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Ecuador Native Groups, Opponents Strike Against President Correa – Wall Street Journal

Date: Aug 14, 2015

Opponents of President Rafael Correa’s policies, many of them from indigenous groups, protested against government policies on Thursday, including one that would permit the populist leader to run for office indefinitely.

Discontent has grown as a slump in oil prices has weakened the pace of Ecuador’s robust economic growth of recent years. Thursday’s protests, among the largest in a series of recent demonstrations and the first national strike, comes a day after ratings firm Standard & Poor’s lowered its sovereign credit ratings on Ecuador by a notch.

Thousands of members of the powerful native group, the Confederation of Indigenous Nationalities of Ecuador, or Conaie, have marched to Quito to back a grab bag of demands, including a rollback in the government’s proposed changes to the constitution, a halt to mining concessions, and an end to negotiations for a free trade with the European Union. The native groups joined other opponents to protest government policies in Thursday’s national strike.

“We are going to keep marching until we get a response from the president,” Conaie director Floresmilo Simbaña was quoted as saying in newspaper El Universal.

Radio reports Thursday said that protesters have blocked roads in many parts of the Andean nation. Newspapers reported protest marches in the southern city of Guayaquil and the blocking of several highways across the nation with large rocks, trees and burning tires.

Mr. Correa said in a speech Thursday that the protests are aimed at destabilizing his government.

“Ecuadorians are working more feverishly than ever. With their strike a failure, the protesters are turning to blocking roads,” Mr. Correa said in a twitter message Thursday.

Mr. Correa and his allies control key institutions such as the national assembly and the courts. In the decade before Mr. Correa took office in 2007 on a wave of discontent, massive protests helped provoke a rapid turnover of presidents.

“Mr. Correa consolidated his power on the streets, and he might lose it there. Is he mortally wounded? The answer is clearly no, but he is a weaker president today than he was when re-elected back in February of 2013,” said University of Delaware political scientist Julio Carrion, an expert on politics in the Andean region.

Pollster Cedatos said support for Mr. Correa last month was almost evenly split, with 45% approving of the president and 46% against him.

Late Wednesday, S&P lowered its sovereign credit ratings on Ecuador to B from B+, saying the decision reflects the fact “that tensions between Ecuador’s government and society have risen following the fall of global oil prices, limiting the government’s ability to implement fiscal measures.”

Oil production makes up about 15% of economic output, half of exports, and 25% of fiscal revenue, according to the ratings firm. Lower revenues have prompted cut backs in government spending and led to efforts to raise more revenues, leading to the social unrest.

“We expect social and political tensions to remain elevated through the election,” S&P said. The next general elections are set for 2017; under the current constitution Mr. Correa can’t run again because of term limits.

Mr. Correa, an avowed socialist and a staunch opponent of U.S. policies in Latin America, has squabbled with the media and with the business community since coming to office. He also has borrowed heavily from foreign governments to finance government spending.

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