A report prepared by organizations close to the indigenous movement quantifies the human impact of the repression of Rafael Correa’s Government during the August 2015 national strike. According to the document, the armed forces and police have implemented a number of strategies for social and political control.
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According to a 51-page report prepared by the Collective for Psychosocial Research & Action Ecuador, sponsored by Acción Ecológica and People Health’s Movement, there were 229 cases of what they call “attacks, arrests, attempted arrests and raids in all territories where there were demonstrations and protests”, especially in the Amazonian provinces and the southern Sierra.
The report anticipates that “we focus our view on a feminist analysis that allows us to gain understanding and delve deeper into how the actions and attacks carried out by the Ecuadorian Government have exacerbated the conditions in which many women live, and the specific type of repression that is being exercised against them”. In this context, the report confirms that “of the total number of registered cases, 158 are men and 52 women. The age range is between 14 and 75 years”.
The investigation reveals that of the 229 attacks, most occurred in Quito (105), Saraguro (50), and Cañar (13), with fewer taking place in provinces such Morona Santiago, Pastaza, Orellana and Imbabura, among others.
Regarding the arrests, the study establishes that “of the people who suffered repression by the State, 142 were assaulted and detained. In 4 cases of aggression, attempted detentions were reported. Approximately 2 out of 3 victims of state violence were arrested, which reveals a strategy to control the protests”.
When it comes to the number of people who were remanded in custody, there are discrepancies in the figures issued by the Public Prosecutor and those gathered by the investigators: “The report from the State Attorney General’s Office announced 123 arrests by August 19, of which 62 are in custody. For our part, we have a report of 142 people arrested. However, it is worth noting that our records extend to August 23”.
Those arrested have been charged with “sabotage and terrorism, paralyzing public services, attack or resistance to police, possession of weapons, and incitement to discord”, according to the researchers, who report that most of the accused have been charged with paralyzing public services (57) and attack or resistance to police (42).
The role of women
The report focuses on the situation of women who participated in the protests. “Looking at the data on women, it can be seen that the percentage of attacks without detention is higher than for men, nearly equaling the number of arrests. This shows that with women, whilst the arrests are relevant, the attacks without arrest are a mechanism that attempts to hide the violence, since the proceedings are not judicialized”. In total, 32 women were arrested, of which at least 22 reported assault, whilst 101 men were arrested, of which 52 reported assault.
For researchers, “the information gathered shows that these practices are accompanied by sexist discourses that seek to denigrate and underestimate the role of women in social mobilizations. The collected testimonies reflect the sexist attitudes of police forces.” For these attitudes, the report blames President Rafael Correa himself, because “by stating that women are used in the marches, the Government employs a paternalistic discourse that infantilizes women, denying their capacity for agency and their role as political subjects”.
Among what the researchers call the “significant arrests” were Margoth Escobar, a 61-year old activist detained in Puyo in the province of Pastaza; Carlos Pérez, President of the Confederation of Peoples of Kichwa Nationality of Ecuador (Ecuarunari) detained by police in the center of Quito; and Salvador Quishpe, Prefect of the Zamora province, who reported a beating by police, but was not arrested. The report also highlights the case of foreign professor Manuela Picq, who was arrested and her visa revoked, after which she voluntarily left the country for Brazil.
The report states that “the most significant injuries that occurred were multiple traumas and fractures caused by blows from truncheons, impacts from tear gas canisters and burns from pepper spray and tear gas. These injuries were mostly inflicted on the limbs or the head and face”.
Testimony of repression in Saraguro
“On the morning of 17, the policy chief arrived for talks but the leaders demanded to talk to the Governor. Fifteen minutes later, the military arrived to throw teargas bombs. The police threw a lot of gas and I climbed up on a house that is under construction. I saw the police take down a local council member as if he were a criminal. I shouted for them to let him go. Then 10 police arrived and told me they were arresting me for carrying a stone.
“I ran to the chapel and saw how six police were beating a man. I also saw how they beat my stepmother but could not help because, along with four other women, I was being guarded by 12 policemen. One police officer hit my stepmother in the back with a baton. I saw a local council member being hit in the mouth with a baton, knocking his teeth out. I saw how they carried my neighbor away by his hands and feet and I saw how they took a child away. In the park, I saw how police entered the house of a local council member and dragged him out to the road, pulling him by the hair and kicking him. The soldiers were laughing; they said I should go away and cook”.
