By David E. Hubler
Contributor, In Homeland Security
Five days of violent protests in Ecuador have forced the government of President Lenin Moreno to quit the capital city of Quito for the coastal city of Guayaquil, CNN reported Tuesday.
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Moreno announced the move in a nationwide address on Monday. He accused political opponents of attempting a coup.
The protests erupted after Moreno announced that he was ending state fuel subsidies and other economic reforms “drawn up in the wake of a $4.2 billion financing deal with the International Monetary Fund (IMF),” CNN explained.
End of Fuel Subsidies Triggered Violent Protests in Ecuador
Fuel subsidies have kept domestic prices for gasoline and other petroleum products artificially low. “Moreno’s announcement last week to end the subsidies doubled the price of diesel overnight and sharply raised gasoline prices,” Fox News reported.
The announcement triggered a transport workers’ strike that ended a few days later. But clashes involving youths and also members of Ecuador’s indigenous communities have kept up pressure on the government,” the Associated Press said.
On Monday defense officials announced that the military had to rescue more than 50 servicemembers who were being held hostage by indigenous groups protesting the end of fuel subsidies. The officials also said the 470 protesters had been arrested.
“It is the sole and exclusive responsibility of indigenous leaders to control the situation,” Juan Sebastian Roldan, Ecuador’s secretary of state, told a news conference.
Facing a fiscal deficit and a huge foreign debt, “the IMF deal means Moreno has to enforce spending cuts,” CNN said.
Ecuadoran President Blames Foreign Influences for Unrest
Moreno blamed “foreign influences” for stoking the unrest. He named Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro and former Ecuadorian president Rafael Correa as “foreign individuals, external and paid” to cause instability. But Moreno offered no evidence to back up his allegations.
Crude oil is Ecuador’s top export commodity, accounting for about one-third of its export revenue in 2016, the latest figures available. “Ecuador was the third-largest source of foreign oil for the U.S. West Coast,” according to the Energy Information Association (EIA). “Consequently, Ecuador is a regionally significant source of oil for the U.S. West Coast, which is isolated from other parts of the continental United States because of few overland pipelines.”
Ecuador is a member of the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC). Ecuador’s three oil refineries produced about 548,000 barrels per day of petroleum and other liquids in 2016.