- Massive protests broke out in Ecuador after President Lenín Moreno cut fuel subsidies last week.
- Following violence in the capital city, Moreno moved the government from Quito to a coastal city 150 miles away.
- Moreno has accused his predecessor, former President Rafael Correa, of conspiring with Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro to launch a coup against him.
Moreno Cuts Fuel Subsidies
Ecuador has been engulfed in protests for nearly a week after President Lenín Moreno announced he was ending fuel subsidies that had been in place for 40 years.
Moreno claimed the subsidies cost the government nearly $1.4 billion a year, about 5% of the budget. He also said he scrapped them as part of a broader plan to cut spending under a loan agreement with the International Monetary Fund to lower debt and stimulate the economy.
Under that deal, the IMF would give Ecuador a $4.2 billion loan as long as Moreno imposed measures to cut back on government spending.
But cutting fuel subsidies means fuel prices go up, and rising fuel prices have a long history of sparking protests, like the Yellow Vest movement in France which started over a gas tax increase.
The price increase angered transportation workers, young people, and Indigenous groups in Ecuador, who have already been struggling over the last few years as Ecuador has sunk into debt and tried to fight its way out of an economic recession.
Protest Break Out
Following Moreno’s announcement on Thursday, taxi drivers, bus drivers, and members of Ecuador’s transportation union launch a strike. They also blocked roads and highways all over the country and were quickly joined by students and Indigenous groups.
Even after the transportation union called off the strike on Saturday, the protests, which are now led by indigenous groups, continued on.
Moreno declared a 60-day state of emergency following the outbreaks on Thursday, which allowed him to suspend certain civil liberties of protestors, but protesters continued marching and barricading roads by reportedly setting fires and burning tires and military vehicles.
The demonstrators reportedly threw petrol bombs and stones at security forces who responded by using tear gas and water cannons. Protestors have also attacked dozens of rose plantations and several oil production facilities, prompting oil field operations to be suspended all over the country.
With large parts of the country brought to a standstill, the minister of production, commerce and investment told reporters that Ecuador has lost $1.4 billion dollars over just six days of protests.
Dozens of people, including police, have been injured and one man died after being hit by a car.
Authorities have also arrested hundreds of people, though there are conflicting reports on how many have been arrested. Some outlets say 570, while others say the number is now closer to 700.
Over the last few days, demonstrators in the capital city Quito have reportedly stormed and vandalized multiple government buildings, all while continuing to clash with police on the streets, destroy property, and loot businesses.
Moreno Moves Government & Blames Coup Attempt
On Monday, Moreno announced that he was moving his government from Quito to Guayaquil, a coastal city 150 miles away. Many have described the move as unprecedented.
Moreno has also called for dialogue with the Indigenous groups, who have said that they are not behind the violence in the capital.
The president, for his part, seems to believe them and has insisted that their protests have been infiltrated by bad actors backed by former-Ecuadorian President Rafael Correa, who is working with Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro to overthrow him.
Moreno has frequently clashed with Maduro, but he used to be the vice president to Correa, who served before Moreno took office and once was his mentor.
Correa has been living in exile in Belgium since being charged with kidnapping a political opponent while president. Moreno has also blamed Correa for the economic problems that got Ecuador here in the first place.
Speaking during a televised statement Monday, Moreno said the protests were an attempted coup against him.
“What has happened these days is not a social protest against a decision by my government,” he said. “The looting, vandalism and violence show that there’s an organized action to destabilize my government.”
Correa has denied that he is behind a coup attempt.
“They are such liars … They say I am so powerful that with an iPhone from Brussels I could lead the protests,” he told Reuters. “People couldn’t take it anymore, that’s the reality.”
But he still criticized Moreno on Twitter, writing “Moreno is finished, as happens with every traitor sooner or later” and adding that he “has no legitimacy to govern.”
Maduro, for his part, has supported the protestors.
“I express my solidarity with the people of Ecuador,” the Washington Post quoted him saying. “No more IMF packages! No more misery!”
Venezuelan opposition leader Juan Guaidó, who many countries including the U.S. recognize as the rightful leader of Venezuela, supported Moreno’s claim.
