would re-enter the talks, but also imposed a fresh state of emergency as violence continued to mar the uprising.
The protests have been costly, with losses of some $50 million per day to the economy, according to the government, which has warned oil production — already halved — could come to a complete halt soon.
Crude is the South American country’s main export, but production has been halved from the pre-protest rate of some 520,000 barrels per day, the government said.
Lasso survived an impeachment vote Tuesday brought by opposition politicians blaming him for the “serious political crisis and internal commotion” caused by the standoff.
Protest instigator Conaie is credited with unseating three presidents between 1997 and 2005.
“Only the struggle has allowed us to secure rights!” the body tweeted on Thursday.
“We have… achieved measures to alleviate the economic situation, health and education of vulnerable rural and urban families,” it added.
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.
© Agence France-Presse