Ecuadoreans in Miami have remained relatively quiet about unrest back home, where violent protests over new economic policies have left at least five dead and hundreds detained.
While nobody has taken to the South Florida streets to protest, many expats — when they’re asked — express strong opinions about measures imposed last week by President Lenín Moreno, largely blaming the upheaval on left-wing political forces trying to rattle the country before upcoming elections.
“I’m in favor of the measures the president has taken,” said Rita Alvarado, an Ecuadorean who has lived in Miami for 20 years. Early this week she found herself in the middle of the chaos in the port city of Guayaquil, which has become the temporary seat of government. She even participated in a peaceful march in Guayaquil organized by municipal officials.
“The people want to work, and that’s what they made clear with this march,” Alvarado told el Nuevo Herald. “No vandalism, no violence and no hate.”
That hasn’t been the case everywhere. Moreno’s package of reforms, including one that eliminates the country’s subsidy on oil, triggered immediate protests from transit employees for several days. Other protesters, including indigenous demonstrators, have kept up the pressure and forced Moreno to move the government from Quito to Guayaquil. Their message is that the measures unduly afflict the country’s poor population.
Karla Apolinario, an Ecuadorean lawyer and volunteer for several human rights organizations who is now a Miami resident, said that she understands the indignation back home but believes the economic measures taken were inevitable in a country in a budget crisis.
“The previous government disguised the situation and completely indebted the country,” Apolinario said.
Still, she thinks the government will have to soften the measures to maintain support.
“If Moreno doesn’t make things right by tweaking his measures, kids will continue not going to school, the boycott will continue, people won’t be able to get to work. … It will be total chaos,” said Apolinario.
Apolinario, who describes herself as an independent activist, may speak at a three-day summit in Washington, D.C., later this month. Florida Sens. Rick Scott and Marco Rubio, both Republicans, will be attending the event along with diplomats, and members of Congress and the Organization of American States.
U.S. Rep. Debbie Mucarsel-Powell, a Miami Democrat and an immigrant from Ecuador not participating in the summit, said in a statement to el Nuevo that she will continue to closely monitor the situation and that she has expressed concern about the violence to both the U.S. and Ecuadorian governments.
She believes the only way to find a solution “to these complicated issues is through a productive dialogue between the government and the protesters.” She said that the “U.S. needs to continue to push for a diplomatic solution to this issue — not only for Ecuador but to protect the stability of the entire region.”
Jose Portes, who was the student government president of Miami Dade College’s West Campus last year and has represented Ecuador in various youth forums, told el Nuevo that he believes the measures taken by Moreno were necessary, but that he doesn’t agree with the timing. Just before an election year, he said, the backlash could aid the party of former President Rafael Correa.
Moreno and many Ecuadoreans believe that the protests are orchestrated by the left and they blame Venezuela’s Nicolás Maduro. Venezuela’s National Assembly, controlled by the opposition, began an investigation Thursday into whether Maduro played a role.
Portes said he thinks that many are protesting because the new measures affect people who live paycheck to paycheck. At the same time, he says, these people are the same ones who supported Correa, which is why he thinks it may all be a political game that will end up benefiting the old government.
Maria Mercedes Perez, who represents a group of Ecuadorean artists in Miami and was the chief of communications for Moreno during his vice presidency under Correa, said that the protesters are out of touch with reality. She also believes that among the protesters are infiltrators from the left, including Cubans and Venezuelans, and that they are responsible for most of the violence and vandalism.
The artists’ group is working on a video that it will be sharing on social media. Perez said it will deliver “a positive message asking Ecuadoreans to remain calm, and to find peace and common sense” in the tense situation.
Paola Maldonado, an Ecuadorean who has lived in Florida for 12 years, is also in favor of the measures taken by Moreno, but is worried about the violence they spurred.
“The police can no longer contain the situation,” Maldonado said. She is part of a Facebook group consisting of 7,000 Ecuadoreans who live in Florida. She said she has tried to organize an event promoting peace through the social media site, but nothing has been officially planned.