By Marco Teruggi – Jul 7, 2022
On Thursday afternoon, the Indigenous uprising in Ecuador ended. The trucks loaded with people began to leave Quito in convoys, to the sounds of applause from their respective communities. This occurred following 18 days of a national strike involving various Indigenous organizations of the country, transportation workers, and working-class communities protesting against the government of Guillermo Lasso.
There were almost three weeks of roadblocks across the country, mobilizations in the capital, daily repression, and a total of five protesters killed, signs of a nation in crisis.
The agreement reached between the Indigenous movements—in particular the Confederation of Indigenous Nationalities of Ecuador (CONAIE)—and the government took several days to reach. The starting point was Monday, when the parties sat down after two weeks of protests, with the presence of the different branches of government. The government decided the following day not to return to the meeting, not to recognize the main leader Leonidas Iza, and thus to increase the tension to the limit, which was surpassed by the death of a military officer on Monday morning during repression in Sucumbios, in the Amazon region.
On Wednesday, the possibility of the mediation of the Episcopal Conference appeared, which acted as the host of the meeting on Thursday in the capital. Finally, an agreement was reached in the afternoon. The main point highlighted in the agreement, the 15-cent reduction in gasoline and diesel, left at first the impression of a paltry gain after 18 days of mobilization. A perspective that, however, did not seem evident in the atmosphere of victory.
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It was not the only point achieved thanks to one of the longest and most massive displays of force of the Ecuadorian Indigenous movement, against a president with little social legitimacy, but with the support of sectors of the powerful.
The arm wrestling
Lasso’s government implemented several joint strategies in the face of the uprising that came after a year of his mandate, and an disapproval rate of greater than 80%. On the one hand, the government followed a policy of direct confrontation with Iza, who was arrested at the beginning of the strike, released, and now has an open court case. This attack against the main leader was combined with a narrative accusing him of being at the head of a coup attempt, used to justify a state of exception, with attendant militarization, and daily and nightly repressive actions, as seen on Tuesday night, in the working-class town of San Miguel de Común, in Quito.
The government sought to place itself in a position of strength as it faced its first major political crisis. That position received the support of various sectors of state power, including economic, police, military and political classes, particularly in one of its most difficult moments: the vote within the National Assembly (NA) to achieve the presidential dismissal promoted by Correismo, which did not happen, falling 12 votes short.
The Lasso administration and its powerful allies calculated that the Indigenous movement could not sustain the strike indefinitely and, consequently, would end up accepting a lesser proposal than the one originally offered.
CONAIE began the strike with an agenda of 10 points, which included the reduction of the price of gasoline and diesel, economic relief for four million families with a moratorium and renegotiation of debts, fair prices for agricultural products, a moratorium on the expansion of the extractive mining and oil frontier, respect for the 21 Indigenous collective rights, and a halt to privatizations, among other demands. The program made demands across sectors of society, questioning the country’s basic economic model, and placing national interests at the center of the mobilization. Thus, the Indigenous movement put itself at the head of a national demand through its uprising.
The CONAIE leadership’s calculation was, perhaps, that the government would give in before 18 days, as an effect of the crisis unleashed, the economic impacts, and the internal tensions—a rerun of the October 2019 uprising and its dialogue table, but now with real guarantees for the implementation of the agreements. However, the government had enough support to be able to prolong the conflict, and the negotiation took place in a framework of attrition due to the days elapsed. What was signed was an expression of this correlation of forces, a crystallization point in a crisis that has been going on since before Lasso’s government, and has no end in sight.
The crisis does not end
The national strike achieved several objectives: to double the budget for bilingual education, to strengthen price controls against speculation, to declare an emergency in the health sector, the end of Decree 95 of the oil policy, and subsidies in inputs for small producers, among others.
There will be 90 days to carry out the agreements. How much of what has been agreed will be implemented? Some answers are yet to be seen within a crisis that closed one of its chapters on Thursday and remains latent.
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The 2022 strike can be seen as a continuity of the 2019 uprising: massive protests against neoliberal policies and right-wing governments with systematically repressive responses. Lasso’s victory in 2021 meant a deepening of the model reinstalled by former president Lenin Moreno and, therefore, of its consequences and responses to them.
In both cases the Indigenous movement was at the forefront of the protests. Between 2019 and 2022 its presidency changed. Now, under the leadership of Iza, who became the main political target of the government, the protests faced a legislative attack. The movement is in turn heterogeneous, as was seen in the differences between CONAIE and its political instrument, Pachakutik. While the former led the uprising, the latter adopted a policy of backing the government in the National Assembly. Many Indigenous congressmen were pressured in their communities to vote against Lasso in the impeachment process that finally did not achieve the necessary majority, although it did achieve a simple majority.
The country is now in a moment of post-confrontational tranquility. It is not certain when there will be new protests, surely led by the Indigenous movement, which once again showed a capacity for national and massive mobilization, social legitimacy, and a leader of national stature in the figure of Iza.
In February 2023, regional elections will take place, which will reveal the balance of forces at the polls, for the government and its allies, for Correismo, and for the Indigenous movement.
(Resumen Latinoamericano – English)
Additional translation by Orinoco Tribune
Argentinian Sociologist. He played in the Anahí Association, in HIJOS and in the Popular Front Darío Santillán. Since the beginning of 2013 he lives in Caracas. Author of the books: "I always return to the foot of the tree", "Founded days" and "Chronicles of communes, where Chávez lives". Currently collaborates in Telesur, Latin American Summary, Notes, Sudestada Magazine, Amphibian, among others.
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