Top Indigenous leader arrested in Ecuador

Riot police stand guard outside the Unidad Judicial de Flagrancia (Judicial Unit of Flagrancy), in Quito, on 14 June 2022, where the president of the Confederation of Indigenous Nationalities in Ecuador (Conaie), Leonidas Iza, is supposedly being held for a hearing. (Photo: AFP)

QUITO — Ecuadoran police Tuesday announced the arrest of a top Indigenous leader, Leonidas Iza, who has spearheaded a nationwide protest movement against high fuel prices. اضافة اعلان

The police force tweeted that Iza had been arrested in Pastocalle, about 20km (12miles) south of Quito, on suspicion of unspecified “offenses.”

Pastocalle has been a flash point of protests called by the powerful Confederation of Indigenous Nationalities of Ecuador (CONAIE) against rising fuel prices and living costs, which saw protesters block roads across the country on Monday.

Iza, who heads CONAIE, is in custody awaiting a hearing, the police added.

CONAIE confirmed Iza’s arrest, condemning it as “arbitrary and illegal” and calling for a “radicalization” of the demonstrations in response.

In 2019, CONAIE-led protests resulted in 11 deaths and forced then-president Lenin Moreno to abandon plans to eliminate fuel subsidies. The group is also credited with helping topple three presidents between 1997 and 2005.

Oil-producer Ecuador has been hit by rising inflation, unemployment and poverty, strains exacerbated by the coronavirus pandemic.

President Guillermo Lasso warned late Sunday that the government would not allow roads or Ecuador’s oil installations to be taken over by protesters. But Iza insisted the demonstrations would continue for as long as was necessary.

On Monday, a nationwide demonstration saw roads blocked with burning tires and barricades of sand, rocks and tree branches in at least 10 of Ecuador’s 24 provinces, authorities said, with access to the capital Quito partly cut off.

Fuel prices have risen sharply since 2020, almost doubling for diesel from $1 to $1.90 per gallon (about 3.78 liters) and rising from $1.75 to $2.55 for gasoline.

Lasso froze prices at this level last October after a round of protests led by CONAIE that saw dozens arrested and several people, including police, injured in clashes. But the freeze failed to assuage simmering anger in a country that exports crude oil but imports much of the fuel it consumes.

CONAIE wants the fuel price lowered to $1.50 per gallon for diesel and $2.10 for gasoline.

The protesters are also demanding the government address price controls on agricultural products that hurt farmers and mining concessions granted in Indigenous territories. Indigenous peoples make up over a million of Ecuador’s 17.7 million inhabitants.

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