Wednesday, March 22, 2006


This follow up on the situation in Ecuador is from the Spanish News Agency EFE.

Protests convulse Ecuador

Quito, Mar 22 (EFE).- Soldiers in armored personnel carriers and on bulldozers deployed in six provinces of central Ecuador on Wednesday to remove barricades blocking highways and enforce a rights-suspending state-of-emergency imposed to quell protests against a free-trade treaty with the United States.

The government decreed the military deployment Tuesday in response to the widespread demonstrations by supporters of the Andean nation's Indian federation, which has denounced and defied the measure, creating a climate of uncertainty over the country's immediate political future.

The outcome of the confrontation between the powerful Confederation of Indigenous Nationalities, or Conaie, which is spearheading the protests, and the weak and unstable administration of President Alfredo Palacio is difficult to predict and its political repercussions uncertain.

In Cotopaxi province, where demonstrators urged on by area mayors had blocked roads to press demands for infrastructure funding, the protests subsided after the government on Tuesday evening delivered some $42 million to local authorities.

On Monday night and early Tuesday, Indians in that region, who have also demanded the termination of the Ecuadorian government's contract with U.S. oil company Occidental Petroleum, citing alleged breach of contract, kept some roads blocked while the army removed barricades in other areas.

Conaie has decided to continue blockading many roads in the Andean highland region, although some of the federation's members told EFE on a road south of Quito that they would avoid clashing with security forces.

Gilberto Talahua, coordinator of the Pachakutik Movement, Conaie's political arm and the Indians' loudest institutional voice, also told EFE that the indigenous protest would continue and be further bolstered with the support of other social sectors that have offered to back their cause.

Talahua referred to Palacio as a "coward" and said that the state-of-emergency decree, which restricts certain constitutional rights including freedom of assembly, shows the government's "inability" to solve problems.

It also shows Palacio's "intolerance of his own people," he said.

"We Indians are not going to back down and alongside us are several other social sectors; our struggle is for the country, not our individual interests," said Talahua, who added that "all cowardly, mendacious and corrupt governments do these kinds of actions, which we don't fear anymore." On Tuesday, Interior Minister Felipe Vega, the fifth to occupy this post in Palacio's 11 months in office, announced the state of emergency in a press conference. The measure left the provinces of Tungurahua, Imbabura, Chimborazo, Cotopaxi, CaƱar and part of Pichincha under military control.

According to Vega, who was sworn in Monday after his predecessor resigned last week, the goal of the state of emergency is to "guarantee freedom of transit" within the national territory, as is provided for in the constitution, and put an end to the supply shortages - especially of food and fuel - that have begun to affect central Ecuador.

Vega noted that no arrest warrants have been issued with any Indian leaders, but added that it was necessary to have "a country at peace in order to work" and defended the free-trade negotiations with the United States.

The Indians, for their part, have said they will not halt their protests until the government calls off the talks on a free-trade deal, which they say would be ruinous for the nation's poor people and benefit only the wealthy and powerful, especially the United States. Talks are set to resume Thursday in Washington.

"The pressure Palacio must be receiving (in favor of the free-trade pact) surely is coming from the business leaders, the multinationals, the U.S. embassy," said Talahua, who again denounced the state of emergency and the "attitude of a weak government, which props itself up with these kinds of measures."

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