In this chapter of analyzing the Latin American grassroots, we will take the opportunity to clarify some of our views. We do not view the mobilization of previously marginalized groups in Latin America such as indigenous groups and others as a criminal problem or a moral problem or even as a source of regional and hemispheric security instability per se. Furthermore, we are not saying that the mobilization of these groups should necessarily be illegitimate. We are well aware that these movements grew out of a situation in which the political system and the state institutions did not provide an adequate response to the needs of these populations. Yet, we will make the point that despite the autonomy of indigenous populations in Ecuador, they are not immune to the increasing radicalization we witness today in Latin America. The problem is always the form these social discontents take, in what direction they move, and what the forces are that influence such a direction.
Ecuador, perhaps, offers an atypical example of a very effective indigenous movement that initially grew independently from demagogic leaders. Indeed, indigenous groups in Ecuador not only have been a factor in Ecuadorian politics in the last two decades but their role in deciding the balance of powers within the Ecuadorian political system was crucial after the year 2000 and remains crucial until this very day.
The Confederation of Indigenous Nationalities of Ecuador (CONAIE) is Ecuador’s largest indigenous organization. CONAIE comprises ten indigenous organizations and represents a social movement as well as a political organization that deal with the government and the state. It was founded in 1986 by Luis Macas Ambuludí. They claim to be an autonomous organization, independent of any political party or foreign body. They stand for a number of concrete demands which include protection of the environment, legalization of ownership of lands and promotion of cooperatives, organic farming, natural pest control management, and trading amongst themselves, teaching of Indian languages as well as Spanish in the school system, and other concrete demands which they define as indigenous rights.
Luis Macas, President of CONAIE. Source: www.conaie.org
Early in the year 2000, in response to President Jamil Mahuad’s dollarization of the Ecuadorian economy, CONAIE, in coordination with other indigenous organizations, blocked roads and cut off agricultural supplies to Ecuador’s major cities. At the same time, rural indigenous protesters marched on Quito. They were later joined by students, local residents, military personnel, and a group of rogue colonels. Angry demonstrators led by Colonel Lucio Gutiérrez stormed Congress and declared a new “National Salvation Government.” This government later called for elections that took place in 2002.2
Jamil Mahuad. Source: BBC.
In the presidential elections of 2002, CONAIE backed populist Lucio Gutiérrez who was also the one who led the 2000 coup against Mahuad. Gutiérrez won the presidential race with 55% of the final vote, owing much of his victory to support from Pachakutik, the political arm of CONAIE. Gutierrez counted on the support of CONAEI and even after victory he appointed several CONAIE members as cabinet ministers. However, six months after the election of Gutiérrez, CONAIE proclaimed its official break with the government in response to what CONAIE termed a betrayal of “the mandate given to it by the Ecuadorian people in the last elections.” Gutierrez, contrary to CONAIE’s expectations and beliefs had signed an agreement with the
International Monetary Fund and began to apply neo-liberal economics which included a structural adjustment, alignment with the United States and Colombia, and a pact with Ecuador’s right-wing party, the Social Christian party (PSC). The agreements with the IMF and World Bank cut all domestic gas subsidies and led to the privatization of the national electricity and telecommunication companies.3
Lucio Gutierrez. Source: BBC.
Thus, in April 2005, CONAIE made public calls for the ouster of both Gutiérrez and the entire mainstream political class under the slogan “Que se vayan todos” (They all must go)4 so showing its disappointment not only with Gutierrez but with the whole political and institutional establishment. Indeed, a week of unrest led by CONAIE and members of the Middle-class astonished by Gutierrez’s corruption and abuse of power (including the dismissal of the Supreme Court) followed and Gutierrez was ousted from office. Gutierrez was succeeded by his vice-President, Alfredo Palacios, who initially honored some of the agreements, signed by Gutierrez particularly the free-trade agreements and others. However, circumstances forced him to shift some of the policies. In March 2006, indigenous organizations went on to the streets to blocks roads with fallen trees and burning tires. A state of emergency was declared in 11 of the 22 provinces which were paralyzed by the indigenous organizations’ furious demonstrations against the free-trade agreement. Under the circumstances Palacios expelled the American corporation Occidental Petroleum (Oxy) in order to put the tensions under control. 5
Alfredo Palacio. Source: AP.
Elections were called for October 15, 2006. CONAEI, represented by Pacahkutik presented Luis Macas as a candidate. Macas came in seventh (out of 13 candidates), with just over 2 percent of the vote. Part of the reason for that is that the indigenous community felt Macas was not a real political leader. Many indigenous people identified with Rafael Correa. Thus, Correa won the second round of elections in November with the support of the indigenous community. The indigenous movements and Correa have a lot in common. They both reject the Washington
consensus including the free –trade agreement, privatizations, American economic and military influence in the region, and, most importantly both scorn the corrupt political class that ruled Ecuador for a long time. As such they both support the Constituent Assembly, mostly aimed at re-founding the system by weakening the old parties and establishing a new system dominated by a socialist ideology with direct relation between the new regime and the grassroots. In fact it was CONAIE that pushed for a constituent assembly immediately after the collapse of Lucio Gutierrez. In Ecuador the power of the grassroots is much larger than in Venezuela or even Argentina. The indigenous groups have proven that any political development will depend on their support.
