Indigenous protesters are paralyzing Ecuador. Here’s why. (Washington Post)

QUITO, ECUADOR — The Indigenous protesters of Ecuador have been credited in the past with bringing the country to its knees — and chasing three presidents from office.

Now, the South American country’s powerful Indigenous movement has taken to the streets again, spearheading 12 days of nationwide protests that have paralyzed the capital and tested the government of Guillermo Lasso, one of the last conservative leaders on the continent, just a year into his presidency.

Demonstrators have marched through Quito, clashed with police and blocked highways across the country, causing shortages of food and fuel. As government forces have sought to quell the rising protests this week, at least four people have died, four have disappeared and 93 have been injured. Dozens have been arrested, according to local human rights groups, and at least 114 police officers have been injured, authorities say.

As in 2019, when pre-pandemic protests led by theIndigenous brought Ecuador to a standstill, organizers are harnessing frustration over fuel prices. Gasoline costs less in Ecuador than in other countries in the region, but thegovernment last year cut long-running subsidies, causing prices at the pump to nearly double.

But this time, the Confederation of Indigenous Nationalities of Ecuador is asking for more. The movement is calling for economic reforms to address widening inequality in a country still suffering from the economic havoc wrought bythe pandemic, which was particularly lethal here.

Indigenous and rural communities, protesters say, have been disproportionately hurt by inflation, soaring gas prices and austerity measures. The organization has presented the government with a list of 10 demands, including a better job-creation plan, increased investment in public education and health care, and a halt to oil and mining expansion.

Mario Granja joined demonstrators this week on the Avenida 12 de Octubre in central Quito.Police had blocked traffic on the normally busy street; protesters lit eucalyptus fires in an effort to ward off the effects of the eye-burning tear gas that lingered in the air.

“I come here to fight for fuel prices … for our children’s education, and for work,” the 57-year-old construction worker said. “We want the president to leave. He is lying to the people, and the people are tired of being deceived.”

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