Business and Tech

Indigenous protests are costing Ecuador $1 billion, central bank says – AFR

Eighteen days of protests against the cost of living of indigenous Ecuadorians, blocking roads and oil wells, have cost the country at least $1 billion, the central bank said Monday as the leader of the movement stood trial.

Of the total losses, more than three quarters were in the private sector and the rest in the state, particularly the all-important oil sector, Central Bank Governor Guillermo Avellan told broadcaster Teleamazonas.

The protests, which halted production at more than 1,000 wells, resulted in Ecuador’s oil production being more than halved from about 520,000 barrels a day, according to the government.

As of Sunday, three days after the government and protest leaders signed an agreement to end the crippling standoff, production had recovered to 461,600 barrels a day.

Crude oil is Ecuador’s largest export.

Protest leader Leonidas Iza, chairman of the powerful Confederation of Indigenous Nationalities (Conaie), made his first appearance in a court in the city of Latacunga on Monday.

He was arrested on the second day of the protests and held for 24 hours before being released pending trial over the illegal road closures.

The charge of paralyzing a public service is punishable by up to three years in prison.

An estimated 14,000 Ecuadorians took part in a mass demonstration of discontent – most of them in Quito – against the mounting hardship in an economy that had been hit hard by the coronavirus pandemic.

The protest was called by Conaie, who is credited with unseating three presidents between 1997 and 2005.

Last Thursday, the government and protest leaders signed an agreement to end the sometimes violent demonstrations that have left six dead and more than 600 injured.

The government agreed to cut already-subsidized fuel prices by up to eight percent – less than the 21 percent cut protesters were seeking but enough to persuade them to leave the streets, where many manned burning roadblocks had.

Avellan said the increased fuel subsidy will cost the state about $3 billion a year.

The government had also increased a monthly aid payment to the country’s poorest residents, stopped repaying small bank loans from rural Ecuadorians and agreed to review certain mining activities in indigenous areas.

Before the riots, Avellan said, the central bank expected to raise its economic growth forecast for 2022 to the current 2.8 percent.

Raul Ilaquiche, a lawyer for Iza, told AFP that his trial would last several days and would require several witnesses to be summoned.

Around 2,000 Iza supporters gathered near the courthouse, which was cordoned off by metal fences and police, community officials said.

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