Ecuadorian President Guillermo Lasso lifted a state of emergency imposed in six provinces amid massive protests by indigenous groups as lawmakers began to hear an opposition motion to impeach him.
Lasso’s decision on Saturday follows the first official talks between government officials and Ecuador’s largest indigenous organization, which began protests two weeks ago to demand the reduction of gasoline prices, the imposition price controls on agricultural products and the establishment of a larger budget for education.
The meeting was held in the Basilica Church of the Colonial Center of Quito and was attended by Government Minister Francisco Jimenez, Foreign Minister Juan Carlos Holguin, President of the Confederation of Indigenous Nationalities of Ecuador (CONAIE) Leonidas Iza and other social leaders.
After the talks, Lasso eased security measures, as requested by indigenous leaders.
“The national government ratifies the desire to guarantee the creation of spaces of peace, in which Ecuadorians can gradually resume their activities,” his office said.
Iza said indigenous groups would partially open roads blocked during the protests to allow food into the capital, where residents have complained of a lack of supplies, but would stay in Quito until they get a satisfactory response from Lasso.
“Instead of scaring us more, they raised our rebellion, our dignity,” he said.
Virgilio Saquicela, president of Ecuador’s National Assembly, told reporters that a commission would be formed to facilitate dialogue to end the protests.
“There was no commitment, just a decision by the [Indigenous confederation] … to consult its bases on the designation of a commission to start this dialogue,” said Saquicela, adding that “the government has made the corresponding opening.”
The protests, which began on June 13, have left at least six civilians dead and worsened Lasso’s contentious relationship with the National Assembly, where lawmakers have blocked his key economic proposals as he struggles to contain the rise in violence he blames on drug gangs. .
During a virtual session on Saturday evening, the assembly heard a request from the opposition Union for Hope party, linked to former President Rafael Correa, to withdraw Lasso.
The request was based on the declared state of emergency due to “serious internal disturbances”, which has now been lifted.
It would take the votes of at least 92 lawmakers in the 137-seat parliament to remove Lasso, while the Union for Hope has just 47 seats.
Lasso, who is self-isolating due to COVID-19, will be allowed to present his case.
Once the debate is over, lawmakers will have 72 hours to decide on a course of action.
The legal representative of the government, Fabian Pozo, told the National Assembly that the country was gradually returning to normal and that the government had listened to the legitimate demands of the protesters.
This week, the government also announced subsidized fertilizers, debt forgiveness and budget increases for health and education, but official talks between the administration and protesters had been stalled for days as clashes during the marches continued.
On Thursday, the indigenous confederation said a protester died of gunshot wounds to the chest and abdomen while demonstrating near the National Assembly in Quito, where around 100 other people suffered various injuries.
Police tweeted that officers were also injured by pellets.
There have also been reports of protesters attacking vehicles, civilians and businesses, forcing some to close.
Authorities say the unrest has been costly, with losses of around $50 million a day to the economy, while fuel production, Ecuador’s biggest export, has been cut in half.
The International Monetary Fund on Friday approved the release of $1 billion in financing for Ecuador following two reviews of a $6.5 billion loan deal, of which $4.8 billion was been disbursed so far.
The payment is intended to support Ecuador’s economic recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic, restore fiscal sustainability and reduce public debt.