The Social Tensions in Ecuador

For the last 30 years Ecuador has been subject to recurring social conflicts in which CONAIE (Confederation of Indigenous Nationalities of Ecuador, founded in 1986 and representing 1,550 communities from the Ecuadorian Amazon) has played a prominent part, thanks above all to its network of militants deeply rooted in the territory and to its ability to repeatedly obstruct the neo-liberal policies of the current president with strikes, demonstrations and blockades. CONAIE played a central role in the uprisings that overthrew three presidents between 1997 and 2005. In October 2019, as part of the estallido social (social outbreak) that swept through South America, CONAIE led the struggles against Lenin Moreno's government and its policies to reduce public spending, liberalise trade, and create job insecurity, etc., to the benefit of the richest in the country. On 4 October 2019, under the direction of CONAIE and the FUT (United Workers' Front), a strike in the transport sector quickly spread to other sectors, becoming a "Paro Nacional" (national strike). After 11 days of hard struggle and repression, Moreno abandoned the plan to remove fuel subsidies and other austerity policies that would have a major impact on workers and indigenous communities. At the end of the 11 days of paro 11 were dead and over a thousand injured. However, the final agreement between CONAIE and the government was only reluctantly accepted by a large part of the movement's rank and file.

In April 2021 Guillermo Lasso, entrepreneur, banker, conservative, member of Opus Dei, became President luckily winning the elections. This was mainly due to the disagreements in the “progressive” electoral front between the social movements and supporters of the previous President Correa. He is the first conservative president in over 20 years and won with only 20% of the vote which prevented him from obtaining a majority in parliament.

He had already tried to raise the price of fuel in October 2021, but had to give up due to the conflicts that ensued. The same situation still existed in January 2022, and the President was again defeated.

The indigenous population and Ecuadorian workers have been severely hit by inflation, unemployment, poverty, a condition exacerbated by the Covid epidemic and the ongoing economic crisis. Since 2020 the cost of a gallon of diesel has gone from $1 to $1.90, for petrol from $1.75 to $ 2.55. The country is also experiencing an important wave of violence caused by fighting between gangs of drug traffickers. This has led to a series of prison riots which have caused at least 350 deaths among prisoners in the last year.(1)


In May, following Ecuador's declaration of default, the Quito government and the IMF reached a technical agreement on a change in the country's economic policies in exchange for a new one billion dollar loan. On 13 June, CONAIE called an indefinite general strike, accompanied by road blocks across the whole country, a method of struggle that had already been used intensively, for example, by the Piqueteros movement in Argentina in 2001, and by the Gilets Jaunes in France in 2019. The mobilisation aimed at countering the attacks and neo-liberal policies of the government that have increased poverty, reduced public investments in health and education, as well as support programmes for the poor, increased insecurity and violence in various areas of the country, increased oil and mining activities, and violated the "collective rights" of indigenous people and the population of African origin in the country. The significant and rapid rise in the cost of living and fuel was the spark. CONAIE responded to this situation with a list of 10 demands:

  1. A cut in the cost of fuel (to $1.50 for diesel and $2.10 for gasoline) and subsidies to vulnerable sectors.
  2. A moratorium on debts with public, private and cooperative banks. Debt forgiveness of small and medium-sized agricultural producers.
  3. Fair prices for agricultural products, agricultural subsidies, no free trade agreements.
  4. Employment, labour rights, freedom of association and organisation for the working class.
  5. An end to the expansion of mining and oil extraction activities, repair of socio/environmental impacts (the damage to forests caused by mining and oil extraction and transport is increasingly important, polluting the aquifers and threatening the survival of many indigenous communities).
  6. Respect for the 21 "collective rights" of the indigenous population: intercultural bilingual education, indigenous justice, free and informed prior consultation, organisation and self-determination of indigenous peoples.
  7. End the privatisation of the country's key sectors.
  8. Bring in price controls to end speculation in the markets for basic necessities.
  9. Guarantee access to education for young people and improvement of school and university infrastructures.
  10. Security policies to stem the tide of violence and crime in the country.

