Living and working in the heart of Quito allows me a privileged eye witness evaluation of the recent events here in Quito, Ecuador.
Reports with titles such as “State of Emergency in Ecuador cripples tourism” & “Revolution” are not only exaggerated but somewhat sensationalist. Reminds of such things as the H1N1 hype. One would be rather disappointed walking the around the streets of Quito today with these notions. I am not sure how, in a 24-hour period, one can claim the effects of a ‘crippled tourism’ in Ecuador – uncertainty and occasional inconveniences with flights is one thing but a crippled tourism? In fact, when the last major volcanic eruption occurred that directly affected Quito (due to heavy volcanic ash fall and the necessary closure of the airport), there was a temporarily greater inconvenience on tourism than the events of September 30th, 2010 in Quito and Ecuador.
September 30th, 2010 started out as any typical Thursday morning here in Ecuador’s capital city of Quito – heavy early morning traffic with ‘pico y placa‘ in effect (traffic restriction based on the last digit of license plates, with 7 & 8 not permitted to circulate between 07h30 and 09h30 on Thursday), families taking their children to school, Quitenos on their way to work etc.
On route to drop off my two children at school just before 08h00, a small drama unfolded before me on the Occidental (peripheral north/south road skirting Quito) as an individual was caught red handed attempting to steal and flee in a stolen pickup truck. Half a dozen police, with hand guns drawn, ran between the slow moving traffic to finally apprehend the individual. Up until this point at least, there was a normal presence of police throughout the capital.
Having arrived at the office in the heart of the Mariscal (tourist district) a little early, I prepared my morning cup of coffee while the computer systems booted up and the staff started to arrive for the 09h00 opening of the office. One of the employees, having arrived a little tardy, explained that there was unusual traffic chaos near a Police barracks on the Mariana de Jesus Street – with apparent burning tires; hence his tardiness. Then business started as usual.
During the course of the morning, unofficial and informal information started to filter through that there was a lack of police presence and that apparently the police were on strike. Various phone calls from friends and contacts throughout the city confirmed that no police where to be seen and that apparently they were on strike over disagreement with a new legislation that supposedly cuts there benefits.
The TV was tuned into local stations to see if any news was being reported. Other than a group of disgruntled police protesting, nothing else appeared. As the morning advanced, it became obvious that a general sense of insecurity (due to the obvious lack of regular police presence) started to increase and rumors of various banks and establishments being robbed started floating through the grapevine. Businesses started to close or partial close their doors with the heightening sense of insecurity.
News started to air that the Quito and Guayaquil airports were seized by the military and all airport operations were shut. This was confirmed by the distinct lack of flights over Quito, along with sporadic protests and looting in other cities like Cuenca and Guayaquil.
The area in front of the Presidential Palace continued to fill throughout the day with pro-government supporters, complete with banners and chanting.
Now nearing noon, all TV and radio stations were airing the ‘Cadena Nacional‘ (Government controlled news) that, one by one, interviewed government officials and individuals reporting their support for the government and covering an incident where President Rafael Correa was pushed and shoved during his encounter with a group of police protesting and burning tires. Tear gas was fired and apparent the President was rushed off to the nearest police hospital.
The Government declared a State of Emergency and news that both Colombia and Peru had closed their borders to Ecuador (a standard protocol under these circumstances).
As the early afternoon continued, the Cadena Nacional continued their reporting, with comments insinuating that there were sabotage attempts on the transmission antennas. The sense of general insecurity in the city continued to grow, along with rumors of what might be happening, is happening … including a coup. Businesses, for the most part, started to close operations and people started to head from work. A great deal of speculation was in the air, but Quito was relatively calm…. with early traffic that was not only respectful but relatively orderly (keeping in mind that no traffic officials were present).
The Quito airport reopened in the late evening, with limited number of flights entering and exiting the airport.
In the course of the evening, around about 20h30 or so, local TV stations came back on air (supposedly the transmission antennas were cut thereby allowing regular transmissions to air). Around 21h30 a local media report airing live started to transmit a massive Special Operations tactical force starting to storm the Police hospital where the President was apparently held by a group of police. A massive cross of gunfire started to occur for the next 35 minutes, with the final rescue of the President – who was rapidly fled from the scene in a government vehicle and taken directly to the Presidential Palace. The gunfire in and around the hospital apparently continued for another hour or so, while the President appeared before the supporters from the Presidential Palace balcony making a speech.
Today, Friday October 1st, 2010
Quito awoke in relative normality, with news that the Guayaquil airport remained closed due to the lack of corresponding airport staff to check and managed luggage, while the Quito airport remained fully operational.
The streets appeared normal but with little, if any police present – and no military. Passing by the nearest Military barracks, I noticed a number or armored vehicles preparing to move out on the streets. Arriving at the office, there was still a sense of insecurity as no police were in sight. Banks decided to allow groups of 5 or 6 enter at a time.
By 10h00, a limited number of police started to appear back on the streets, and limited number of military convoys started deploying military in key locations. As the morning advanced, the police started to reappear as normal and the military presence disappeared.
Note: This report covers activities and eye witness testimony in the Mariscal tourist district. I cannot vouch that events in possible ‘hot spots’ – such as the Presidential Palace area and/or around the Police barracks are the same. That being said, however, walking the streets of Quito one would never have known of the events of the previous day.
Now late afternoon, Quito has apparently recovered and returned back to its normal routine.