I am making an effort to understand the internal politics of Ecuador. Since nothing appears on the BBC or NPR website, nor does the New York Times have much to say about the country, I spend some time everyday reading the local newspaper. I am so limited in my language skills, that I can only guess at the general sense of each article, so I am not too far along in understanding much of anything. I do hear snippets from our Ecuadorian freinds, most of whom express unease with the direction of the current government. Investments are down, the economy is struggling, the president is making an effort to change the constitution so to remain in power longer (which makes everyone nervous).
The streets of many major cities have been full of protestors the past few days. There are teachers demonstrating in the larger cities (for better salaries and improved conditions in the schools), and throughout the country the indigenous groups have banded together to protest changes in the way that water is distributed in each district. In the past, water use was determined by the local 'jefe' in each district. Correa now wants to change the way that water is allocated, and this has created much discomfort throughout the indigenous community. There is also a sense that water rights are just the beginning of a series of changes in management and distribution of resources. A countrywide strike was planned, and we were warned that the main roads to and from Quito would be blocked. That is why Tom rushed home from Yanayacu last weekend; he was worried that we would not get through the roadblocks. Luckily, we encountered nothing to prevent us from making it home. The protests began on Monday, and when Erika tried to fly to Coca on her way to Shiripuno in Haourani territory to do some work for Eric, her flight left early (so she missed it) to avoid problems landing on the runway at its destination.
Some streets in Quito were crowded with demonstrators Monday and Tuesday. Correa managed to arrange for talks some indigenous leaders from the Sierra, which resulted in a splintering of the groups from the Sierra and from those in the Amazon, who were not able to dialogue with the president. The protests continued in the jungle and became violent. Riot police were called in and two individuals were shot and killed. The disagreement is not only about water; the national government wants more control of what was orginally taken care of by local leaders.
When we walked through the historic centre Wednesday, the main plaza was packed with protesters wearing red shirts or bandanas and using a megaphone for their speeches. We entered the square through a throng of riot police, but they did not interfere with the protestors and did not appear to expect much. The speeches were about jobs and pay and economic survival.
Ecuadorians like to demonstrate. I remember that Eric informed me of that years ago. During his visits he has seen parades and protests and burnt tires and roadblocks. Governments have changed frequently over the years, and the people have been able to express their support or disgust on the streets. Most of the population votes, and they like to express themselves, and violence is infrequent. I am not sure how concerned I should be about the current events, but there is a sense of unease amongst those who talk to me about what is happening.
There is a heightened police presence in Quito, not only to monitor the protesters. The police are checking drivers for licenses and registration and pushing their weight around. The government calls this a 'state of exception' for the next 60 days. The police and the military will join in an effort to manage the crimewave that has struck Quito, Guayaquil and Manta (Eric's theft experience being one of many); the expectation is that the criminals will lay low for a while, and our lives may be safer for the time the streets are ruled by the police. More than likely, life will return to 'normal' after the 60 days.