Attacks on the press
The report states that at least 15 journalists were attacked during the protests, from media outlets such as “El Comercio, APF, Expresso, Revista Criterios, ECTV, El País, Wambra Radio, Agencia Popular de Comunicación Ser Públicos, Diagonal, Teleamazonas, Ecuavisa and, in one case, a journalist from an autonomous decentralized government”.
Those responsible for the attacks on the press were “National Police, unknown persons and supporters of Alianza País (the current Government party), while the medical report states that journalists suffered loss of vision, choking due to the effects of gas, a broken clavicle, batons blows to the body and head, as well as hearing loss. Verbal abuse of different types was reported against journalists covering the demonstration in the vicinity of the Plaza Grande”.
Raids in Loja
According to the authors of the report, the Emergency Decree which followed the eruption of the Cotopaxi volcano was used as a pretext to conduct searches in Saraguro, in the province of Loja, over 500 kilometers from the volcano emergency zones. The decree, which suspended the inviolability of the home without a warrant, allowed “military and police operatives to enter the homes of people, mainly in the communities of Ilincho, Las Lagunas, Membrillo and Gunodel. The information gathered tells of arrests and attacks on men, women, children and elderly people in their homes, including people who were not taking part in the demonstrations”. Raids also took place in Puyo.
The report argues that the Government declared a state of emergency after the Cotopaxi eruption for purposes of repression: “the Armed Forces which, in a state of emergency, should be limited to the object of the emergency, were found to be exerting force on the civil population in the provinces of Morona Santiago, Pastaza, Orellana, Cañar, Cotopaxi, Azuay, Imbabura and Loja”.
The document is also critical of what it calls the “militarization of territories”, i.e. the deployment of the armed forces to reinforce the police: “The territories where there was militarization: Morona Santiago, Pastaza, Orellana, Cañar, Cotopaxi, Azuay, Imbabura, Loja, are areas that are outside the center of broadcast, production and media impact. This is probably a contributing factor to military deployment, as the population is more vulnerable to possible violations of rights”.
Other State strategies include the “discouragement of social grassroots participation through assaults and arrests”; the “lack of judicial independence and manipulation of information by public authorities”; the “control of public space”; and the “deepening of patriarchal domination mechanisms by the State”, among others.
The summary of a “sickening” repression
A report from the National Legal Bureau, a group of lawyers, human rights defenders and similar organizations, included a series of testimonies describing the repression at the uprising:
On August 17, 2015, about 80 people from Saraguro were in the street in peaceful dialogue with the police (around 1,500 uniformed officers in green and gray were present). Suddenly, tear gas bombs began to be thrown at the people of Saraguro, who immediately started running toward their homes, the hill or the streets. “The police arrived and began throwing gas at unarmed people who had to start running”.
The police sprayed gas at people, inside houses and in the faces of the men and women they were apprehending. It has also been said that the police threw stones and sticks.
Of the three persons identified as seriously injured, one man lost five teeth and his lower lip opening after being struck with a baton. “They took him towards Loja in a police car, but he was bleeding so heavily that the police left him at the Health Center in San Lucas, where he was not attended to”.
An 11-year old girl was left with serious psychological damage after her parents suffered a violent police attack. The last of the three was a 28-year old man, who was hit in the eye by a tear gas bomb thrown from 20 meters away.
Detainees were pulled by their hair, their collars, by their clothes, their shirts were ripped; they were dragged. They were beaten in the lower back, ribs and head and seized by 4-7 policemen per person.
There were assaults on pregnant women, young people, the elderly. Several children were psychologically affected by the events. Some women were punched in the stomach or taken away with their blouses lifted. Some of the men who were apprehending people wore civilian clothes. Some detainees suffered bruising and one was hit in the hand by a bomb and had to receive stitches.
14 of the 24 people who were arrested, assaulted and injured had not been on the Panamerican highway, where the demonstration started, but in their homes, on common land, in a shop, or just passing by.
Some police (mainly with their faces covered) insulted women and threatened them with rape. They verbally abused men by calling them “ignorant Indians” and saying “there are those ‘mechosos’ (long-haired)”.
Material damage was also caused in the raids. There are photographic records and testimonies of broken doors, broken mirrors, evidence of baton use and fragments of tear gas canisters inside homes. Outside, a fence was broken and areas of crops burned by gas bombs. In the households where 10 to 20 police officers entered to make arrests and/or mistreat young and elderly people, the report notes that the cellphones used to film the physical abuse were destroyed and/or seized. A phone which was used to record footage of an ambulance transporting tear gas canisters was also destroyed.