AMBATO, Ecuador – Indigenous representatives and leaders issued a call for an “uprising” to protest the Ecuadorian government’s development policies and press demands for a pluri-national state.
The president of the Confederation of Indigenous Nationalities of Ecuador, or Conaie, Marlon Santi, speaking at a press conference Friday at the close of an extraordinary assembly in this central Andean city, announced the beginning of a permanent mobilization against the government, without providing a specific timeframe.
Santi also confirmed the rupture of a process of dialogue and reconciliation that Conaie had maintained with the government since the end of last September’s indigenous protests over oil, mining and water laws in which one Indian woman was killed, a death he called a “state crime.”
Forty police also were wounded in those protests carried out by members of the Shuar nation in the southeastern Amazon province of Morona-Santiago.
The Indians were protesting a water law that they said would lead to privatizing that resource. The government rejects that claim.
“This is an uprising that will be organized gradually. When we say uprising, this is a sacred word and a sacred action, a ritual. We are out to defend Pachamama (Mother Earth) and that’s what (the country) needs,” the president of Conaie affiliate Ecuarunari, Delfin Tenesaca, said.
The community leaders also called on all sectors of society to organize themselves and take “concrete steps” to mobilize against the extraction-oriented policies on mining and oil of President Rafael Correa’s government.
In the assembly, Conaie denounced the government “for not modifying the colonial state and continuing to strengthen the neo-liberal and capitalist system, betraying the Ecuadorian people,” Santi said. “Neo-liberal” is in Latin America a term used as a slur by leftists to describe advocates of free-market, laissez-faire economic policies.
Conaie turned against and helped bring about the ouster of former President Lucio Gutierrez in 2005, alleging he betrayed the poor with the austerity measures he imposed, and also helped force the resignation of another erstwhile head of state, Jamil Mahuad, in 2000.
The group on Friday called on indigenous nationalities to sidestep state authority and assume responsibility for education and health and the administering of justice and management of natural resources in their regions and declared the creation of a pluri-national parliament to achieve the “real” integration of indigenous peoples.
Conaie also announced that plans are in the works to take legal action at the national and international level “for the defense of collective rights that authorities refuse to recognize,” Santi said.
The statement, issued after two days of meetings, announced the end of a dialogue process with the government due to “lack of political will and the lack of respect for the rights of their peoples” and because of “the absence of results in the process,” he said.
“I call for unity. The real change and the real revolution begins now. Starting with the present
and into the future,” Santi told more than 300 representatives of Indian groups from all regions of the country, who shouted slogans against the government and in favor of the indigenous movement.
President Correa, meanwhile, said Friday that Conaie’s call for an uprising was regrettable, although he said their right to demonstrate would be respected as long as the Indians’ actions are peaceful and law-abiding.
“We can’t allow groups, no matter how important they are, to seek to hold the state hostage and act outside the law ... that harms all of us,” the leftist president told Ecuavisa television.
The head of state, who previously enjoyed Conaie’s political support, said that if the Indians “are going to close highways, kidnap people, as they’ve done before, to threaten life, that will be put down, and more than put down, punished with the full weight of the law.”
Correa, a U.S.-trained economist who calls himself a leftist humanist and says he shares the aspirations of the indigenous population, one of Ecuador’s most marginalized groups, said he does not understand Conaie’s position.
According to the president, his administration is a government on the side of Indians and all the poor sectors of the country, but he said indigenous groups must understand that the law and the state’s institutions must be respected.
For her part, the minister in charge of coordinating policies, Doris Soliz, said that Conaie’s announcement is regrettable and that the breakdown in dialogue harms efforts to build the united pluri-national state established by the 2008 constitution.
“The decision would mean the loss of a process of joint construction of an inter-cultural and pluri-national state,” but it will not stop the government from continuing its work on behalf of indigenous rights, Soliz added.