QUITO, Oct 26 (Reuters) – Thousands of demonstrators on Tuesday protested against the economic policies of conservative Ecuadorean President Guillermo Lasso, days after he raised gasoline prices, with roadblocks set up in some parts of the country.
Lasso, an ex-banker who took office in May, last week scrapped planned incremental rises in gasoline charges, meant to eventually align with international costs, following pressure by indigenous and other organizations.
He opted instead to raise the price of gasoline extra, a higher octane gasoline that is the country’s most-used fuel, to a fixed $2.55 a gallon and diesel to $1.90 a gallon.
But unions and other groups want Lasso to freeze prices at lower rates and to exempt sectors hit hard by COVID-19.
Lasso is already negotiating a potential compensation scheme with the trucking industry and says he is open to talks with other groups.
Gasoline costs have risen significantly since Lasso’s predecessor Lenin Moreno began monthly increases in May 2020.
“We don’t agree that the measures implemented because of the crisis should fall on workers and the middle class,” said university professor Victor Sanchez, 55, as he marched in central Quito with about 1,000 others.
Police used tear gas in the capital amid small clashes with protesters, while officers on horseback blocked the entrance to the plaza that had been the marchers’ destination.
In other areas, including on the road which connects Quito to the country’s north, highways were blocked with earth and trees by indigenous groups.
Roads in various Andean provinces were closed, emergency services ECU 911 said, while indigenous organization CONFENIAE said some roadways in the country’s Amazon region had been shuttered from the early morning.
“We didn’t come to destabilize, we came to make economic demands of the government,” Leonidas Iza, president of the Ecuador Confederation of Indigenous Nations (CONAIE), told demonstrators in Panzaleo, in central Ecuador.
The CONAIE posted a video on Twitter it said showed police using tear gas in southern Ecuador.
Presidential spokesman Carlos Jijon told journalists earlier on Tuesday all highways were functioning and 18 people were arrested for blocking transit.
“As of now it’s a rural protest of low intensity,” Jijon said. “The government intends to maintain order and help those who wish to go to work.”
Reporting by Alexandra Valencia; additional reporting by Tito Correa Writing by Julia Symmes Cobb Editing by Rosalba O’Brien and Marguerita Choy