Negotiations to end more than two weeks of disruptive living cost protests by indigenous Ecuadoreans were dealt a blow Tuesday when the killing of a soldier prompted the government to suspend participation.
President Guillermo Lasso, in a brief address to the nation, accused indigenous leader Leonidas Iza of self-serving politics, and said: "We will not negotiate with those who hold Ecuador hostage."
Iza's powerful Confederation of Indigenous Nationalities of Ecuador (CONAIE), in turn, accused the government of "authoritarianism" and said Lasso would bear the consequences for "his hawkish policy."
The military said a soldier died and five police and seven soldiers were injured in an early-morning attack on a tanker truck escort in the country's east.
It said a group armed with "spears and guns" attacked uniformed personnel protecting a convoy of tankers headed for the so-called 'ITT block' of oil fields in Orellana province, where more than a billion barrels are stored.
Interior Minister Patricio Carillo expressed condolences to the family of fallen soldier José Chimarro in a tweet, and described the attackers as "violent demonstrators."
A second day of talks with indigenous representatives scheduled for Tuesday morning failed to get underway as negotiators from the government did not show up.
Mediator Virgilio Saquicela, president of the National Assembly, announced that the government was "not present" as it was "conducting an analysis" of the early-morning events.
Iza referred to a "brutal attack" but said there was no proof protesters were responsible.
"The country has witnessed all the efforts we have made to establish a fruitful and sincere dialogue," insisted Lasso, a former banker who took office just over a year ago. "But we will not sit down again to dialogue with Leonidas Iza, who only defends his political interests and not those of his base."
Tuesday's fatality came on top of five demonstrators dead and hundreds of civilians and security personnel wounded in clashes between the security forces and protesters blockading key roads and disrupting supply lines. Some 150 people have been arrested, according to observers.
Crude is the South American country's main export, but production has been halved from about 520,000 barrels per day prior to the protests, the government said. Operations at more than 1,100 wells has been affected.
An estimated 14,000 protesters are taking part in a nationwide show of discontent against rising hardship in an economy dealt a serious blow by the coronavirus pandemic.
CONAIE, which called the protest, is credited with unseating three presidents between 1997 and 2005.
Indigenous people make up more than a million of the South American nation's 17.7 million people.
Most of the demonstrators' ire is concentrated in the capital Quito, where some 10,000 people are gathered, most of them from other parts of the country.
Other than fuel price cuts, the protesters want jobs, food price controls, and more public spending on healthcare and education.
'Serious political crisis'
The action has been costly, with losses of some US$50 million per day to the economy, according to the government, which has warned oil production could come to a complete halt soon.
Ecuador's economy is highly dependent on oil revenues, with 65 percent of output exported in the first four months of 2022.
Protesters have set up roadblocks in most of the country's 24 provinces, hampering the delivery of food and flowers – another key export – and dealing a blow to tourism.
On Sunday, Lasso announced a 10-cents-per-gallon reduction in diesel and gasoline prices, but this was deemed insufficient by CONAIE.
The president has also lifted a state of emergency that had been in place in six provinces and a night-time curfew in Quito.
After the concessions, the two sides met for the first time Monday for talks on ending the protest.
Lasso faces an impeachment vote called by opposition politicians for his role in "the serious political crisis and internal commotion" caused by the stand-off.
by Santiago Piedra Silva, AFP