17 Apr

Paro Nacional

*Warning: long post.

Last Wednesday was the “Paro Nacional,” the nation-wide strike, organized by various politicians who opposed Lucio Gutierrez. Mayors of Quito, Guayaquil, Cuenca, as well as the “prefectos” of each province did most of the organizing. Wednesday itself was mostly a failure – there weren’t as many strikes or people striking as they hoped. However, Wednesday did succeed in kick-starting something.

When you’re done reading, read this disclaimer written by Eileen for worried parents.

17 Apr

Snippet 1

In the morning, not many busses were running. Schools were cancelled, and about half of the city’s employed actually went to work. The result was a quiet street when I left home to begin walking to school, keeping the possibility open that perhaps I’d be able to catch one of the few busses going down La Gasca. It was a nice morning – cool, but sunny. And with less traffic, you could actually smell something other than car exhaust for once – a hint of pine wafting in from the nearby mountainside; a sweet mysterious scent that I attributed to some type of tropical foliage since it reminded me of vacations in Florida and South Carolina; the wonderful odor of green grass, which is so infrequent a smell here in Quito that it fills me with a desire to lay face-down in a yard and knead handfuls of it like a cat being stroked; and dirt, just straight, natural, earthy dirt – the kind that covers small children who play all day in it, and whose shamelessness in being covered with it is enviable. I nearly purred as the sun warmed me on my walk, and the sheer novelty of mid-week peace in Quito brought to mind spring – spring as experienced in Wisconsin, full of hope and contrasting the weary drabness of late winter days.

17 Apr

Snippet 2

I walked with Will, Angie and Eileen to a mall known as CCI sometime just after noon. Nearby is the Supreme Court and we were hoping we’d be able to see some demonstrations in front of the court. I knew the area, so I knew we’d have wide expanses of sidewalks, parks, and boulevards in which to position ourselves a safe distance away. As we approached, however, all the signs pointed to a disappointing lack of action. There were no crowds of people, no riot tanks parked on corners, no clouds of tear gas floating on the wind.

So we went to lunch in the Mariscal (gringo land) and then walked toward La Patria Avenue hoping to see at least some crowds. We weren’t disappointed this time. When we got to La Patria, the street was shut down and there were various groups sparsely populating the empty road. We walked one block up La Patria and were soon faced with a crowd of people running toward us, so we turned quickly onto Amazonas and saw five tear gas bombs come flying through the air at the crowds on La Patria. Eileen kept her distance, as did Will, but I stayed close to La Patria with Angie until it became apparent that we really shouldn’t be standing there anymore. By then, the police had launched a canister of tear gas onto Amazonas. We ran away from La Patria through a cloud of it. I think all four of us got it pretty bad.

We walked briskly up Amazonas (nobody was running, and we figured the police would mostly stay on LaPatria), and as we approached the first block north of La Patria, some shouts warned us of an incoming tear gas bomb. We all covered our heads; the canister landed ahead of us; and one of the protesters picked it up and threw it over a building. At this point, I spotted a group of police standing in front of a court on the street intersecting Amazonas. Four of my former students were among the group, dressed in their gray, urban camaflauge. I approached them and talked for a while about whether or not they’d be allowed to return to English classes.

Just then, a bus arrived, wanting to get through the crowd gathered on Amazonas, but they weren’t too eager to allow them. I heard several very strong insults being thrown at the bus driver: “verga,” “chucha” “putamadre.” At this point, my police had to walk out to Amazonas to clear the path for the bus. Most people fled just upon seeing the police approach. We hung out for a minute or so until I could properly say goodbye to my former students. I introduced them to Eileen, Angie and Will, explaining at one point that Will really wanted to learn Spanish. Cesar, one of my best students from the police days, said, “first lesson: ‘fuera Lucio’”

17 Apr

Snippet 3

I had one student come to my morning class. I figured there wouldn’t be many in the night class, but I went just in case. I waited outside of SECAP for about 25 minutes and then I started walking home. By the time I reached the bottom of La Gasca, I hadn’t seen any busses that would take me home, but such a thing is pretty normal, so I decided to try waiting at the bottom of La Gasca for a little while before I gave up and just continued walking all the way home.

A minute later, a van appeared. I overheard some people ask the driver if he was going up La Gasca and he said yeah, La Comuna also. I saw a small family get in, followed by a couple, and another woman and child, so I followed suit. “Toda La Gasca?” I asked, and the driver said yeah. If you’ve got the car for it, it’s not a bad gig, going around and giving people rides for 25 cents.

Later, at home, Will, Angie, and I heard some irregular clinking coming from outside. It had a vague, irregular rhythm to it, but it took us a while to even begin wondering about it. Eventually, however, we went to the roof to look for the source. From the roof, you could see small crowds gathering on LaGasca, banging pots and pans, and chanting “fuera Lucio.”

As the night progressed, the sounds grew louder. I finally decided to walk out to the road and look at what was happening. There were more people than I thought there would be, and they were clinking pots and chanting. An occasional car would drive by, honking in time to the pot-clinking.

Later, I went out to the La Gasca again with Angie to look for a cell phone card. There were probably a total of about 70 people stationed in various parts of the road, and they were starting to light bonfires in the middle of the street. One guy down the hill a bit had put together a PA system and was leading chants and talking about how the neighborhood of La Gasca was not going to tolerate this president. “Democracia si, dictadura no,” they chanted, in between their choruses of “fuera Lucio.”

Now what?
Each successive night since the failed paro, people have mobilized more and more. Today, I was down by Carolina Park; cars were honking constantly, waving Ecuadorian flags out their windows. There was a definite air of excitement. I met up with some of my students, most of whom are anti-Lucio. Apparently, Lucio had called the protestors “forajidos,” which pretty much means “outlaws.” One of my students arrived with a sign taped to the back window of his car which said, “Yo soy forajido tambien” (I’m an outlaw, too).

After about two hours of conversation, we walked over to Shyris Avenue, where there was a big gathering of demonstrators. It was almost like being at a soccer game. They were waving flags, singing and chanting, wearing yellow, and jumping up and down. I had received a voice mail from our director informing us that the president had declared a “state of emergency” and that he’d broken a few constitutional rights, one of which was cutting the phone lines to the primary leftist radio station, Radio Luna. Most of my students seem to agree that this latest move by the president is going to make the people more impassioned and intense in their protests. But not all believe that. I have one student in particular, who thinks the people won’t be able to stop him and that he’ll become a dictator like Chavez in Venezuela.