The government response from the beginning of the movement has been to stigmatise, repress and criminalise the ongoing protests in different areas of the country. On 14 June, Leonidas Iza Salazar, president of CONAIE and leader of the indigenous movement in the country, along with many other protesters, was arrested and charged with sabotage and disruption of public service for participating in the roadblock of the Pan-American Highway in the province of Cotopaxi. Subsequent protests led to the release of Leonidas – who is currently awaiting trial set for 4 July – but also led to the radicalisation of the movement. In the afternoon, thousands of protesters flocked to Latacunga, 50km south of Quito, and other small towns with large indigenous populations, to protest against Leonidas’ arrest. Here the first clashes with the police took place and other groups and students began to join the movement in protest against the economic reforms of Lasso.

The president responded to the protests by claiming that he would not allow them to interrupt the economic recovery (??) and that he would punish any vandalism. PetroOriental, the Ecuadorian oil company, said it was losing about 1,400 barrels of oil per day and that it had closed 8 wells in the province of Orellana after a group from the Yawepare community occupied the facilities, blocked access roads and punctured the tyres of the vehicles with spears.(2)

On 17 June, in a vain attempt to stem the protests, Lasso declared a State of Emergency in the three provinces of Cotopaxi, Imbabura, and Pichincha (which includes Quito).

On 20 June this was extended to 3 other provinces (there are 24 in all) even though the demonstrators were not put off having already trampled on the first provision and continued with the mobilisation. The State of Emergency brings the situation closer to a police state by significantly extending the powers of the President, and of the police, who can fire on demonstrators. Tens of thousands of protesters still continued to march through the streets of Quito and the important commercial city of Guayaquil, on the coast. Over 100 were arrested. The demonstrations were attacked with tear gas, water cannons and rubber bullets provoking a solid and organised response from the protesters. In this phase, more than a hundred were wounded and three were already dead.

At the same time Lasso responded to the 10 points of the movement's claim(3), and on 21 June proposed a meeting to start "a frank and respectful process of dialogue" with CONAIE who, in turn, replied that no meeting was possible until Lasso had withdrawn the police from the streets and revoked the State of Emergency, conditions rejected by the government.

On Wednesday 22 June, the Tungurahua power plant, one of the country's largest, was occupied and closed.

On Thursday 23 June at the end of a new peaceful demonstration with over 10,000 participants in Quito (see the link below for an explanatory video on the type of demonstrations in progress(4)) Leonidas made a proposal to discuss with Lasso without intermediaries and with the commitment to respect the agreements. Lasso replied that he was unable to due to Covid infection. During the night the middle and upper classes organised marches against the indigenous presence in the capital, full of hate speech against the protesters who they called "terrorists" but these marches were poorly supported.

On Friday 25 June Lasso accused Leonidas of using the strike to prepare a coup.

On 25 June the police entered the House of Culture in Quito with the excuse of looking for explosives, The House of Culture with its surrounding park, had become the base for thousands of militants and social organisations. The police now occupied it and transformed it into their operational headquarters. Since the founding of the House of Culture in 1944, the only other episode of a similar police occupation occurred during the military dictatorship, in 1963.(5) On the same day the opposition threatened to bring forward a motion for the resignation of Lasso, who, to save himself, on Sunday 26 June surprisingly revoked the state of emergency in the 6 provinces while after a new day of violent clashes the demonstrators recaptured the House of Culture(6) driving away the police. A first meeting was then held between the government and CONAIE which ended with the promise of a commission to foster dialogue and put an end to the strike. At the end of the meeting, however, Leonidas reported that no decision had been taken and that it was necessary to consult the rank and file on the subject of the commission and dialogue so the strike would continue until the 10 requests were satisfied. However, the demonstrators pledged to open corridors in the blocks on the province borders in order to facilitate the flow of food to Quito. By that time the protest’s death toll had reached at least 5 with over 200 injured while the capital was completely paralysed and food and fuel were running low.

On Monday 27 June (when this article was first completed) thousands of indigenous, mestizo, black and white proletarians and poor peasants were crossing Ecuador.(7) At the negotiating table, Lasso proposed a 10 cent cut in the cost of fuel but CONAIE rejected the offer. Half of the country is under blockade, including the roads inside the main cities. Everywhere there are barricades made up of stones, earth, tyres, wood which, if necessary, are set on fire. There are now more than a thousand oil wells shut down, with a loss of 186,000 barrels per day, with losses equivalent to over 96 million dollars. This means hitting capital where it hurts the most, in its profit. If the situation does not change, in a few days oil production could stop completely. "Block everything". This is the main slogan that the mobilisation has adopted, and it is still underway and with unpredictable results.

