In the smoke of Quito

In the smoke of Quito

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Civil war-like conditions prevailed in Ecuador after President Moreno wanted to make gasoline more expensive. Our author was there - and suddenly found himself in the midst of the violent protests

metal that bangs on metal. So that's what solidarity sounds like. Saturday evening over the roofs of the Ecuadorian capital Quito: plumes of smoke rise between the houses, the sound of perhaps hundreds of thousands of spoons that are pounded on pots fills the air that stinks of fire and tear gas.

It is the eleventh day of protests against President Lenín Moreno and his austerity package, with which the head of state wants to meet the conditions for a billion euro loan from the International Monetary Fund (IMF). After the protests reached their violent climax with the storm on the Court of Auditors, Moreno's patience was broken. The government has imposed a curfew and the military is expected to restore public order.

And it works. In contrast to the previous evening, there are fewer demonstrators on the road, but explosions can still be heard. Those who stayed at home make noise as a sign of solidarity. Mothers, children and Griese lean against windows and hit pots. You want to set an example.

Together against the government, together against the austerity dictate. Because the demonstrators are concerned with more than rising fuel prices - the liter of gasoline in Ecuador costs around 44 euro cents - by cutting subsidies. These are only part of the IMF's hating requirements for its financial injection. According to media reports, this should be $ 4.2 billion.

The Andean country is experiencing a financial constraint to meet its high foreign debt obligations, which are said to be almost half of its gross domestic product. The austerity program includes cuts in the civil service, liberalization of labor law and increased income tax. Moreno, who came into office with a more left-wing election campaign, now seems to have become the neo-liberal hate figure who has come to adore the IMF.

This is how thousands of Ecuadorians seem to see it driving it onto the street. The country in northwestern Latin America has therefore been in a state of emergency for days. At the top of the protest are unions and the indigenous population, whose share is around 40 percent. Conditions are still similar to civil war at the weekend: thousands of insurgents have gathered in the center of the metropolis of Quito. Disguised, armed with sticks and stones, the groups roam the streets, public order has come to a standstill.

Shops, schools and authorities are closed. The pavement has been torn open in many places, coaches have ceased operation, and even the oil exports that are so important for Ecuador - traditionally they make up well over half of all the country's exports - had to be reduced because refineries were occupied and the country's main arteries were closed , It is difficult to say how high the economic damage will be, it is likely to be well above the IMF's four billion. Regarding Lenín Moreno, the insurgents have a clear opinion: "Moreno, queremos tu cabeza" can be read on many buildings - nothing less than the head of the head of state is required.

Earlier on Sunday: Our tour group, which is returning by minivan from the Qotopaxi volcano to the capital, is facing a problem. The highway into the city is closed - road blocks, fire, nothing is going on. The driver suggests walking to the center, but passers-by strongly advise against this project. It is too dangerous, says the older woman, who looks at the seven Europeans with concern.

The problem: the only way back is to the mountains, and as the past few days have shown, the situation escalates the later it gets. Despite the warnings, we are on our way. There is no real alternative either. The first roadblock is still relatively easy to pass. Because the highway is quite wide at this point, we look for a way around the outside. The fire of the blockade burns in the eyes and nose, the insurgents wave with sticks and make noise. However, they are not armed with firearms.

Although the inhibition threshold for violence is low, media reports speak of several deaths and thousands of injuries. However, compared to many of its neighbors, Ecuador is usually a peaceful country. There are no powerful drug cartels and paramilitaries like in neighboring Colombia, weapons are comparatively little in circulation.

And even in times of turmoil, many Ecuadorians are helpful. After about 20 minutes on foot via the steep motorway - Quito is almost 3000 meters above sea level - a family offers help: seven people and their luggage go to the loading area of ​​a pick-up. Under our feet is the kind of wood that is used for the fires of the roadblocks. Our helpers, it quickly becomes clear, are also insurgents. And that's the only reason they can pass the following blockades.

After a few minutes of breakneck driving, masked people circled us at the next barrier. However, as the passenger, a mother in her twenties, quickly identifies herself as a supporter, part of the blockade is removed. The young woman is our free ticket - and possibly the rescue from worse. We gain valuable time by driving with the pick-up, the walk would have taken several hours. We could hardly have passed the barriers without supporters.

Sunday: The curfew, announced by Moreno via SMS to all Ecuadorian cell phone numbers, is still in force. Nevertheless, passers-by and a large number of security forces roam the streets, the situation is still calm in the morning. But only a few hours later, smoke plumes rise again over the city, drones and helicopters fly again, blue lights can be seen again, and violence is once again on the streets.

In the evening, however, there is a dialogue between Moreno and the leaders of the uprising, the television broadcasts live. You can see Jamie Vargas, leader of the indigenous groups. And the man with feather headdress and face painting actually wins: The government, it is said, will take the austerity measures back.

Again shots rip the air over Quito, again the streets fill up. But this time there is celebration instead of fighting, thousands gather in the city to celebrate their victory.

After Moreno's withdrawal, normality returns to Ecuador. The shops open again, the streets are opened, the tidying up begins. Military bans are still partially maintained, the burned-out ruin of the Court of Auditors stands like a memorial in the capital.

So President Moreno's head is not rolled, as some of the insurgents had wished. Ecuador is still in a debt crisis. It is almost certain that new austerity measures will come at some point.

Events in Quito