Ecuador has endured days of popular upheaval since President Lenín Moreno scrapped fuel price subsidies, a step that set off protests and clashes across the small South American country. Here’s a look at the chaos that has plunged Ecuador into one of its worst political crises in many years:
WHY IS THE COUNTRY IN TUMULT?
Last week, Moreno declared an end to government subsidies that had been holding down fuel prices, saying the move was part of a package of measures designed to revitalize Ecuador’s economy. The announcement triggered a strike by transport workers that ended a few days later, but clashes involving youths and also members of Ecuador’s indigenous communities have kept up pressure on the government.
The widespread unrest reflects a sense of alienation among many people who were already suffering economic hardship. Economic problems stem from the high public indebtedness inherited from the 2007-2017 administration of President Rafael Correa. His successor, Moreno, has also sought credit with international agencies, especially the International Monetary Fund.
HOW IS MORENO HANDLING THE CRISIS?
The president has taken a firm stance, saying he will not budge on the end to fuel subsidies and imposing a state of emergency when protests started to become chaotic. The government says about 350 people have been detained for blocking traffic, interrupting public services or attacking police.
Moreno may be hoping to ride out the demonstrations in the belief that they will eventually subside. But the situation has turned increasingly sour, with the emergence of protesters from indigenous communities highlighting widening divisions. There have been reports of looting and signs of food scarcity in some markets in the country, deepening the burden on people who were already struggling to meet basic needs.
The government says economic paralysis from the street protests is causing the country $70 million a day, a situation that is likely to fuel public dissatisfaction the longer it continues.
HOW VULNERABLE IS MORENO?
Ecuador’s president announced in a national broadcast Monday night that has moved the government’s administration from Quito to the port city of Guayaquil, speaking after another day of protests, road blockades and other disruptions.
But despite the political uncertainty and swirling rumors about the president, some analysts believe he is not in immediate danger of being ousted or forced to resign. He appears to have the support of the military.
Furthermore, the opposition is divided between those moving away from the legacy of Correa and stalwart backers of the former leader, whose administration was tarnished by corruption concerns.
IS THERE A PRECEDENT FOR ECUADOR’S CRISIS?
The Andean nation has experienced similar challenges to its stability in the past.
Most recently, in 2005, President Lucio Gutiérrez, a retired military officer, resigned after several days of protests, including by members of indigenous groups. The military tacitly approved of his resignation, which followed growing opposition to some of his policies, including the dismissal of top judges.
Gutiérrez, who was accused of authoritarian tendencies, was succeeded by his vice president, Alfredo Palacio. Gutiérrez later ran unsuccessfully for president, losing to Correa.