Ecuador’s President Guillermo Lasso has lifted the state of emergency imposed in six provinces amid mass protests by indigenous groups as lawmakers began hearing an opposition motion to remove him from office.
Lasso’s decision on Saturday followed the first official talks between government officials and Ecuador’s largest indigenous organization, which started protests two weeks ago to demand cuts in gasoline prices, price controls on agricultural products, and a bigger budget for education.
The meeting was held at the basilica church in Quito’s colonial center and attended by Secretary of State Francisco Jimenez, Secretary of State Juan Carlos Holguin, President of the Confederation of Indigenous Nationalities of Ecuador (CONAIE) Leonidas Iza, and other social leaders.
After the talks, Lasso relaxed security measures as requested by the indigenous leaders.
“The national government reaffirms its willingness to guarantee the creation of spaces for peace, in which Ecuadorians can gradually resume their activities,” his office said.
Iza said indigenous groups would partially open roads blocked during protests to allow food into the capital, where residents have complained about low supplies, but would remain in Quito until they get a satisfactory response from Lasso.
“Instead of scaring us more, they have increased our rebellion and dignity,” he said.
Virgilio Saquicela, president of Ecuador’s National Assembly, told reporters that a committee would be formed to facilitate dialogue to end the protests.
“No commitment has been made, just a decision by the [Indigenous confederation] … to consult its bases on the designation of a commission to initiate this dialogue,” Saquicela said, adding that “the government has made the corresponding opening”.
The protests, which began on June 13, have resulted in at least six civilian deaths and have exacerbated Lasso’s hostile relationship with the National Assembly, where lawmakers have blocked his key economic proposals as he struggled to stem the mounting violence he blames on drug gangs into checkers. †
In a virtual session on Saturday night, the meeting heard a request from the opposition Union for Hope party, linked to former President Rafael Correa, to remove Lasso.
The request was based on a state of emergency declared over “severe internal unrest”, which has now been lifted.
It would take the votes of at least 92 lawmakers from the 137-seat parliament to remove Lasso, while the Union for Hope has only 47 seats.
Lasso, who is in self-isolation due to COVID-19, can plead his case.
Once the debate is concluded, lawmakers will have 72 hours to decide on the course of action.
The government’s legal representative, Fabian Pozo, told the National Assembly that the country was slowly returning to normal and that the government had listened to the legitimate demands of the protesters.
This week the government also announced subsidized fertilizers, debt forgiveness, and budget increases for health care and education. However, formal talks between the government and protesters had stalled for days as clashes continued during marches.
On Thursday, the indigenous confederation said a protester died of bullet wounds to the chest and abdomen while protesting near the National Assembly in Quito, where about 100 others suffered various injuries.
Police tweeted that pellets also injured officers.
Reports have also come in of protesters attacking vehicles, civilians, and businesses, forcing some to shut down.
Authorities say the unrest has been costly, with losses of about $50 million daily to the economy, while fuel production, Ecuador’s largest export, has halved.
The International Monetary Fund on Friday approved the release of $1 billion in funding to Ecuador after two reviews of a $6.5 billion loan, of which $4.8 billion has been disbursed to date.
The payment is intended to bolster Ecuador’s economic recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic, restore fiscal sustainability and reduce government debt.