Volunteers help to clean up streets in the aftermath of violent protests against the government, in Quito, Ecuador, Monday, Oct. 14, 2019. Ecuador celebrated a deal President Lenín Moreno and indigenous leaders struck late Sunday to cancel a disputed austerity package and end nearly two weeks of protests that have paralyzed the economy and left seven dead. (AP Photo/Fernando Vergara)

Ecuador starts cleanup after deal to end indigenous protests

October 14, 2019 - 3:03 pm

QUITO, Ecuador (AP) — Thousands of indigenous demonstrators, student volunteers and local residents launched a massive cleanup Monday of a Quito park where anti-austerity protesters fought police for days, leaving piles of burning tires, trees and construction material.

The cleanup began hours after President Lenín Moreno and indigenous leaders struck a deal late Sunday to cancel a disputed austerity package and end nearly two weeks of protests that paralyzed the Ecuadorian economy and left seven dead. 

As protesters left Arbolito Park and the cultural center in Quito where protesters camped out for days, they launched a "minga," an indigenous term for a communal labor project.

City workers shoveled burnt debris into dump trucks and swept the streets clean. Young protesters took down improvised barricades of paving stones, which they piled back onto the construction sites they had come from, or onto the beds of city cargo trucks. Indigenous people who spent a week protesting in the park loaded bundles of clothes onto yellow buses to head back to their homes in the Andean sierra. Crowds waved goodbye and chanted, "We did it!"

Under the agreement, Moreno will withdraw the International Monetary Fund-backed package known as Decree 883 that included a sharp rise in fuel costs. Indigenous leaders, in turn, called on their followers to end protests and street blockades. 

The government and indigenous leaders were working together Monday to develop a new package of measures to cut government spending, increase revenue and reduce Ecuador's unsustainable budget deficits and public debt.

"We reached our objective," said Fabricio Molina, a 36-year-old farmer and rancher, as he sat on a bus waiting to leave Quito. "Now we hope they sign a deal, and if they don't we'll be back on the streets again."

Protests over the austerity package have blocked roads, shuttered businesses from dairies to flower farms and halved Ecuador's oil production, forcing a temporary halt to the country's most important export.

The public ombudsman's office said Sunday that seven people had died in the protests, 1,340 had been hurt and 1,152 arrested. The government loosened a 24-hour curfew imposed Saturday, allowing people to move freely around the capital between 11 a.m. and 8 p.m.

The protests have drawn thousands of Ecuadorians from outside the indigenous minority.

Moreno has blamed the violence on drug traffickers, organized crime and followers of former President Rafael Correa, who has denied allegations that he is trying to topple Moreno's government.

Moreno served Correa as vice president before he become president and the two men went through a bitter split as Moreno pushed to curb public debt amassed on Correa's watch.

The national prosecutor's office said that Paola Pabón, a Correa ally and governor of the province surrounding Quito, Pichincha, had been arrested on suspicion of ties to acts of vandalism committed around the capital during the protests. It was the first arrest of a Correa ally in connection with the protests.

Foreign Minister José Valencia told The Associated Press on Sunday that the Moreno administration believed Correa, Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro and Colombia's far-left FARC and ELN guerrillas are working to destabilize Ecuador. He offered no proof beyond the fact that a handful of Correa loyalists and some Venezuelan nationals had been detained during the protests.

"They have a political agenda and the violence and chaos that they sowed yesterday in the city, a coordinated chaos, lets us see this political agenda," Valencia said.

Correa and Maduro have denied involvement in the protests.

Ecuador, a former OPEC member, was left deeply in debt by a decade of high spending by Correa's government and the international decline in oil prices. Moreno is raising taxes, liberalizing labor laws and cutting public spending in order to get more than $4 billion in emergency financing from the IMF.

As part of that plan, Moreno's elimination of subsidies drove the most popular variety of gasoline from $1.85 to $2.39 a gallon and diesel from $1.03 to $2.30. Panic and speculation sent prices soaring, with costs of some products doubling or more.

In the country's Amazon oil fields, protests at installations, described by some government officials as attacks, have halted or slowed production.

Ecuador had been producing 430,000 barrels a day, but that had dropped to 176,029 barrels by Sunday, said an official at state oil producer Petroamazonas, who spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to release the information. The drop in output has led to a loss of about $14 million a day, the official said.

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Associated Press writer Raisa Avila contributed to this report.

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