After two weeks of protests that have brought Ecuador's economy to a standstill, Mennonite mediators may have a role in restoring justice and peace to a country that has been devastated by the pandemic and the government's lack of response to human suffering.
Since June 13, thousands of Indigenous people have been protesting rising food and fuel prices in Ecuador. Mennonite Mission Network's partner FEINE (Council of Indigenous Evangelical Peoples and Organizations) has joined in the protests led by the Confederación de Nacionalidades Indígenas del Ecuador (Confederation of Indigenous Nationalities of Ecuador). Students, workers and health professionals have also joined them, bringing the country's economy to a standstill. At least seven people have died in the protests.
After two weeks, President Guillermo Lasso lowered diesel and gasoline prices. In response, the protestors agreed to talk about concessions that may be mutually agreeable. Mennonites are seeking ways to help with the negotiations. Peter Wigginton of Mission Network; FEINE's president, Eustaquio Tuala; Iglesia Cristiana Menonita de Ecuador (ICME, Mennonite Christian Church of Ecuador) spokesperson, Julián Guamán; and Alexandra Meneses of Iglesia Cristiana Anabautista Menonita de Ecuador (ICAME, Anabaptist Mennonite Christian Church of Ecuador) are helping connect Mennonite mediators with those who are in the process of seeking a just resolution. Negotiations led by the Catholic church stalled on June 28.
Edison Aguagallo, an Indigenous (Puruwa) young adult and member of an ICME congregation, is making his voice heard in the streets. He said that the protests are motivated by people's dissatisfaction with the government's new austerity laws, which have compounded the suffering of the pandemic. He cited health problems, due to a lack of medicine, and diminishing possibilities for young people, as their education has been interrupted.
"Families no longer have enough for daily sustenance," Aguagallo said. "This racist government has gone against the rights of citizens and is using the army to criminalize our protest. Public servants have betrayed the people. And despite the deaths, the president does not offer a viable solution but only uses bandages to cover the wounds."
In addition to working toward a mediation proposal, churches in Riobamba are providing food for the protestors.
Iglesia Cristiana Anabautista Menonita de Ecuador (ICAME), the Quito Mennonite Church issued a statement that "applauds the courage of the Indigenous people who raise their voices and are always at the forefront when it comes to defending the rights of an entire country."
ICAME statement continues:
"…the entire Ecuadorian population has been plunged into increasing impoverishment, which is reflected in the lack of opportunities in employment, healthcare and education. The scandalous increase in the prices of necessities accentuates inequalities and [increases] poverty and social exclusion. Added to this is the violence and insecurity that we are experiencing throughout Ecuador, which has caused discontent, due to the lack of timely responses from the national government to all these demands.
"This situation leads us as an Anabaptist Mennonite Christian Church of Ecuador — a church whose history is focused on the promotion of peace, non-violence, and the practice of justice and reconciliation — to make a call to seek paths of peace, of dialogue, of just agreements, of concrete responses to the demands of the people and not to criminalize people's legitimate right to protest. We reject violence wherever it comes from! Following our principles and values, we will defend the cause of the neediest and the oppressed.
"We believe that the peace that Ecuador needs at this time is a lasting peace, based on social justice and the promotion of dignified life. Our priority is to promote spaces for real, assertive dialogue, where participants listen and respond concretely and timely, without demagoguery or triumphalism…
"We pray that God will enlighten and challenge the hearts of the people who have the power to do good and justice."