'People want total change'
THE LATIN American country of Ecuador was in crisis this week as protests and strikes erupted against the government. The protests were headed by indigenous Indian groups. They represent the half of the country's population descended from those who lived there before the 16th century Spanish conquest.
Their protests were backed by students and teachers. Oil workers struck on Monday. Demonstrations in several cities have called for the overthrow of the government. Ecuador is in the grip of its worst economic crisis since the 1930s. The economy shrank by 7 percent last year and inflation soared to 60 percent, hitting the poor and workers hard.
The country's currency has slumped on international financial markets. The government of President Jamil Mahuad responded by scrapping the currency altogether and embracing the US dollar. Mahuad dismissed his entire cabinet last week in an attempt to stop protest. Army chiefs unleashed 30,000 troops onto the streets to counter demonstrators. But an ambiguous statement from army chiefs suggested they could be thinking of taking power themselves in some circumstances.
"Naturally, as long as [Mahuad] is president he will have the support of the armed forces," said the generals. Last summer a wave of protests and strikes forced Mahuad to retreat from austerity measures linked to a planned deal with the International Monetary Fund. A message from students in Quito on Monday said, "The crisis that Ecuador has been going through in recent years has been worsening dramatically. "For the majority of people who live in misery, basic consumption has become very expensive. People want a total change."