With the current policy carried out by Correa of calling a constituent assembly and his ouster of Congressmen who opposed the constituent assembly, it is the Pacahkutik and other indigenous groups that are fully backing Correa’s policies.7 With Gutierrez’s mishandling of the indigenous groups, not only had Correa won this battle, but consequently it gave credence to the revolutionary ideology of Hugo Chavez.
Ecuador’s Indians and Chavez
It is clear that Ecuador’s indigenous movements shared many of the same ideas with Correa and Chavez. However, contrary to the Wayuu Indians in Venezuela or the Piqueteros in Argentina, the CONAIE and other groups have been able to display an element of autonomous political power. This power, whose ideology even precedes Chavez, has made it into a self-conscious group which contrary to people like the Piquetero, Luis D’Elia, depends less on the mentorship of Chavez. CONAIE has been able to effectively implement Indian rights through government policies and initially has worked through the law. CONAIE sees Correa as a reliable leader.
However, it is still important to point out that CONAIE leader, Luis Macas, has had a connection with Chavez for a while. In fact, the CONAIE also supports Hugo Chavez’s concept of “Latin American integration as a state policy”. 8 Mr. Macas has even accepted an offer made by Fidel Castro to send teachers, doctors and medical equipment to alphabetize members of CONAIE and other indigenous groups in Ecuador. The doctors and teachers are already operating in the area under a program “Operación Milagro” (Operation Miracle) which is a joint health program between Cuba and Venezuela, set up in 2005. The initiative is part of the Sandino commitment, which
6 Ecuadorian Native movement turns up the heat. February 2007. Ecuador Rising.
T7 The issue of Congressional ousters in Ecuador was discussed by Nicole Ferrand, in The Americas Report, center for Security Policy, May 2, 2007
8 Alejandro Moreano “La Intifada India Continua”, 09/06/06 http://www.luismacas.org/2006/09/alejandro-moreano-la-intifada-india.html 4
sees both countries coming together with the aim of offering free ophthalmology operations to an estimated 6 million people in Latin America and the Caribbean.9 CONAIE officials and representatives from other indigenous groups from Ecuador have attended the conferences of the Bolivarian Congress of Peoples, a Chavez-sponsored organization that provides a forum where “popular forces from all across Latin America could discuss action aimed at integration and unity”.10 (Of course this organization is nothing other than a gathering aimed at strengthening Chavez’s influence in the region). Furthermore, Humberto Cholango, a representative of Kichwa, another indigenous group pointed out that “no one can stop this (Bolivarian) Revolution in Venezuela; we will keep on defeating the oligarchies and the Yankees. The time has come for South America to raise up to defeat the empire. Long live the triumph of the Venezuelan people.” Cholango is an important link in the Chávez-Correa alliance.11
Hugo Chávez and Fidel Castro. Source: AP.
In summary, we are not saying that indigenous movements may not have legitimate demands or that they are criminal or power seekers. The problem here is embedded with the growth of the sphere of influence of Hugo Chavez whose real aim does not include improving the economic conditions of Latin America or his own country (otherwise he would not be antagonizing the US, the main consumer of Venezuelan oil). In fact Chavez uses his oil revenues to be generous towards other countries in Latin America in order to expand his power across the continent. This clientelistic foreign policy does not take place only in the form of negotiations between heads of state but also through direct connections. Chavez uses the grassroots movements with the main aim of spreading Chavismo with its highly seditious content.
The increasing radicalization of the indigenous movements has taken the form of open war against the US and other so called “enemies”. Moreover, Chavez has introduced elements of conflict between Latin American nations, a phenomenon not seen in Latin America since the 19th century. Chavez’s open antagonism towards Colombia is part of the grassroots’ discourse in Ecuador. In Peru and Bolivia Chavez incited against Chile on the basis of territorial claims. Chavez does it while inflaming indigenous movements over and over again. Furthermore, the feelings of anger and antagonism cultivated by Chavez may put an end to the balance of power that has existed in Latin America for more than 100 years.
The big challenge will be to respond to concrete demands for a more just and fair society from the grassroots without throwing them into the hands of Chavismo. CONAIE members were initially more identified with Evo Morales and a sort of pan-indigenism more than with Chavez. In fact, in the October 15 elections Morales supported Macas while Chavez supported Correa. Moreover, the influence of Iran or any form of Radical Islam is minimal in Ecuador and among CONAIE members. However, the more connections strengthen between Chavez and the grassroots, the more of a time bomb it becomes. This is one of the greatest challenges now facing the United States and its Latin American allies.
*Dr. Luis Fleischman is an advisor to the Menges Hemispheric Security Project at the Center for Security Policy in Washington Dc. He is also an adjunct professor of Political Science and Sociology at Wilkes Honor College at Florida Atlantic University.
*Nicole M. Ferrand is a research analyst and editor of “The Americas Report” of the Menges Hemispheric Security Project at the Center for Security Policy in Washington DC. She is a graduate of Columbia University in Economics and Political Science with a background in Law from Peruvian University, UNIFE and in Corporate Finance from Georgetown University
THE AMERICAS REPORT
NANCY MENGES and
LUIS FLEISCHMAN, Editors
The Americas Report is the featured product of the Center for Security Policy‘s Menges Hemispheric Security Project. It features in-depth, original articles on subjects not regularly covered by the American press.
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