Ecuador’s indigenous people are leading the anti-government protests. They have a record of ousting presidents. (Washington Post)

QUITO, ECUADOR – Juan Oshcu traveled more than six hours from his rural farm, walking and hitching rides, to reach the Ecuadoran capital. For three nights, he’s slept on wooden benches in one of the city’s cultural centers, a temporary base for the thousands of indigenous protesters who have arrived here this week.

“We have risen to say, in one united voice, ‘Enough, Mr. President!’ ” said Oshcu, a small-scale farmer from the indigenous Kichwa community of Latacunga.

Labor unions, women’s rights groups and students are protesting the austerity package introduced this month by President Lenín Moreno. But Ecuador’s majority indigenous population is at the heart of the demonstrations that have paralyzed this South American country — a challenging development for Moreno, given the movement’s success at ousting previous presidents.

Demonstrators returned to the streets Thursday for an eighth day of protests in Quito and other cities, sparked last week when Moreno announced labor and tax changes and withdrew decades-old fuel subsidies — part of a belt-tightening program required under a $4.2 billion loan from the International Monetary Fund.

Protesters have blocked streets in the capital and highways in the countryside, have occupied government buildings, oil fields, ­water-treatment facilities and a hydroelectric plant, and have clashed with security forces. Moreno has called for dialogue but said he won’t reverse the austerity measures, which he said are needed after years of overspending by his predecessor, Rafael Correa.

“It’s necessary to correct grave economic errors,” he said last week.

Moreno declared a state of emergency and, as protesters descended on the capital this week, moved his administration 270 miles south to the port city of Guayaquil. Security forces have surrounded key facilities and fired tear gas and pepper spray. Five people have been killed, scores wounded and more than 680 arrested. Officials have put losses at more than $1 billion.

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Photo Credit: David Diaz Arcos/Bloomberg

 

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