Posted by: calloftheandes | October 8, 2010

Ecuador Challenge: Getting Home Amid Nationwide Police Strike

(story and photos by Ralph Kurtenbach)

A less exciting day—that was Amy Dawson’s desire on Monday, Oct. 4, as she headed to a family practice clinic on the outskirts of Quito, Ecuador, on her second day as assistant clinic director.

Four days earlier the morning had begun with an all-too-common household challenge at home. “No water again today. Oh well,” described her Facebook status.

Later that morning the small South American country was rocked when a walkout by police spiraled out of control. Ecuadorian President Rafael Correa spoke to protesting police at a Quito barracks, but tensions only escalated.

After being hit by tear gas he fled to a nearby police hospital. Later Correa stated that dissident officers detained him for several hours. That evening military soldiers stormed the hospital to free him from its confines.

Amy, a physician, and her radio producer husband, Tim, have lived in Ecuador with their three small children for more than two years. Thursday’s broken water pipe faded to just a minor irritant as the tragic events of Sept. 30 unfolded before their eyes and on televised images.

With roads and highways blocked, Amy’s trip back from the HCJB Global Hands clinic at Carapungo (north of Quito) was more complicated than usual, but turned out well. She followed a co-worker into the city and “he called friends to find out which roads weren’t blocked and they made it home fine,” the Dawsons wrote in their web log. She picked up their two small boys from school en route; Tim got their daughter from another school.

Police hospital in Quito. Mount Pichincha stands just west of the Ecuadorian capital.

Upon notification by Ecuador’s Ministry of Education of cancellation of classes, the Alliance Academy International implemented its strike plan. Methodical evacuation of its Quito campus began at noon. HCJB Global’s Rob Quiring and his children were able to walk home safely.

Accompanying them were the children of Brent and Shelley Weeks, both staff engineers, working with Tim Zook at Mount Pichincha directly west of Quito. In their own return home, the engineers steered clear of the hospital where the president was detained.

“We crossed on a pedestrian bridge (less than a kilometer from the hospital), but only a couple of hundred meters from where the police were holding people back and using tear gas,” wrote Brent in an e-mail message to family and friends in Canada.

Meanwhile, north of the city, patients at an HCJB Global Hands mobile medical clinic led by Ian McFarland dispersed quickly to pick up their children from schools around San José Alto. McFarland waited out the unrest and road blocks and then returned to Quito that evening.

Ecuador’s government has released a statement saying at least four people were killed in the Thursday evening standoff—two soldiers, a police officer and a university student. The country’s health minister said nearly 200 others were injured in the unrest. Three days of national mourning for the dead began on Friday, Oct. 1.

Watching televised reports of the protests, Américo Saavedra determined he’d attempt a return from La Paz, Bolivia, despite the grim scenario portrayed. He flew to Lima, hoping for resolution. By Friday morning the airlines returned to their normal schedules and Saavedra got back home.

Police grievances had centered on legislation that would decrease police pay benefits, but this week saw adjustments made to that law. Investigators gathered at the police hospital to reconstruct the events surrounding Correa’s assertion that protesting police and opposition leaders had led a coup attempt that failed.

Newspaper photos show tanks in the streets of Quito. A state of emergency was to end on Friday, Oct. 8. “There is still potential for misunderstanding and unrest,” said Graham Bulmer, director of HCJB Global’s Latin America Region. “We need to pray for the president … that God would give him wisdom. Ecuador is a very diverse country with a lot of people having very distinct views on how we should move forward on some of these issues.”

Activities at the government palace on October 8 included a tour by school children.

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