QUITO—Thousands of people took to the streets in Quito and at least 12 other cities in Ecuador Thursday to protest against the government of President Rafael Correa, asking for changes in economic, labor and social policies.
Government supporters also gathered in Quito at the traditional Plaza de la Independencia in front of the presidential palace and a few blocks from the Plaza de San Francisco.
Mr. Correa said protests seek to destabilize his government in a difficult economic year due to falling oil prices and the appreciation of the U.S. dollar.
Lower oil prices are expected to drag down economic growth in the country whose oil sector generates about one-quarter of total government revenue and about half of the country’s exports.
President Correa has said his government is prepared to deal with these problems, adding that his government has already done a lot for workers, indigenous and the poor population.
At midday, during the inauguration of a hydroelectric plant, Mr. Correa accused what he called “outdated union leaders and indigenous leaders who sold out to right-wing groups.”
Protest leaders said they are protesting against planned labor and land reforms, to reject large-scale mining and new oil tenders, and against planned constitutional reforms that will open up the possibility for indefinite re-election for elected posts. Leaders also said they are against new tariffs for 38% of the imported products. Economists said the tariff increase would cause a general increase in prices, affecting mainly the middle class.
Protesters marched about two kilometers in central Quito, carrying signs that read, “We want democracy” and “No more tax and tariff increases” as well as “Say no to re-election.”
Gabriela Cordero, 20, a veterinary student, said she was protesting against the development of the ITT oil block, located in the Yasuni National Park in Ecuador’s Amazon as well as to defend liberties, including free speech.
Oscar Jimbo, a 35-year-old electrician, said he supported Mr. Correa. “Education and health have improved. We have good roads. I want to support [the] president,” Mr. Jimbo said.
Last year, at least three large-scale marches by government opponents protested against the same government policies.
Political analysts said streets marches could be a thermometer of the polarization between supporters and opponents of the government.
“The streets continue to be the stage to express social discontent,” said Jorge Leon, a researcher with the Investigative Center on Development and Social Movements. “Now, protesters have specific social demands, but in the future, demonstrations could become political protests and the streets could be a clear scenario where opponents and government’s supporters measure power and forces.”
But Mr. Correa is unlikely to make changes, political analysts said.
“Despite more challenging economic conditions, Mr. Correa is unlikely to alter course, and the protests will cause the political temperature to rise,” said Teneo Intelligence in a report.
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