I apologize for taking so long, yet again, to give another update; I'll try to get better about writing more frequently.
Since I last wrote, a lot has gone on down here in Ecuador. To best explain what has happened, we have to go back to a meeting that took place last spring between Ecuadorian economic leaders and the International Monetary Fund. This meeting established a $4.2-billion loan from the IMF with the promise of rigorous economic reform. At the beginning of October, President Lenín Moreno announced the first part of his plan to hold up Ecuador's end of the deal. This included the end of a decades-old, $1.4-billion fuel subsidy and decreasing public sector wages by 20%, among others.
First, public bus and taxi drivers formed blockades in Cuenca to protest their wage cuts. After two days, they were promised no change in pay, but that required bus fares to double. By that time, gas prices increased by 35 cents, which is indicative of a general increase in cost of living. In other words, people would now have to pay more to get to work, to earn less money, and to figure out how to support families when everything is more expensive.
And thus began the nation-wide, indigenous-led protests that lasted nearly two weeks. Over the course of the riots, there were seven deaths, 1,300 injured, and over 1,000 arrested. Seven deaths might not sound like a lot for a country engulfed in turmoil, but owning a gun is illegal here. Protestors threw rocks, while the police had tanks, tear gas, and guns.
Most of the violence took place in Quito, Guayaquil, and Cuenca, where tear gas even seeped through the windows of my team leader's apartment, but there was tension all across the country. There were road blockades surrounding nearly all of our host communities – buses and cars could not make it to my community for the duration of the protests. The staff at GCY instructed us to stay in our communities and to be in our homes by dark. Since Sayausí is essentially an extension of Cuenca, it felt especially tense here, despite the lack of violence. Because of that, I was confined to my house nearly all day, every day, except for the short walks to grab snacks at one of the few open tiendas.
The protests came to an end when indigenous leaders met with the president to explain their grievances. As a result, President Moreno revoked his plan, the "paquetazo," and things returned to normal the following days.
But what about the deal with the IMF? Exactly. Originally, there was dialogue between the indigenous leaders and the government, but that ended when the president started an investigation into the leader of CONAIE (indigenous umbrella organization), claiming he was starting an army to overthrow the government. In reality, he was exercising a constitutional right to form militias to protect indigenous communities. CONAIE saw this as a lack of trust and refused to continue dialogue until the investigation ended. The IMF stopped sending money, so the president has announced his next "paquetazo," which is virtually the same plan as before with different wording. My host family has bought plenty of gas and food to brace for the next protests.
Aside from all of that, I'm falling into the rhythm of my routine, and it feels good. As of now, my Mondays and Wednesdays involve working at the University of Cuenca labs from 8:00 AM to 3:00 PM (I joined a research project testing the effects of traditional medicinal plants on beta-lactamase producing E. coli), then going straight to my apprenticeship to teach English classes until 7:00 PM. Tuesdays and Thursdays, I work with my apprenticeship, doing whatever random tasks they've got for me that day – this week I'll likely start making a bilingual website for the tourism organization. Fridays, I'm back at the lab from 8:00 AM to 1:00 PM, then I've got Spanish classes from 2:00 PM to 5:00 PM. Having this routine has helped me feel less like a visitor and more like this is my home, at least for the time being. I'm happy with the work I do at the university, and I look forward to what is to come with my apprenticeship.
I really do hope a solution arises to the current economic situation without the need for longer, more violent protests. However, that's what everyone is preparing for. If the country does get engulfed by a second, more intense wave, it is possible that GCY will have to pull us from the country. I hope, more than anything, that that does not happen and that we can continue to learn from and live the Ecuadorian life, but only time will tell.
There's a lot more I want to include here, such as my recent trips to the epic Parque Nacional Cajas, and an update on the spider situation, but I'm going to leave those for the next post – now I might actually write it sooner :/
I'll also keep you all posted on whether or not the situation further escalates.
Below are some pics from the last few weeks: the spot we went to in Saraguro for our second retreat, me with some students, one of the labs I work in, and a stray puppy.
Until next time,