Ecuador’s government is trying to retake control of Puyo, a city in the country’s Amazon region, after violent clashes and the burning of a police station during nationwide protests against the economic policies of President Guillermo Lasso.
Protests have been continuing for more than a week, with marchers and Indigenous groups angry at the rising cost of food and other basic goods.
The protests – longer-lasting and larger than marches over fuel prices in October last year – are testing Lasso’s ability to restart the country’s economy and kickstart employment.
Lasso has an adversarial relationship with the national assembly, where lawmakers have blocked his proposals, and he has struggled to contain rising violence he blames on drug gangs.
Demonstrations, led primarily by the Indigenous organization Conaie, began with peaceful road blocks but levels of violence have escalated in parts of the country, including the capital Quito, prompting conservative ex-banker Lasso to decree a state of exception in six provinces.
Demonstrators armed with guns, ancestral spears and explosives clashed with soldiers in Puyo, in Pastaza province, on Tuesday night, the interior minister, Patricio Carrillo, said.
The protesters burned a police station and patrol cars, tried to loot a bank and attacked civilians, Carrillo told journalists, blaming the incidents on radical groups.
“We cannot guarantee public safety in Puyo right now – they have burned the entire police infrastructure and the entrance to the city is under siege,” he said.
Leaders from Indigenous Amazonian communities said in a statement they rejected vandalism in Puyo and accused security forces of worsening violence in the city.
Conaie’s head, Leonidas Iza, said late on Tuesday Indigenous groups would not meet to discuss a government response to their demands for a fuel price cut, a halt to expanding oil and mining and other issues until security forces were removed from certain areas of the capital.
Lasso reiterated a call early on Wednesday for dialogue.
One protester died amid the incidents and six police officers were seriously injured, while 18 are missing, the government said.
The protester was killed after being struck in the head by a police teargas canister, according to human rights groups.