“While president Lenín Moreno works to maintain and strengthen the republic and institutions of Ecuador, a group financed by Maduro’s accomplices in America, taking advantage of the most vulnerable, seeks to end the country’s stability,” he wrote on Twitter. “Solidarity with Ecuador.”
Right now, Ecuador’s future remains uncertain. Moreno has said he will not resign, but others have noted that in the past, Indigenous-led protests brought down three presidents. That said, Moreno does have the backing of the military, which will prove as a key ally moving forward.
See what others are saying: (The Washington Post) (NPR) (The Guardian)
Russia Takes Over 900 Azovstal Fighters Prisoner as Mariupol Surrenders
Ukraine said the soldiers successfully completed their mission, but the fall of Mariupol represents a strategic win for Putin.
Azovstal Waves the White Flag
Russia’s foreign ministry announced on Wednesday that it had captured 959 Ukrainians from the Azovstal steelworks, where besieged soldiers have maintained the last pocket of resistance in Mariupol for weeks.
A ministry spokesperson said in a statement that 51 were being treated for injuries, and the rest were sent to a former prison colony in the town of Olenivka in a Russian-controlled area of Donetsk.
The defense ministry released videos of what it claimed were Ukrainian fighters receiving care at a hospital in the Russian-controlled town of Novoazovsk. In one, a soldier tells the camera he is being treated “normally” and that he is not being psychologically pressured, though it is unclear whether he is speaking freely.
It was unclear if any Ukrainians remained in Azovstal, but Denis Pushilin, the head of the self-proclaimed republic of Donetsk, said in a statement Wednesday that the “commanders of the highest level” were still hiding in the plant.
Previously, estimates put the number of soldiers inside Azovstal around 1,000.
Ukraine officially gave up Mariupol on Monday, when the first Azovstal fighters began surrendering.
Reuters filmed dozens of wounded Ukrainians being driven away in buses marked with the Russian pro-war “Z” symbol.
Ukraine’s deputy defense minister said in a Tuesday statement that the Ukrainian prisoners would be swapped in an exchange for captured Russians. But numerous Russian officials have signaled that the Ukrainian soldiers should be tried.
Mariupol Falls into Russian Hands
After nearly three months of bombardment that left Mariupol in ruins, Russia’s combat mission in the city has ended.
The sprawling complex of underground tunnels, caverns, and bunkers beneath Azovstal provided a defensible position for the Ukrainians there, and they came to represent the country’s resolve in the face of Russian aggression for many spectators.
Earlier this month, women, children, and the elderly were evacuated from the plant.
The definitive capture of Mariupol, a strategic port city, is a loss for Ukraine and a boon for Russia, which can now establish a land bridge between Crimea and parts of Eastern Ukraine controlled by Russian separatists. The development could also free up Russian troops around Mariupol to advance on the East, while additional reinforcements near Kharkiv descend from the north, potentially cutting off Ukrainian forces from the rest of the country.
The Ukrainian military has framed events in Mariupol as at least a partial success, arguing that the defenders of Azovstal completed their mission by tying down Russian troops and resources in the city and giving Ukrainians elsewhere more breathing room.
It claimed that doing so prevented Russia from rapidly capturing the city of Zaporizhzhia further to the west.
See what others are saying: (The Guardian) (BBC) (BBC)
Convoy of Up to 1,000 Vehicles Evacuates Refugees From Mariupol as Russian War Effort Stalls
Russia may have lost a third of its ground invasion force since the war began, according to British military intelligence.
Hundreds Make It Out Alive
A convoy of between 500 and 1,000 vehicles evacuating refugees from the southern port city of Mariupol arrived safely in the Ukrainian-controlled city of Zaporizhzhia on Saturday.
People have been trickling out of Mariupol for over two months, but the recent evacuation was the single biggest out of the city thus far. Russian troops, who control most of the city, did not allow the convoy to leave for days, but eventually, they relented.
The convoy first traveled to Berbyansky some 80 kilometers to the west, then stopped at other settlements before driving 200 kilometers northwest to Zaporizhzhia. Many refugees told reporters they took “secret detours” to avoid Russian checkpoints and feared every moment of the journey.
