General Strike Paralyzes Ecuador as President Stands by Austerity Measures
GUAYAQUIL, Ecuador—A general strike paralyzed much of Ecuador on Wednesday as week- old protests against President Lenin Moreno’s decision to eliminate fuel subsidies continued and the government scrambled to restore order. Shops, factories and schools closed as thousands of indigenous demonstrators, many with their faces masked and wearing traditional bowler hats, converged on the capital of Quito to demonstrate against austerity measures that Mr. Moreno says are necessary to fix the country’s economy.
But the social turmoil has failed so far to cripple the government. Looting and riots have roiled Ecuador in recent days as Mr. Moreno abruptly decided this week to temporarily move the seat of his government 170 miles south to Guayaquil to avoid further confrontation. But in another surprise move, Mr. Moreno returned to Quito on Wednesday in a show of strength despite pockets of violent clashes between demonstrators and state security forces. The president was expected to return later in the day to Guayaquil, where a separate rally had been organized by Ecuadoreans rejecting violent protest tactics that damaged historical sites, police stations and oil-production facilities.
Mr. Moreno has remained defiant, saying he would neither step down nor revert the decision on the fuel subsidy. He also has maintained the backing of the military and key business sectors, while his aides said they were engaging in early-stage negotiations with the indigenous groups leading the demonstrations. The United Nations and the Catholic Church are serving as mediators.
“Today, it seems the government has the resources to resolve the conflict and retain power,” Sebastian Hurtado, director of risk consulting firm Profitas, said in a report.