My English class this morning started with a brief discussion in Spanish about the demonstrations going on around town. The students at Central University, which is right down the hill from our house, have been protesting for a week or so now. A demonstration means they burn tires in the middle of the street and if a bus or a car tries to pass, they throw rocks at it, attempting to break windows. Most of the native Ecuadorians I’ve talked to are pretty cynical about the students’ demonstrations. They say they join in because it’s a game. They throw rocks at the police; the police throw things at them. They get out of class, and they get an adrenaline rush. Few of them really believe in the cause.
And what is the cause? I’m not entirely sure. I’ve heard they want reduced bus fares, and I’ve heard they want better salaries for the teachers. But since when do students smash windows and refuse to go to class because they selflessly want their teachers to receive better pay?
This morning, eight of my fourteen police were absent because they were called to work the demonstrations. “The student demonstrations?” I asked. No. Apparently there are also throngs of indigenous people marching downtown because they want the president ousted. Well, in order for that to happen, congress has to vote on sending him to a trial. They already voted, and they didn’t succeed in ousting him. So according to the paper, the protesters aren’t going to accomplish much. Even though there were 3000 of them yesterday.
Another one of my students this morning said she couldn’t get to school on her normal route because there were protesters on her side of town, too. I didn’t quite catch whether they were students or indigenous people. But I heard that the public employees are protesting because they want better wages also. So there are three different groups protesting right now.
Yesterday, I walked down the hill to the cheap copy place I always go to. If I want copies, I have to take my originals to a shop and pay anywhere from 1.5 cents to 4 cents a copy. Since 1.5 cents a copy is remarkably cheaper than the more common 3 cents a copy (especially after 200 copies), I always go to the 1.5 cent places, most of which are near Central University. So I went there yesterday and when I got to the base of the hill, I started seeing people holding scarves over their mouths. Soon, my own throat and eyes started to burn. The tear gas from the student/police battle had drifted down the block to the bottom of LaGasca. I figured it couldn’t be much worse than the West High copy room at 8:15, so I braved the discomfort.
Eileen was on a bus on Monday that drove through the nighttime aftermath of the battle and apparently everyone started sneezing. She said her throat burned.
The woman at the copy shop explained that the demonstrations really hurt her business because no one wanted to come into the quasi-war zone. She said that this Friday will be worse because students at the universities throughout town will march in the streets.
My police this morning said they would have to work all weekend and that Monday would be the worst day. They were explaining that they had to do training with tear gas and that there’s another gas that makes people vomit, but they don’t use that one as often. They also said that the universities have autonomy, which means that police can’t enter them. That’s crazy, I said. And even my more liberal-minded civilians agreed, saying, “This is why we’re a third world country.”
Just a quick note for all the worried mothers out there. Eileen and I aren’t in danger. America is not a target. Most Ecuadorians that I’ve talked to hate Bush, but they also understand that the citizens of the U.S. do not all stand behind him. And though Rumsfield was here yesterday and also got protested, the big demonstrations are directed toward the Ecuadorian government, not ours, not us.
It’s all pretty exciting, actually. I can see why the students like it. But my police will put in 20 extra hours this week. And everyone will be inconvenienced. And if the past decade of Ecuadorian political history is any indication, things may change, but they probably won’t improve. So I can see why people hate it, too.