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Ecuador’s Government Flees Capital to Escape Violent Protests

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  • 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)

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Wealthy Canadian Couple Posed as Motel Workers To Jump Vaccine Queue

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  • Rodney Baker, the CEO of a Canadian casino company, resigned this week after he and his wife were caught traveling to a remote area in Yukon that is home to many indigenous people to jump the coronavirus vaccine queue.
  • The two allegedly posed as motel workers and were given the first dose of the vaccine but raised suspicions when they asked to be taken straight to the airport immediately afterward. 
  • Both individuals received two fines, one for failing to self-isolate and a second for failing to follow their signed declarations, adding up to $1,150 each.
  • The White River First Nation is calling for stiffer penalties, saying the small fine would be meaningless to the wealthy duo. For reference, the former CEO was paid a salary of more than $10.6 million in 2019.  

Couple Dupes Local Healthcare Workers

Like many other countries, officials in Canada have been working hard to ramp up COVID-19 vaccinations. In the Yukon territory specifically, health workers have been giving priority to remote communities with elderly and high-risk populations, as well as limited access to healthcare.

One of those areas is Beaver Creek, which is home to many members of the White River First Nation. However, Beaver Creek is now making headlines after two wealthy Vancouver residents traveled there to jump ahead in the vaccine queue.

The two culprits were identified as 55-year-old Rodney Baker, president and CEO of Great Canadian Gaming Corp, and his wife, 32-year-old actress Ekaterina Baker.

They reportedly flew from Vancouver to Whitehouse, then chartered a private plane to the remote community. Afterward, they went to a mobile clinic where they were able to receive the Moderna vaccine after saying they were new hires at a nearby motel.

Their presence raised suspicions given how small the population is in Beaver Creek, but the two raised even more eyebrows when they asked to be taken straight to the airport after receiving their doses.

Workers from the vaccination clinic checked with the motel and alerted law enforcement when they learned that the Bakers had lied about working there.

The couple was stopped just as they were preparing to fly back to their luxury condo in downtown Vancouver. According to CBC, both individuals received two fines, one for failing to self-isolate and a second for failing to follow their signed declaration, adding up to $1,150 each.

Indigenous Community Responds

“We are deeply concerned by the actions of individuals who put our Elders and vulnerable people at risk to jump the line for selfish purposes,” the White River First Nation’s Chief Angela Demit said in a Facebook statement addressing the situation.

She also told The Washington Post that she wants to see stiffer penalties for the couple because the relatively small fines would be “essentially meaningless” for such wealthy individuals. For reference, Mr. Baker’s annual compensation in 2019 was reported to be more than $10.6 million.

Janet Vander Meer, the head of the White River First Nation’s coronavirus response team, also called the incident, “another example of ongoing acts of oppression against Indigenous communities by wealthy individuals that thought they would get away with it.”

“Our oldest resident of Beaver Creek, who is 88 years old, was in the same room as this couple. My mom, who’s palliative, was in the same room as this couple,” she told Globalnews.ca. “That’s got to be jail time. I can’t see anything less. For what our community has been through the last few days. The exhaustion. It’s just mind-boggling.”

To prevent situations like this in the future, a spokesman for the Yukon government said it would implement new requirements for proving residency in the territory.

As far as the Bakers, Rodney resigned from his role at Great Canadian this week. A spokesperson for the company, which is currently the subject of a separate money-laundering probe, says it “has no tolerance for actions that run counter to the company’s objectives and values.”

See what others are saying: (CBC) (The Washington Post) (Yukon News)

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International

Protests Erupt Across the Netherlands Over COVID-19 Curfew

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  • For the third night in a row, Dutch police clashed with protesters and rioters in ten cities across the Netherlands.
  • The protests are a result of frustrations over the 9:00 p.m. – 4:30 a.m. curfew the country imposed to help stop the spread of coronavirus.
  • Rioters looted across major cities and even burned down a coronavirus testing site. So far, 184 people have been arrested and thousands have received fines for their participation.
  • The Prime Minister has said that when possible, the curfew would be the first safety measure to go, but he also made it clear that those rioting over it were criminals and will be treated as such.

