People protest against the economic policies of conservative Ecuadorian President Guillermo Lasso, days after he raised gasoline prices, in Guayaquil, Ecuador October 26, 2021. Photo: REUTERS/Vicente Gaibor del Pino
This Week in Latin America

Mass protests in Ecuador after hike in fuel prices

November 1, 2021 By Staff

THIS WEEK IN LATIN AMERICA

ECUADOR: Thousands of demonstrators marched in Ecuador on Tuesday and Wednesday to protest the increase in fuel prices and President Guillermo Lasso’s economic policies. The largely peaceful protests were organized by the Confederation of Indigenous Nationalities (CONAIE).  At least 37 demonstrators were arrested and eight police officers injured in demonstrations that blocked roads and highways in five of Ecuador’s 24 provinces. 

The protests were sparked by a 12% increase in fuel prices announced by Lasso on Oct. 22. The price increases form part of an incremental reduction in fuel subsidies – initially implemented by former president Rafael Correa –  that would allow the government to reduce spending and qualify for loans from the International Monetary Fund.

Demonstrators claimed the price increase would heavily impact families already struggling as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. Close to half of the Ecuadorian population – 47% – currently face poverty. 

President Lasso declared a 60-day state of emergency on Oct. 19 after 240 prison inmates were killed in gang-related clashes. Lasso also faces an investigation related to offshore assets he holds cited in the Pandora Papers leak earlier this month. 

SOUTHERN CONE

BRAZIL: The electoral high court on Thursday cleared President Jair Bolsonaro of charges related to the spread of disinformation during the 2018 election campaign. 

While stating that there were “indications” that a disinformation campaign had been conducted, the court ruled that there was insufficient evidence to carry the case forward. Additionally, it determined that there was little proof that the alleged disinformation had affected the election result.

The Workers’ Party (PT) –  to which former president Lula da Silva belongs – filed charges contesting the election result following Bolsonaro’s win in 2018. 

Justice Alexandre de Moraes, who will head the electoral high court during the 2022 presidential elections, warned that such actions will not go unpunished in the next year’s polls.

CHILE: An illegal adoption network promoted by the Pinochet dictatorship took at least 2,000 Chilean children to Sweden between 1971 and 1992, according to a new report published by a Swedish newspaper on Tuesday. It is believed that hundreds of those adopted were victims of kidnapping.

Sweden’s Minister of Social Affairs announced on Wednesday the launch of a government investigation into “irregular” adoptions in Sweden over the last 70 years. The Chilean government in 2018 opened an investigation into illegal adoptions during the Pinochet regime (1973-1990).

Researchers believe that Pinochet’s administration used the adoptions as a way of softening the image of the dictatorship abroad. The Chilean government colluded with an organization run by Nazi politicians to funnel children through the Swedish Center for Adoption.

ANDES

VENEZUELA: More than 11 million students returned to in-person classes in Venezuela last Monday after 19 months of school closures due to COVID-19. The government postponed reopening on multiple occasions due to spikes in infections and vaccination delays. 

The long-awaited reopening is a relief for families and communities not well-equipped for remote learning. Some schools have not yet reopened as a result of low teacher salaries, concerns about in-person instruction, and the need for repairs. 

Venezuelan citizens aged 12 and over are now eligible for a first dose of the COVID-19 vaccine. While the government of President Nicolas Maduro cites a full vaccination rate of 56%, a study conducted by Johns Hopkins University reported that less than 22% of the population has received two doses of the vaccine. 

CARIBBEAN 

CUBA: Dozens of Cubans gathered in front of the Archdiocese of Miami on Saturday to protest the Vatican’s decision not to allow a demonstration in Saint Peter’s Square on Oct. 24. Protesters accused the Catholic Church of years of silence and apathy in the face of what they describe as human rights violations on the island.

Three Republican members of Congress representing Florida on Friday sent a letter to the Vatican’s Ambassador to the U.S. to complain about the group of Cubans being denied the opportunity to stage a demonstration. The letter expressed “deep disappointment” with the leaders of the Catholic Church for not supporting “the demands of freedom of the Cuban people”.

HAITI/MEXICO: The head of the Mexican Refugee Aid Commission reported this week that 85% of migrants seeking asylum in October were Haitian citizens. The official added that 6,000 Haitian migrants had initiated the asylum process in the first two weeks of October. 

Haiti now represents the most significant country of origin of asylum-seekers in Mexico. At the close of September, Hondurans were the largest group of asylum-seekers.

Amnesty International has called on Mexico to cease deportations of Haitian migrants at the southern border. In a report published on Thursday, the international human rights organization noted that Mexico accepted less than half of asylum applications by Haitians in 2020 and 2021, compared to more than 95% for Venezuelans and around 85% for Hondurans.

CENTRAL AMERICA

NICARAGUA: Hundreds of Nicaraguans continued to cross into Honduras since Monday to receive the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines. 

With fewer Hondurans lining up to receive their COVID-19 vaccine, the Honduran government loaned 100,000 vaccine doses to Nicaragua in early October. Honduras’ health system placed several vaccination sites along their border this week to administer the doses.  

With only an ID and a negative COVID-19 test result, Nicaraguans are eligible to receive their vaccine dose. The cost of the test is $150. Due to the high cost, most Nicaraguans enter Honduras undetected without proper documentation to get vaccinated.   

Back in May, Nicaragua approved Russia’s single-dose Sputnik Light vaccine, but Nicaraguans have expressed that they prefer to vaccinate in Honduras because they don’t consider the Russian vaccine trustworthy

PANAMA: This year, more than 107,000 migrants  – mostly Haitian – have crossed through the Darién Gap between Colombia and Panama on their way north. A significant number of women migrants have reported sexual assaults

Panamanian lawmaker Zulay Rodríguez collected nearly 1,000 allegations of sexual abuse since the investigation began two months ago. Her committee has reported on assaults, robberies, thefts, and deaths among migrants.

Rodriguez wants to call authorities’ attention to the abuses, expressing that these problems at the Darién Gap have been occurring “for many years.”

NORTH AMERICA

MEXICO: Due to intense heat and deteriorating health conditions, the migrant caravan moving slowly through southern Mexico took a day’s rest on Saturday, said one of the caravan’s organizers. 

The biggest concern was for women and children who are suffering from exhaustion and illness. Several women with diabetes and hypertension have fallen back because of the high temperatures and lack of water and proper nutrition. 

Mexico’s National Immigration Institute said that it wanted to provide proper care and resources for the women and children and issue humanitarian visas to the migrants.  The caravan organizers refused the offer to grant visas stating that the government fell short on promises in the past.

UNITED STATES: The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) issued on Friday a new memo to end the Trump-era immigration program that forced asylum seekers to remain in Mexico while they await U.S. court hearings. This is the second attempt by the Biden administration to end the Trump-era program. 

DHS Secretary, Alejandro Mayorkas, issued the first memo back in June. The U.S. Supreme Court in August ruled to keep the program, forcing the Biden administration to resume the policy starting in November.

The Mexican government raised concerns about the program’s uncertainty to provide legal assistance and the lack of provisions for the security of migrants.