On the eve of Pope Francis’s visit to Ecuador, President Rafael Correa was facing fresh public protests on Thursday over two tax measures he has been trying to introduce. Meanwhile, his administration officials have accused opposition organizers of trying to lead “a soft coup.”
In an effort to put a temporary halt to the sweeping protests – now in their fourth week in the Andean country – so as not to mar the pope’s visit, Correa last week withdrew his proposed hikes on inheritance and capital gains taxes, which had angered many Ecuadorians.
The protests sweeping Ecuador are now in their fourth week
Opponents believe the measures will hold back many citizens from prospering in their businesses and keep them from improving their financial situation. Correa has stated that “all types of excessive accumulated wealth are unfair and immoral.”
The government has asked for dialogue with opposition leaders, Guayaquil Mayor Jaime Nebot and former presidential candidate Guillermo Lasso, but they are insisting on Correa’s resignation.
Three anti-government protests are scheduled for later Thursday. Andres Paéz, a lawmaker from the conservative CREO party, has invited citizens to take part in a large march from the National Assembly to the Carondelet presidential palace in Quito.
We have clear indications that the coup plotters will try to take Carondelet by force”
At the same time, labor union, indigenous and rural worker leaders have convened a similar march, but starting from the National Social Security Institute.
Health professionals are also protesting a presidential decree signed on June 25 that creates a body to assess the quality of medical services. Many private doctors feel that the government will start putting caps on their fees. Alberto Narvaéz, the head of the Ecuadorian Medical Federation, criticized the president’s decision, which he called unilateral.
Pope Francis is scheduled to arrive in Ecuador on Sunday for a three-day visit before departing for Bolivia and Paraguay.
“Unfortunately, we have clear indications that the coup plotters [the conservative opposition] will try to take Carondelet by force,” Correa wrote via his Twitter account late Wednesday.
We are not looking for a temporary truce because the pope is coming”
It was unclear what measures, if any, security forces would take to stop the demonstrations.
Last week, Correa withdrew his two tax measures for the time being so that the protests wouldn’t mar the pope’s visit.
“We are not looking for a temporary truce because the pope is coming. We want an Ecuador with peace and freedom,” said national opposition lawmaker Lourdes Tibán, who rejected Correa’s coup-plotting allegations.
Interior Minister José Serrano said that intelligence services have reported that the demonstrators plan to take down barricades and use clubs to destroy anti-riot police shields as well as pepper spray on police dogs and horses.
According to a report he presented on Wednesday, Serrano said the objective is to force the pope to cancel his visit by taking over the international airports in Quito and Guayaquil if they cannot enter Carondelet.
The United Front group, which was formed to include various organizations loyal to Correa, has announced that it will also continue with its pro-government demonstrations.
“We want to tell the people that we are sorry that we have to continue with these mobilizations but it has to be done to stop these coup plotters,” said Doris Soliz, a former minister of State who is now executive director of United Front.