Bishops offer to mediate amid Ecuador protests

Members of the indigenous community gather at the House of Culture in Quito Oct 10 2019 as Ecuador faces protests over a fuel price hike ordered by the government to secure an IMF loan Credit Rodrigo Buendia AFP Members of the indigenous community gather at the House of Culture in Quito, Oct. 10, 2019 as Ecuador faces protests over a fuel price hike. | Rodrigo Buendia/AFP via Getty Images.

The Ecuadorian bishops proposed Monday that they mediate in the country's crisis amid protests against the government's austerity measures and its end of fuel subsidies.

"Seeking the common good … we reaffirm our strong commitment to collaborate in the resolution of the tensions and conflicts currently facing our Ecuadorian society. In virtue of that, we remain open to any proposal the parties see as suitable and opportune and on the most appropriate terms," the bishops said in an Oct. 7 letter.

"We sincerely hope that serene and respectful dialogue will allow us to continue working for the justice and solidarity that our people expect from the governmental authorities and from all the social and political actors," they added.

The government has indicated it is open to mediation by the Church or the United Nations.

Ecuadorian president Lenín Moreno announced an economic readjustment Oct. 1 that includes, besides the elimination of the subsidy on fuels, measures such as a special tax on businesses with yearly revenues in excess of $10 million, to allocate the proceeds for security, education and healthcare.

He also established a 20% cut in the salaries of government temporary workers and the reduction of vacation time from 30 to 15 days for public employees. However, the measure that has caused the most controversy is the fuel subsidy cut.

Economic and Finance Minister, Richard Martínez, said that these measures respond to the February agreement with the International Monetary Fund which gave Ecuador access to loans of $4.2 billion over three years, of which $900 million have already been given.

The fuel subsidies, introduced in the 1970s, cost the government $1.3 billion annually.

According to the IMF, the economic measures by Moreno "have as their goal to improve the resiliency and sustainability of the Ecuadorian economy."

However, the economic readjustment was answered with violent protests, especially in Quito and Guayaquil, to which the government responded Oct. 3 with a state of emergency which, among other things, mobilizes the Armed Forces and the National Police to maintain order and prevent more violence. In addition, freedom of association and assembly has been suspended throughout the country. The protests are being led by indigenous groups.

Two people have died in the protests.

Protesters stormed the parliament building in Quito Oct. 8, and Moreno has moved the government to Guayaquil.

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