Ecuadorians like to engage in protest. They have had a democratic form of government for only forty or so years, so they like to exercise the right to express themselves. There have been huge demonstrations quite regularly since we have arrived. The US government sends an email each time a large organized protest is planned, telling us to stay away from the action, that violence is often an outcome of the demonstrations, that police will be out in force and use teargas to manage the crowds, that transportation will be disrupted and to try to avoid the protest. Which is exactly what I done with each 'manifestacion'.
Last Wednesday and today, we were warned about university students protesting at the President's palace. There is a new higher education law which the students disagree with, and they are out in force each week. When I arrived at the Plaza Grande today, as part of a 'Quito at Night' outing with my school, I was expecting some evidence of the protests, but found only a small group waving lime green banners, listening to a man in a megaphone. I asked our guide, Diego, what was being said, and his response was that this group, identifiable by their bright green colour, were out every night supporting the government, and that the government actually paid them to express their positive feelings about the president and his allies. I guess it is a way to provide balance, since most of the protesters demonstrate against the government and the president. In fact, Correa's approval ratings have plummeted, although he still retains just a little more than 50 % approval.
President Correa's Paid SupportersIn the latter part of September and the early part of October, there were large demonstrations against the government by indigenous groups. Roads were closed and parts of the country were entirely shut down. Everyday, scores of people expressed their disapproval of the government in the Plaza Grande as well as in the other major cities and many of the jungle settlements. some violence and deaths were reported. Ultimately, Correa agreed to negotiate with the protesters, and the demonstrations fizzled.The federally employed teachers had protested in several cities early in September, and although I saw nothing, the news reported clashes between protesters and the police and some destruction of property. The photos of the streets once they were empty certainly suggested chaos and property damage. The students at Mejia High school protested one day last week, filling Seis di Diciembre for long stretches, their marching band providing a beat while the students shouted slogans, and demanding a new director and a return to school (the school had been closed for some weeks due to some dispute between the principal and the government). The police led and followed the group of students in their uniforms and it was orderly and controlled.
Plaza Grande, Archbishop's Palace
Plaza Grande, Archbishop's Palace
Protesting is one way in which Ecuadorians can express their views or their support and to feel part of the democracy. Most people vote, and there are no qualms about a demonstration.
Our outing to the old city began in the 'Alameda', a park where Eloy Alfaro, the first 'liberal' president after government after government of conservatives, was dragged to his death by his assassins. Ecuadorians have had a few presidents assassinated by opposing parties over the years. Garcia Moreno was stabbed to death in front of the Presidential Palace in the Plaza Grande. Our next stop was the Plaza del Teatro, where we saw a large group of spectators watching a man in white face paint engaging in a dialogue with a member of the audience. Diego explained that there is always some form of street theatre going on, directed to local politics and satire. Often the activity on the street is more interesting than anything going on in the grand old theatre itself.Plaza Teatro
The Centro Historico is beautiful at night. The churches are brightly lit, wispy clouds are descending over the mountains that circle the city, there are musicians at many corners and there is always much activity. We walked through the Plaza Grande and to Plaza San Francisco, where a platform was set up with three poles topped with what appeared to be all sorts of toys and plates and mementos. We discovered that the poles were covered with wax and that there would be a contest tomorrow wherein contestants would try to scale the poles (which is extremely difficult, most people keep sliding down to the bottom) to reach a prize. I was unable to find out what sort of fiesta this would be. Diego told me there are festivals in Quito and in Ecuador all the time and many of them are local and unknown to those that are not part of the community involved.
An evening in the old town is never complete without a visit to La Ronda and a taste of canelazo, a warm drink with sugar cane whisky and narajilla or mora juice. We were too early for much action in the restaurants, where the musicians were just warming up and getting ready for the crowds to come. I had made arrangements to see another folkloric dance performance at 'Humanizarte' near the Mariscal.
It was an entirely different experience than Jacchigua, the performance I had seen at the Casa de la Cultura. The costumes were no different, but there was a clear differentiation between indigenous and Spanish dances, and most of the music and the dances appeared to be earlier versions, less 'performance' and more 'tradition'. I am not sure that I can explain it better.