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Tensions in Ecuador, the bishops’ mediation eases the climate

The situation in Ecuador seems to be calming down, after several days of demonstrations which have claimed three lives. Yesterday began with a general strike and with the prospect that protests across the country against Lenín Moreno's government could result in even more serious clashes than those of the previous days, but the day passed in a somewhat more peaceful atmosphere, thanks also to the intervention of the Church which has come forward to facilitate dialogue between the executive and trade unions and indigenous representatives

The bishops had said they were willing to facilitate dialogue between the Ecuadorian government on the one hand, and trade union and indigenous representatives on the other, and so they did. Keeping in constant (although not officially recognized) contact between the parties involved, they clenched an initial success, along with the UN office in Quito and four universities: easing the climate in Ecuador (which however remains very tense), which was becoming very worrisome, so much so as to fuel speculation that some political sectors in the country were aiming for a coup d’etat.

A first mediation. Instead yesterday, a day that began with a general strike and with the prospect that protests throughout the country against the government of Lenín Moreno could result in even more serious clashes than those of the previous days, which have claimed at least three lives, was spent in a somewhat more peaceful atmosphere. Indeed, The Archbishop of Quito and Primate of Ecuador, Monsignor Alfredo José Espinoza, contacted after negotiations that lasted almost 24 hours straight, told SIR that the first preliminary mediation has achieved two results:

“Even if the situation remains difficult, the attitude of the indigenous population, which has been protesting in the capital for days, has softened somewhat, leading to peaceful demonstrations. In addition to this, both indigenous people and workers’ representatives have publicly expressed their condemnation of and non-involvement with the violent acts that have taken place in recent days”.

The country has been on shutdown for a week. It is worth recalling what has been happening in these past seven days. Ecuador had been ‘set alight’ by government measures, particularly by the decision to liberalise the price of two of the three types of fuel that were still drawing government subsidies. But the government’s measures also included other neo-liberal provisions, such as the reduction of annual paid leave from 30 to 15 days, the retention of one day’s salary of public employees in order to top up the state coffers, and the reform of labour laws – a series of choices contained in the agreement that Moreno signed with the International Monetary Fund. All this took place in a climate of strong divisions in the country between those who support the actions of Moreno and those who are nostalgic for the former president Rafael Correa, one of the leaders of the South American ‘red’ decade, who was initially Moreno’s sponsor in the transfer of power, but who later became his bitter enemy and leads the opposition from abroad (also in order to avoid possible arrest). According to the ‘nostalgic’ ones, Moreno is selling the country to the Monetary Fund. According to the pro-government side, it is a compulsory agreement in order to pay off the debt with China which was previously contracted by Correa, who is himself accused of having tied the country hands and feet to the Asian giant.

The shadow of Correa. The fact is that the measures caused immediate strikes in the transport sector, including roadblocks. Although the government of President Lenín Moreno decreed a state of emergency for sixty days, the demonstrations continued one after the other and also involved the indigenous communities, some of whom took to the cities to demonstrate, in Quito and Cuenca. For security reasons, the President moved to Guayaquil, where a pro-government demonstration was held yesterday. In the capital on Tuesday, a group of demonstrators tried to occupy the Parliament and following this, the president declared a curfew.

From Quito, the missionary fidei donum don Giuliano Vallotto, originally from the diocese of Treviso stated: “The descent of the indigenous people evokes in the historical memory of Ecuador moments of enormous social tension that have sometimes resulted in the removal of the president. The country’s main newspaper (El Comercio) published an editorial claiming the external direction by former president Correa and Maduro. An implausible claim, since both the transport sector and the indigenous people were bitter enemies of Correa”.

The decisive role of the Church. The Archbishop of Quito also believes that conspiracy theories should be avoided: “If I have to give my personal opinion, I don’t believe that indigenous groups are behind the acts of violence. Through our contacts we have been told that they have disowned all violent act, which are instead attributable to easily identifiable political groups (i.e. close to Correa, ed.)”, he stated.

As a Church, we have chosen to intervene not in order to interfere with political decisions, but from a humanitarian standpoint.

We received an informal and unofficial request to facilitate dialogue. I too have personally taken part in long talks with the parties involved, who have also met each other. They had a blunt, tough but positive dialogue, and it has led to a first outline agreement. I must also thank the Salesian Polytechnic University and the Pontifical Catholic University of Ecuador, which also worked to assist the indigenous people camped in the Arbolito park, also giving them use of some of their halls”.

Clearly, proper negotiations have yet to begin, and at the moment only the indigenous organizations seem inclined to sit at the table, but the Ecuadorian Episcopal Conference stated in a communiqué issued yesterday that it was ‘confident’ that a round of negotiations sponsored by the UN and the University can begin. Bishop Espinoza also said he was confident: “It’s a matter of taking one step at a time.

As of today the atmosphere has improved compared to the last few days, when the country was paralysed.

We have also had to close the offices of the Curia. I think it’s important that the indigenous groups and the trade unions have committed themselves to demonstrating peacefully. The fact that historically, the Church has been close to and helped the indigenous peoples” has been of great help. Bishop Espinoza does not enter into the merits of political decisions, “but as ecclesial organizations and as bishops we have always had a clear standard, which was also echoed these days by the Jesuits and by the Conference: “The measures must not weigh on the poorer classes”.

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