February 1, 2001 – As part of a protest movement that has brought Ecuador to a virtual standstill, a growing number of activists from environmental and human rights organizations have occupied the offices of the International Monetary Fund (IMF) in Quito to protest the IMF’s role in Ecuador’s current social crisis.
“We want to expose the real culprits,” says Ivonne Yanez, one of the women occupying the IMF offices. “The IMF-imposed policies, carried out by the Ecuadorian government in exchange for more loans, have resulted in more than 50% of Ecuador’s national budget going to pay off the foreign debt, have burdened the country with the highest rate of inflation in Latin America, the highest levels of corruption, the most advanced rates of deforestation and environmental degradation, and the worst example of maldistribution of wealth on the continent.”
The IMF sit-in is occuring at the same time that the country’s indigenous population, who make up more than 40% of the Ecuadorian people, have blockaded the nation’s major highways. The blockades, which are entering their fourth day, are in protest against the government’s economic policies, which have impoverished millions of Ecuadorians. The blockades have prevented the delivery of food and supplies to large portions of the country, resulting in shortages and skyrocketing prices.
The government’s response to the protests have been harsh. In Quito alone, there have been 24 wounded from confrontations between the police and protesters. There are currently between 5,000 and 8,000 indigenous activists camped out at the catholic Salesian Politecnic University, which is hosting them, and more people are arriving from the countryside daily. The police have prevented the indigenous activists from marching through the City of Quito, bombarding them with tear gas every time they try to march from the University.
On Tuesday, January 30, the government arrested the leader of the indigenous movement, Antonio Vargas, on charges of subversion and attempting to overthrow the government.
The protesters occupying the IMF offices in Quito are in support of the indigenous movement.
Neil Verlander Press Office
Ivonne Yanez, 011-593-2-568091 (in IMF offices) Quito
Ecuador Esperanza Martinez, 011-593-2-529287