A Protest Gone Too Far or An Attempted Government Takeover?

We figured out the common denominator…the two times we’ve flown back to the States in the last 1.5 years have resulted in political unrest (within a week) in the country we were coming from.
Apparently we need to stop flying back to the States!
Yesterday was a lot to take in. We first learned about the issues while at school around third period. The news was playing in the teacher’s lounge, flashing images of protesting police and burning tires. The president announced on Wednesday that the police would be losing some of their benefits including gifts for their children at Christmas and bonuses for excellent work performance. It should be noted that only regular police were to lose these benefits according to the new law…not higher ups. The police organized a countrywide strike to show the president what lawlessness would be like. But apparently just not working wasn’t a statement enough so they lit some stuff on fire and threw some tear gas too.
At one point the president went to police headquarters to “negotiate” as CNN puts it, but I’m not sure how they define that term since the lose translation of what he shouted into the microphone was, “If you want to kill the president here he is. Kill him if you want to. Kill him if you’re brave enough!” All of this while tearing his tie lose and ripping the top two buttons of his shirt open.
While the school maintained that the kids were safest at school, parents kept showing up to take them home so we finally had an “external evacuation” around 11am.
We have external evacuation practices like a school in the Midwest would have tornado drills. The kids all go to the classroom of their youngest sibling so that parents can go straight to that classroom and take all their kids home.
The real external evacuation was less organized than it sounds though. Almost all the kids were finally cleared out around 2:30 and teachers were sent home.
The ride home from school was super calm. After hearing the news all day we were curious what it would actually look like while driving through Quito, but most of the protesting was occurring across the city from where we live so we didn’t see anything on the way home. It actually just seemed quieter, with more stores closed and less traffic. A lot of stores closed due to looting. Apparently criminals were taking advantage of the police strike to rob some banks and some stores. We found out later this was much more rampant in Guayaquil than here in Quito.
Once home, we decided to hunker down for the night. We turned on the news, but for the most part things seemed to be calming down….until the military decided to rescue the president from the hospital. We had heard that he got tear gassed and taken to the hospital, but what we didn’t realize is that he was taken to the police hospital. The police were of course guarding this hospital.
The military basically surrounded the hospital with machine guns and a war of rubber bullets (according to the guy on the news) began. Ecuavision, the channel we happened to be watching, had a cameraman on the scene who spent most of the hour long battle hiding along the side of the road behind a small embankment. Guys in military uniforms kept running up to squat next to him before moving further in toward the hospital. It was all very surreal and pretty horrifying…especially when it sounded like the cameraman was crying.
Eventually the military got a car into the hospital parking lots and whisked the president away. They took him back to the government palace in the city center where he proceeded to rile up his crowd of supporters. At that point, we were pretty emotionally exhausted and turned off the TV.
We are pretty far from everything that happened. Quito is a long skinny city and we are across the skinny part from the police hospital (my guess would be that it’s a few miles).
Today the airport is open again and things seem to be continuing as usual. It’s actually pretty weird and makes me feel like I dreamed everything that happened yesterday. It will be interesting to see how the president handles the police…will he just fire everyone?…but in the meantime things seem to be getting back to normal.
So don’t worry, we are just fine! Alex is headed to the grocery this morning and I’m going to enjoy the nice weather (and a day off of school) by doing my grad school homework on the porch.
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