Concluding remarks

In Ecuador, as in Sri Lanka(8), and in many other countries around the world, the issues behind such protests are the same everywhere: the cost of living, expensive fuel, the noose around the neck constituted by the increase in interest rates on a population that has contracted debts, the restructuring policies commanded by the IMF to "heal" the budgets by hitting the proletariat and other exploited sectors, in favour of profit.

Although the protests start from a cross class basis, as can also be seen in the list of 10 demands that bind together small and medium peasants, students, middle class and working class, it is the radicalism of the proletariat and poor peasants who with their blockade of places of production and circulation of goods which gives substance, strength and perspective to the movement.

The economic and material demands that express the start of any real movement are never the abstract and unrealistic ones of radical reformism (higher wage increases, guaranteed wages, work less, jobs for all, etc...), but the concrete ones that arise from the need to defend oneself from the material attacks that capitalism imposes.

The reaction of the bourgeois forces, their repression, arrests, violence against the demonstrators causes the radicalisation of the opposition movement, and sets the level of class violence, which in turn favours the extension of the protest movements and the development of increasingly effective forms of struggle.

The level on which the Ecuadorian movement is moving is that of a radical reformism of a national character. In the absence of a party rooted in the class, it cannot be otherwise. In failing to make an anti-capitalist revolutionary strategy its own, the current movement is destined to succumb to compromise or to the illusion of a new bourgeois government that will pay lip service to this or that reform. In both cases the attempt will be to try to harness the revolutionary force of the agricultural, industrial and mining proletariat (as the majority of the Indians and the black population are).

These are the first global signs of a conflict that has an intimate, if not conscious, class nature. We believe that the very harsh consequences of the crisis will force the proletariat of many other countries and, especially in the periphery, the exploited sectors of the population such as poor peasants, to create to a form of mobilisation similar to this one, starting in the autumn. The economic crisis, the high cost of living, the war crisis, the environmental crisis with its many consequences, the food crisis, will blow the fire of discontent of ever larger sectors of the exploited population.

Revolutionaries today have the duty to refine their critique of capitalism, their dialectical and organisational weapons, so that strong and generous episodes like this one do not end in nothing but constitute the first moments of sedimentation of an anti-capitalist and revolutionary class consciousness.

Without a revolutionary party every revolt is destined to end up within the system.

Update on how the strike ended

On 30 June, after 18 days of strike where 5 had been killed by the police, 335 had been injured, 162 arrested and over 300 remained under investigation, the government declared that CONAIE and the Lasso government had reached an agreement that commits the movement to an immediate cessation of the strike and roadblocks in the country. During the mobilisations 10 police stations were destroyed and 117 vehicles including motorcycles and police cars were damaged. 10 military vehicles destroyed. 238 police and 106 soldiers were injured. 37 policemen were allegedly kidnapped by demonstrators during various demonstrations, but they were always released a few days later without suffering violence. A policeman died but CONAIE claims due to “friendly fire” by his colleagues who during the whole protest, continually increased their level of violence and repression.(9)

The movement obtained a reduction of 15 cents per gallon in the price of fuel against the 10 cents previously offered by the government and the 40 requested by the strikers. The protesters also obtained the limitation of the expansion of oil extraction and the opening of new mines in protected areas and ancestral territories. The government has 90 days to set up a board of technicians to monitor the implementation of 7 of the 10 points of the platform.

The agreement was reached thanks to the mediation of the bishop and the Catholic Church.

During the consultations with the rank and file, before Leonidas Iza signed the agreement, important sectors of the movement opposed it, considering the concessions very disappointing. While Lasso's declaration was triumphant: "We have recovered the supreme value we all aspire to: peace in our country".

Now it will be necessary to see what will happen in the next three months, since the riders are ready to get back in the saddle in case of failure of Lasso. Ecuadorian workers, indigenous or not, cannot let their guard down and must try to develop, in these struggles, an initial revolutionary and anti-capitalist point of reference, which can guide the struggles of the future.

Battaglia Comunista
28 June (updated 30 June 2022)


Image: El Blog de Jota,



(3) see also







Sunday, July 17, 2022