Ecuador’s President Guillermo Lasso has lifted a state of emergency imposed in six provinces amid mass protests by Indigenous groups, as legislators began hearing an opposition motion to remove him from office.
Lasso’s decision on Saturday followed the first official talks between government officials and Ecuador’s largest Indigenous organisation, which began the protests two weeks ago to demand gasoline prices be cut, price controls be imposed on agricultural products and a larger budget be set for education.
The meeting was held in the Basilica church in the colonial centre of Quito and was attended by Minister of Government 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 the security measures, as requested by the Indigenous leaders.
“The national government ratifies the willingness to guarantee the creation of spaces for peace, in which Ecuadorians can gradually resume their activities,” his office said.
Iza said Indigenous groups would partially open roads blocked during protests to allow food into the capital, where residents have complained of low supplies, but would remain in Quito until they get a satisfactory answer from Lasso.
“Instead of making us more afraid, they have raised our rebellion, 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 has been no commitment, but simply a decision by the [Indigenous confederation] … to consult its bases on the designation of a commission to start this dialogue,” Saquicela said, adding that “the government has made the corresponding opening”.
The protests, which began on June 13, have led to at least six civilian deaths and have worsened Lasso’s adversarial relationship with the National Assembly, where legislators have blocked his major economic proposals as he has struggled to contain rising violence that he blames on drug gangs.
In a virtual session on Saturday evening, the assembly heard a request by the opposition Union for Hope party, linked to former President Rafael Correa, to remove Lasso.
The request was based on the state of emergency declared over “grave internal commotions”, which now has been lifted.
It would take the votes of at least 92 legislators of the 137-seat parliament to remove Lasso, while the Union for Hope has only 47 seats.
Lasso, who is self-isolating because of COVID-19, will be allowed to state his case.
Once the debate is concluded, legislators will have 72 hours to decide on a course of action.
The government’s legal representative, Fabian Pozo, told the National Assembly the country was gradually returning to normal and the government had listened to the protesters’ legitimate demands.
This week, the government also announced subsidised fertilisers, debt forgiveness and budget increases for health and education, but formal talks between the administration and protesters had been stalled for days as confrontations at marches continued.
On Thursday, the Indigenous confederation said a demonstrator died of pellet wounds in the chest and abdomen while protesting near the National Assembly in Quito, where about 100 other people suffered a variety of injuries.
Police tweeted that officers were also injured by pellets.
Reports have also emerged of protesters attacking vehicles, civilians, and businesses, forcing the closure of some.
Authorities say the unrest has been costly, with losses of some $50m per day to the economy, while production of fuel, Ecuador’s biggest export, has been halved.
The International Monetary Fund on Friday approved the release of $1bn in funding for Ecuador following two reviews of a $6.5bn loan deal, of which $4.8bn has been disbursed so far.
The payment is meant to bolster Ecuador’s economic recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic, restore fiscal sustainability and reduce public debt.