The people of Ecuador are rising up to refound their country as a pluri-national homeland for all. This inspiring movement, with Ecuador's indigenous peoples at its heart, is part of the revolution spreading across the Americas, laying the groundwork for a new, fairer, world. Ecuador Rising aims to bring news and analysis of events unfolding in Ecuador to english speakers.

Thursday, May 17, 2007

Ecuador's Indigenous Party Declines

Abridged from Oxford Analytica 05.17.07, via

When Ecuador's indigenous party, Pachakutik, entered government for the first time in January 2003, it appeared to have made the transition from social protest movement to genuine political force. However, four years later, the party's political force has been sapped, and it is ceasing to attract the support of its natural constituency--indigenous and marginalized elements of society.

In theory, Pachakutik has a strong basis for becoming a viable political party, being the political wing of the Confederation of Ecuadorian Indigenous Nations (CONAIE), which is the umbrella movement responsible for organizing numerous political protests. CONAIE is successful at mobilizing protesters and was instrumental in the overthrow of former presidents Jamil Mahuad and Lucio Gutierrez, in 2000 and 2005 respectively.

There is a clear demand for greater political representation in a country where over 40% of the population is of indigenous origin but under-represented in Congress.

In the 2002 elections, Pachakutik gained 10 seats in the 100-seat legislature and entered government as part of a coalition supporting Gutierrez. The president's left-wing agenda coincided with Pachakutik's calls for greater indigenous rights and improved health and education systems.

But Gutierrez's shift toward centrist neo-liberal policies alienated Pachakutik, and the party left the coalition in August 2003. Since then, Pachakutik's strategy has been to block government proposals, particularly those of Gutierrez and, to a lesser extent, his successor, Alfredo Palacio. This strategy meant that the presidents were unable to govern effectively, but it compromised Pachakutik's image as a responsible political party. Its share of the vote fell in the November 2006 elections, with the party now holding seven seats in the legislature.

This poor performance is in stark contrast to the success of indigenous movements in Bolivia and, to some extent, Peru. Despite teething problems, the indigenous movement has entered mainstream politics in Bolivia and is playing a key role in shaping policy. In Peru, the near victory of indigenous-supported Ollanta Humala in the 2006 elections ensured that indigenous demands would continue to be addressed, particularly in regions where Humala performed most strongly.

However, there are sharp differences between the Bolivian and Peruvian indigenous experience and that of Ecuador. In Bolivia and Peru, the indigenous agenda is allied with that of other strong interest groups, such as coca growers and peasants.

Pachakutik not only has failed to appeal to new voters in this way but also is struggling to hold onto traditional supporters. It has found its support base disintegrating, with many indigenous voters backing Rafael Correa rather than Pachakutik candidate Luis Macas in the November 2006 presidential elections.

Pachakutik has now lost the political initiative to Correa, who has demonstrated that the indigenous movement is most successful politically when allied with other groups. Accordingly, Pachakutik looks set to decline into a minority special-interest party, having for now lost the opportunity to transform indigenous support into a broader political appeal.

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