- 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)
Police Arrest Hong Kong Man for Booing Chinese National Anthem
The man’s boos were launched during the first time the Chinese national anthem had ever been played for a Hong Kong athlete at the Olympics.
Instulting the Anthem
Hong Kong authorities announced Friday that a man was arrested for allegedly booing and “insulting” the Chinese national anthem while watching the Olympics on Monday.
The unnamed 40-year-old, who identified himself as a journalist, was allegedly watching the Olympics fencing medal ceremony for Hong Konger Edgar Cheung at a local mall. When the anthem began playing, he allegedly began booing and chanted “We are Hong Kong!” while waving a British Hong Kong Colonial flag.
The man’s actions were particularly noteworthy because it was the first time the Chinese national anthem had been played for a Hong Kong athlete in the Olympics. Hong Kongers compete at the Games under a separate committee called Hong Kong, China. The last time a Hong Konger won gold was in 1996 for windsurfing, at which time the British anthem of “God Save the Queen” was played.
Concerns for Freedom of Speech
The man is suspected of breaking the relatively new National Anthem Ordinance, which was passed in June 2020, and has a penalty of up to three years in prison and fines of $6,000 for anyone who publicly and intentionally insults the anthem. The law mirrors one in mainland China, but it has faced considerable scrutiny from increasingly persecuted pro-democracy lawmakers in Hong Kong.
They argue that it tramples the right to free speech, which is supposed to be enshrined in the city’s Basic Law. Hong Kong police, however, say that’s not the case and claim that his actions breach common restraints on freedom of speech. Senior Superintendent Eileen Chung said that his actions were “to stir up the hostility of those on the scene and to politicize the sport.”
Police issued a warning that it would investigate reports of others joining his chants or violating the separate National Security law passed last year.
This incident isn’t the only case of alleged politicization of the Games. Badminton player Angus Ng was accused by a pro-Beijing lawmaker of making a statement by sporting a black jersey with the territory’s emblem. The imagery was very similar to the black-and-white Hong Kong flag used by anti-government protesters.
Ng countered that he wore his own clothes to the event because he didn’t have sponsorships to provide jerseys and he wasn’t authorized to print the emblem on a jersey himself.
See what others are saying: (Inside) (Al Jazeera) (CNN)
Canadian Catholic Priest Says Residential Schools Survivors Lied About Abuse
The Roman Catholic Church is facing considerable backlash across Canada for its treatment of indigenous peoples in the residential school system, along with its subsequent efforts to downplay the problem.
Priest Sparks Outrage
Father Rheal Forest was put on forced leave Wednesday following remarks he made over a weeks-long period starting July 10 in which he doubted victims of the country’s infamous residential school system.
Residential schools were a system of schools largely for indigenous children that were mostly run by the Catholic Church with federal government funding. The schools were notoriously cruel and long faced allegations that children had been abused or went missing under their care.
To date, over 1,300 unmarked graves have been found at four former residential schools across Canada, a fraction of the over 130 that used to exist.
Forest, of the St. Boniface archdiocese in Winnipeg, was standing in for a couple of weeks while the main priest at his church was away. During that time, Forest told parishioners that victims of the residential schools, particularly those sexually abused, had lied.
“If [the victims] wanted extra money, from the money that was given to them, they had to lie sometimes — lie that they were abused sexually and, oop, another $50,000,” he said.
“It’s kind of hard if you’re poor not to lie.”
In that same sermon, he also added that during his time with Inuit groups in the north of the country, most had allegedly said they appreciated the residential school system. Instead, he said they blamed any abuses on lay people working at the facilities rather than priests or nuns.
Forest’s comments drew a ton of backlash, prompting the archdiocese to place Forest on leave. A spokesperson for the archdiocese said that the institution “completely disavow” Forest’s comments, adding, “We very much regret the pain they may have caused to many people, not least of course Indigenous people and, more specifically, survivors of the Residential School system.”
Overall, the archdiocese has attempted to apologize to indigenous communities for its part in the residential school system, with Archbishop Albert Legatt saying in a video that the way forward was by “acknowledging, apologizing, and acting” on terms set by indigenous groups.
Church Allegedly Kept Money From Victims
Forest’s views and subsequent dismissal aren’t the only public relations scandal the Roman Catholic Church faces in Canada.
According to documents obtained by CBC News, the Church spent over a decade avoiding paying out money to survivors per a 2005 agreement. At the time, it, alongside the protestant churches that also ran some residential schools, agreed to pay an amount to victims of the schools in the tens of millions.
Instead, according to an internal summary of 2015 court documents, the Catholic Church spent much of that money on lawyers, administration, a private fundraising company, and unapproved loans. It seems that some of this was technically legal, such as a promise to give tens of millions back via “in-kind” services; however, there was no audit completed to confirm that these services actually happened or to prove the alleged value of the services. This led to doubts about whether or not they were done effectively.
The Catholic Church was unique among the signatory churches in the 2005 agreement with its efforts to avoid paying victims. All of the other denominations paid out their sums many years before without issues.
While priests such as Father Forest have supported the Church, there has been internal backlash. Father André Poilièvre, a Saskatoon priest and Order of Canada recipient, said the Church’s actions are “scandalous” and “really shameful,” adding, “It was a loophole. It might be legal, but it’s not ethical.”
With these latest revelations, widespread anger at the Church has triggered allegations that indigenous groups are behind a spree of church burnings across the country.
The entire situation is likely going to continue to smolder as a government commission set up to investigate the schools estimates there will be thousands of more unmarked graves found across Canada.
See what others are saying: (CBC News) (The Guardian) (CTV News)
Tokyo Sets Back-to-Back Records for Number of Daily COVID-19 Cases
Some positive cases were detected among people attending the Olympic Games, including a handful of athletes.
Cases Going Up
The Tokyo Olympic Games found itself in more controversy on Wednesday after Tokyo experienced a record number of daily COVID-19 cases for the second day in a row.
On Tuesday, the city recorded 2,848 new cases of the virus, passing the 2,500 daily new case threshold for the first time since the pandemic began. Then on Wednesday, it shattered the record again with 3,177 new COVID-19 cases.
At least 155 of those new cases were detected among people attending the Games, including a handful of athletes, which contrasts Prime Minister Suga Yoshihide’s promise that the Olympics wouldn’t be hit with the virus. The spike in new cases has largely been attributed to the delta-variant, something that many countries are dealing with around the world.
Nishimura Yasutoshi, a Japanese economic minister, told a parliamentary panel this week that COVID-19 cases are expected to continue rising for at least a few days. He also explained that many people may have delayed getting tested last week due to holidays, therefore inflating total daily new case numbers.
Governors in prefectures around Tokyo have moved to ask the government for states-of-emergency, which Tokyo is already under.
Doubts About Government Response
The prime minister said in a press conference on Tuesday that “the government has secured a new drug that reduces the risk of serious illness by 70 percent,” adding, “we have confirmed that this drug will be used thoroughly from now on.”
However, he never actually mentioned what drug he was referencing.
“In any case, under these circumstances, I would like to ask the people to avoid going out unnecessarily and to watch the Olympics and Paralympics on TV,” Suga continued.
He also stressed that canceling the Olympics amid the outbreak was completely out of the question, although there have been continued calls from the public and opposition lawmakers for just that.
Beyond refusing to cancel the Games, Suga is facing backlash for refusing to enact strict state-of-emergency protocols. Currently, the measures in Tokyo are almost all voluntary and consist of asking people to stay home, along with requesting restaurants that serve alcohol to completely close and telling all others to shut down by 8 p.m.