There are protests in Ecuador every day. I was taking the Ecovia to the Centro Historico when we were stopped at the Casa de la Cultura. The National Assembly is just up the road and is the site of regular marches and speeches. A coalition of indigenous groups have joined together to fight the proposed 'Ley de Aguas'. The riot police were out in force. By the time I walked toward the group of protesters, they had dispersed. A makeshift stage with rainbow coloured flags drew an audience away from the protesters. I saw no gringos nearby, so I stayed on the outskirts of the crowds.
I had read in the paper this morning that the roads to and from Otavalo are impassable because of similar protests and that tourists are unable to leave the city, but that the Plaza de Ponchos is empty and the local vendors are suffering. My understanding is that the water was traditionally distributed by the local chief of the community. The indigneous groups believe that the government will give control of the water to businesses which will not be concerned with the local populations.
Protests are usually peaceful, but occasionally violence erupts. In Guayaquil a few months ago, a policeman was burnt seriously by a Molotov cocktail thrown by a student. In Quito, a group of high school students were marching to express their objections to the rising price of bread, and the police used tear gas and shot out the eye of a teenager. Although there are riot police at every gathering, armed with shields and tear gas canisters and guns, I wonder whether they have adequate training at managing angry crowds.
Ecuadorians have a tradition of taking to the streets to express their views. We encountered a group in front of the Presidential Palace Friday with handwritten placards explaining their position. They were oil workers from Lago Agrio who were not being paid adequately for their services. They stood quietly and sternly and hardly moved. A group of riot police in full battle gear waited casually a few feet away. I have seen larger and louder crowds; sometimes they are wearing flourescent green and supporting the president. Megaphones are used to lead a chant or give a speech.
I tried to wait a short while to see if the Ecovia would start going again, but being at the Casa de la Cultura and being close to one of my favourite museums, it made sense to spend a few hours in the Banco Central admiring the archeological collection. It was a sunny gorgeous day when I came out, so it felt good to walk a few stops further down Seis de Diciembre to catch the Ecovia back home. I am appreciating the summer weather!