QUITO – Ecuadorian Indians continued Monday with their protests to stop the approval of a controversial bill they contend would open to the door to privatizing water.
Protesters used sticks, stones and piles of burning tires to mount roadblocks in the highland provinces of Pichincha, Imbabura and Cotopaxi, media outlets said.
Police used tear gas to disperse the demonstrators in the Latacunga zone, public television reported.
Ecuador’s deputy minister of indigenous affairs, Orlando Perez, said Monday that the background behind the protests is to “topple” the center-left government of Rafael Correa, a charge denied by the president of the Confederation of Indigenous Nationalities of Ecuador, or Conaie, Marlon Santi.
Interior Minister Gustavo Jalkh said Monday that the population has the right to demonstrate but he added that blocking roadways is “a crime.”
He emphasized that police dispatched to clear highways would not be carrying guns.
The minister added that the police have the obligation to maintain the right of citizens to travel freely.
Conaie, a powerful organization once allied with Correa, will continue with the protest until congress deals with “the culminating issues” of the bill on water management, Santi said.
He said that over the past eight months the Indians had presented their proposals to the National Assembly so that they might be incorporated into the proposed legislation, but those suggestions had not been included by lawmakers.
However, the chairman of the assembly’s Food Sovereignty Committee, Jaime Abril, emphasized that until Monday the Indian organizations had not presented alternatives to the bill and have insisted that management of the water supply be in the hands of the Intercultural and Plurinational Council.
Abril said the constitution sets forth that the management of water shall be in the hands of the government.
Last Thursday, the country’s most important indigenous organizations called upon their members to radicalize the protests they had been holding since early last week against the congressional debate over the water bill.
Though Correa’s administration insists the bill prohibits privatization of water, opponents say the legislation would give mining companies, bottling firms and other businesses privileged access to the resource.