QUITO, Ecuador (AP) — The Latest on Ecuador’s political crisis (all times local):
Indigenous leaders of protests that have paralyzed Ecuador’s economy for nearly a week say they are willing to negotiate with President Lenín Moreno, signaling a possible exit from the crisis.
The Confederation of Indigenous Nations of Ecuador says on its Twitter account that after internal discussion “we have decided to participate in direct dialogue” with Moreno.
Minutes after that tweet Saturday afternoon, Leonidas Iza, a Quechua leader from mountainous Cotopaxi province, told Ecuavisa television that “we have asked for minimal conditions for dialogue,” including what he called an end to government violence against protesters.
Until Friday, indigenous protesters had refused to negotiate until Moreno restored fuel subsidies whose cancelations prompted days of protests around Ecuador.
An indigenous leader and four other people have died, according to the public defender’s office.
As a military helicopter circled overhead, a volunteer clown in a red rubber nose sang a nonsense song to laughing children outside a public theater.
Volunteers inside handed juice and sandwiches to members of the Shuar people newly arrived from the Amazon rainforest. Some had black face paint and hand-carved wooden spears that poked above the indigenous demonstrators who’ve taken over the sprawling state-run complex known as the Casa de la Cultura.
A few blocks away, groups of young, stone-throwing protesters battled police with rocks. On Friday afternoon, the street fighters reached the main entrance of the National Assembly before they were driven back by tear gas in the fifth consecutive day of clashes in the heart of Quito, Ecuador’s capital.
This is the field of the main battle for control of the economic future of Ecuador, a former OPEC member left deeply in debt by a decade of high-spending governance and the oil price drop. Faced with a $64 billion debt and a $10 billion annual deficit, President Lenin Moreno is raising taxes, liberalizing labor laws and cutting public spending in order to win more than $4 billion in emergency financing from the International Monetary Fund.
As part of that plan, Moreno eliminated a subsidy on the price of fuel on Oct. 2, driving the most popular variety of gasoline from $1.85 to $2.39 a gallon and diesel from $1.03 to $2.30. Panic and speculation sent prices soaring, with costs of some products — papayas, rural bus fares — doubling or more.