Violence Over Coronavirus Curfew

The Netherlands faced riots and protests over coronavirus curfews and lockdown measures for the third night in a row.

The protests raged across ten cities, including major ones such as Amsterdam, Rotterdam, and The Hague. Authorities say that 184 people have been arrested so far, and thousands have received fines for their participation.

Protesters are particularly upset with an ongoing curfew in the country that puts restrictions on travel between 9:00 p.m.- 4:30 a.m.. It’s meant to slow the spread of the virus by preventing nightlife activities; however, critics have questioned just how effective those measures actually are.

Beyond the skepticism, the Netherlands is also facing a spread of misinformation about COVID-19, leading many to downplay how dangerous it is.

Last night’s protests led to violence with police, as well as a COVID-19 testing site being burnt to the ground. Wider Dutch society has been shocked by the violence since protests of this nature are relatively rare in the nation.

Mayors across the country vowed to introduce emergency measures that are intended to help deal with the protests.

Coping With the Virus

Regarding the curfew itself, the government has refused to budge on the issue. When responding to last night’s violence, Prime Minister Mark Rutte said that when possible, the curfew would be the first safety measure to go. Still, he also made it clear that those rioting over it were criminals and will be treated as such.

The Netherlands had managed to maintain the virus relatively successfully, six months ago, it had among the lowest new daily cases in Europe, with around 42 daily new cases in July. That all changed in September when cases began to rise dramatically, peaking of 11,499 daily new cases on Dec. 24.

Source: Google Coronavirus Statistics

Due to the imposed restrictions, cases began to fall again, although they are still far higher than they were in the summer of 2020.

See What Others Are Saying: (The Guardian) (BBC) (NPR)

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Thousands Protest in Russia Demanding Release of Putin Foe Alexei Navalny

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  • Russia faced some of the largest protests it has seen in recent years after thousands took to the streets Saturday demanding the government release opposition figure Alexei Navalny.
  • Russian authorities declared the protests illegal and detained more than 3,500 people from more than 100 cities, including Navalny’s wife.
  • The government also released a statement addressing Navalny by name for the first time, attempting to discredit claims he has made, including the idea that President Vladimir Putin has a billion-dollar villa on the Black Sea coast.

Largest Russian Protests in Recent History

Russia experienced some of its largest protests in years Saturday after opposition figure Alexei Navalny called for demonstrations to be held following his arrest.

Supporters demanded Navalny’s release but also called for an end to perceived rampant corruption in the Russian state.

Tens of thousands took to the streets and clashed with police in more than 100 cities, with independent monitors claiming that 3,500 people were detained by police. Among those detained was Yulia Navalnaya, Navalny’s wife, who was targeted by authorities during the protests. She is reported to have been released by Russian media agencies such as TASS.

Despite Russian authorities declaring the protests illegal and warning of repercussions for those who attend, the protests managed to reach a wide range of people. According to the New York Times, over ⅓ of protesters in Moscow said they had never protested before.

Despite the movements current popularity, it may be difficult to turn the popular, anti-Putin movement into something more.The protesters span a broad range of the political spectrum, from far-left communist and anarchist groups to nationalists and libertarians, meaning that while they dislike Putin and the corruption in the Russian government, they agree on little else.

Changing the Message

The protests unveiled a new shift in how Russian authorities deal with Navalny. In the past, authorities and state-backed media never mentioned him by name in order to downplay him; however, that changed this weekend.

Newscasters aired multiple programs to discredit him and paint him as a tool of the West, while Putin denied Navalny’s claims that he has a secret, billion-dollar villa on the coast of the Black Sea. Based on his salary of $133,000 a year, Putin would only be able to afford a single home in Russia. However, there is speculation that due to corruption and embezzling, Putin is likely the actual richest person alive.

Regarding Navalny himself, he’s still in jail pending court proceedings on Feb. 2. If those go poorly for Navalny, he could be in prison until the mid-2020s, but he is more concerned about his immediate future.

In a video to supporters prior to the protests, he made it clear that he has no intention of committing suicide. That statement was likely made due to the fact that many Russian dissidents seem to die via suicide, with much speculation about whether or not that was actually the case.

See what others are saying: (New York Times) (Business Insider) (Associated Press)

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