Nikolai Pavlov, a 74-year-old retiree, told Reuters he had lived in a basement for a month after his apartment was destroyed.
“We barely made it,” he said. “There were lots of elderly people among us… the trip was devastating. But it was worth it.”
63-year-old Iryna Petrenko also said she had stayed in Mariupol initially to take care of her 92-year-old mother, who subsequently died.
“We buried her next to her house, because there was nowhere to bury anyone,” she said.
Putin’s Plans Go Poorly
In Mariupol, Ukrainian fighters continue to hold the Azovstal steelworks, the only part of the city still under Ukrainian control.
On Sunday, a video emerged appearing to show a hail of projectiles bursting into white, brightly burning munitions over the factory.
The pro-Russian separatist who posted it on Telegram wrote, “If you didn’t know what it is and for what purpose – you could say that it’s even beautiful.”
Turkey is trying to negotiate an evacuation of wounded Ukrainians from the factory, but neither Russia nor Ukraine have agreed to any plan.
After nearly three months of war, Mariupol has been left in ruins, with thousands of civilians reportedly dead.
“In less than 3 month, Mariupol, one of Ukraine’s fastest developing & comfortable cities, was reduced into a heap of charred ruins smelling death, with thousands of people standing in long breadlines and selling their properties out to buy some food. Less than three months,” Illia Ponomarenko, a reporter for The Kyiv Independent, tweeted.
On Sunday, the United Kingdom’s defense ministry estimated that Russia has likely lost a third of its ground invasion forces since the war began.
Moscow is believed to have deployed as many as 150,000 troops in Ukraine.
The ministry added that Russian forces in Eastern Ukraine have “lost momentum” and are “significantly behind schedule.” Moreover, it said Russia failed to achieve substantial territorial gains over the last month while sustaining “consistently high levels of attrition.”
“Under the current conditions, Russia is unlikely to dramatically accelerate its rate of advance over the next 30 days,” the ministry concluded.
Sweden also signaled on Sunday that it will join Finland in applying for NATO membership.
See what others are saying: (The Daily Beast) (U.S. News and World Report) (The Hill)
Israel Moves to Build Over 4,000 West Bank Settlements as Palestinian Homes Demolished
The Israeli military is proceeding with a plan to evict at least 1,000 Palestinians from the West Bank.
Settlers Get Ready to Move in
On Thursday, a military planning body in the Israeli-occupied West Bank approved the construction of 4,427 housing units, according to the watchdog group Peace Now.
“The State of Israel took another stumble toward the abyss and further deepened the occupation,” Hagit Ofran, an expert at Peace Now, said via the Associated Press.
The plan is the largest advancement of settlement projects since President Joe Biden took office in the United States.
The U.S. opposes settlement expansion and said as much when the plan was first announced last week, but critics say Washington has done little to pressure Israel to stop.
In a statement, U.N. Mideast envoy Tor Wennesland called the settlements a “major obstacle to peace.”
“Continued settlement expansion further entrenches the occupation, encroaches upon Palestinian land and natural resources, and hampers the free movement of the Palestinian population,” he said.
In October, Israel approved some 3,000 settlement homes despite a U.S. rebuke. There are currently over 130 Israeli settlements in the West Bank harboring almost 500,000 settlers, in addition to the nearly three million Palestinians living in the territory.
Palestinians Pushed Off Their Land
On Wednesday, the same day Israeli soldiers allegedly shot and killed Al-Jazeera journalist Shireen Abu Akleh, the military demolished at least 18 buildings in the West Bank, including 12 residential ones.
Israel’s supreme court has also ruled that eight Palestinian hamlets can be expelled, potentially leaving at least 1,000 Palestinians homeless.
The area targeted is known as the Masafer Yatta, and its residents say they have been herding animals and practicing traditional desert agriculture there for decades, long before Israel took over the West Bank in 1967. Israel, however, claims there were no permanent structures there before the military designated it a firing zone in the 1980s
“What’s happening now is ethnic cleansing,” Sami Huraini, an activist and a resident of the area, told the Associated Press. “The people are staying on their land and have already started to rebuild.”