Ecuadorian Native movements turn up the heat

Ecuadorian Native movements turn up the heat

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February 21, 2007

Ecuadorian Native movements turn up the heat
by: Lisa Garrigues – February 19, 2007

LA PAZ, Bolivia – On Jan. 15, Native leaders handed the ceremonial ”staff of power” to Ecuador’s new president, Rafael Correa. Now indigenous movements in Ecuador are putting the pressure on the Ecuadorian government to meet their demands, which include the convocation of a Constitutional Assembly and increased territorial rights in the Ecuadorian Amazon.

During the ceremony of Tantarimuy, held in Cotopaxi province, Correa said his government would be ”a government of the indigenous.”

His leftist views align him with Bolivia’s Evo Morales and Hugo Chavez of Venezuela, who attended the ceremony wearing Andean ponchos given to them by Native authorities.

”Latin America will keep changing, because what we are living is not an era of change, it is the change of an era,” Correa said.

He has promised to build an Ecuador with ”Ecuadorians in charge,” opposing the free market economic policies of the United States and the International Monetary Fund, and taking back the country’s oil wealth from multinational corporations.

Like Morales, he has also promised to convoke a constitutional assembly that will write a new constitution, a move that has the approval of 75 percent of the population of urban centers Quito and Guayaquil, according to recent surveys.

The Constitutional Assembly would have the power ”to limit, restructure (or) dissolve” any branch of government.

But he faces stiff opposition from Congress and the TSE Supreme Electoral Court, whose members say a constitutional assembly is illegal and fear Correa would use it to consolidate his own power.

”We want the established order to prevail,” Congressman Federico Perez, of the opposition party, told the radio station Democracy.

Correa has blamed ”mafias” within the current government who want to hold on to their privilege and power for blocking the constitutional assembly.

CONAIE, the Confederation of Indigenous Nationalities of Ecuador, supported its own candidate in the 2005 elections: Luis Macas, Quichua.

But Macas and other indigenous leaders support Correa’s efforts to create a new constitution, and have already begun meeting to discuss what should be included in it – like the nationalization of Ecuador’s natural resources, agrarian reform, the defense of biodiversity and sovereignty of indigenous lands.

Humberto Cholango, president of ECUARUNARI, the Confederation of Quichuan Peoples of Ecuador, called on indigenous and social movements to take to the streets of Quito to pressure Congress to approve the Constitutional Assembly.

”If they try to stop it, and an indigenous rebellion is necessary, we’ll do it,” he told one reporter.

Five thousand supporters of the Constitutional Assembly clashed with police when they surrounded the congressional building on Jan. 30.

Cholango said CONAIE, ECUARUNARI and dozens of other organizations have banded together to form the National Front for the Plurinational Constituent Assembly.

Meanwhile, Ecuadorian indigenous groups from the Amazon met in Quito the last week of January in what they called an ”extraordinary” event, bringing together 304 delegates from the Shuar, Kichwa, Shiwar, Andoa, Zapara, Huaorani and Achuar nations to reconstruct the indigenous organization CONFENIAE.

CONFENIAE, the Confederation of Indigenous Nations of the Ecuadorian Amazon Confederation of the Nationalities Indigenous to the Amazon of Ecuador, is associated with CONAIE and COICA, the Coordinator of the Indigenous Organizations of the Amazon Basin: two groups that have been working for indigenous rights for the past 20 years.

Delegates said the organization ”was able to put back together its organizational structure, which was damaged by various economic and oil interests that had brought it to the brink of profound division.”

In their statement following the meeting, delegates affirmed their support for Correa and reminded him of the importance of including representatives of indigenous nations and organizations in the new constitutional assembly.

They also asked that CONFENAIE be given more power over administration of Ecuadorian Amazonian indigenous territory and regional development, as well as a budget of $11 million.

Other demands included the withdrawal and/or renegotiation of mining, logging and oil contracts, reparations for damages sustained by oil development, government intervention in the lawsuit brought by indigenous people against Texaco and the strengthening of education, health and cultural services.

Ecuador’s indigenous population is about 25 percent, less than that of neighboring Peru or Bolivia, and clustered in 12 different nations throughout the country’s diverse terrain, which include high Andes, Amazon and coastal lands.

But Ecuadorian indigenous movements have wielded enormous power in shaping the political, social and economic history of the country in the last 20 years.

By successfully creating alliances with other dispossessed groups, they were instrumental in bringing populist President Lucio Gutierrez to power in 2003, then in bringing him down again when he didn’t fulfill campaign promises.

Repeated protests by indigenous organizations against California-based Occidental Petroleum caused the Ecuadorian government to revoke its contract with the oil company in 2006.

Massive demonstrations by Ecuadorian Native groups have also managed to stall a free trade agreement between the United States and Ecuador, which many indigenous people say will harm local agriculturists with an influx of U.S. products.

© 1998 – 2007 Indian Country Today


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