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Friday, November 09, 2007

The CONAIE and the President: The need to be on the same path ...

from Bolpress, 5 November, 2007

by Kintto Lucas

The mobilisation of 10,000 indigenous, on Monday October 22 in Quito, again proved that the CONAIE (Confederation of Indigenous Nationalities of Ecuador) remains the social organisation with the largest convening power and the unique ability to mobilize in Ecuador, and placed into the debate the need for the Constituent Assembly to be transformed into an opportunity for participation and a bridge between the indigenous movement, the different social movements and the national government, without the loss of any autonomy.

To maintain their strength and their consistency, the CONAIE and its subsidiaries, particularly the Ecuarunari (the largest organisation of the Confederation, which brings together the Kichwa peoples of the Ecuadorian sierra) need to mark their independence from party structure, while allowing its militants the freedom to join any sector that matches its proposals, pledging to defend those proposals where they are found, as with the Landless Movement of Brazil, the Central Workers of Uruguay or the piqueteros in Argentina. This would imply a definitive separation from Pachakutik, which would be healthy for the movement and would support the suggestion that their leaders have pointed to the need for "de-indigenise."

Thus the CONAIE, Ecuarunari and the organisations, nationalities and peoples who comprise it, can be consolidated as a social movement that influences politics, with the autonomy, political independence and freedom to point out any errors or deviations of the government, but compromising a transformational project, a project that can break out in a pivotal moment in the Constituent Assembly if it is coupled with mobilisation and organisation.

The proposed constitution drafted by the CONAIE is the only comprehensive project for a rupture with the old system, not revolutionary or anything like it, but still a break. The committee that drafted the CONESUP (Higher Education Council) lost that sense when the proposals of the most progressive commissioners were amended by commissioners defending the status quo in the economic area, as I saw through emails that arrived coincidentally in my in-box. Some of these commissioners will now be in the Assembly representing Alianza País. The other proposals from organisations and guilds are only partial and sectoral.

The Constitution of the CONAIE is an important contribution to the Assembly. During the last decade in Ecuador and Latin America, first the proposals for resistance which emerged in the social movements and then the actual outbreaks, were taken over by political movements. The defence of water and the fight against the FTA are just a few of these. To reinvent these institutions a more horizontal relationship is necessary , with more openness between social movements and the government. The Assembly can be a bridge for that. Without the social movements, governments representing a rupture revolve about themselves, as noted by Antonio Negri, and without the relationship with such governments movements can be isolated.

But beyond the Assembly, it is necessary to put aside mistrust and rancor of the old doubts between the CONAIE and president Rafael Correa. The mobilization of Monday 22 was the first step, because in an indirect way the indigenous organisation supported Alberto Acosta and the government’s assembly representatives committed to a transformation of the country, and clearly the President himself, beyond any word out of context.

However, the President, in his radio show on Saturday the 27th, returned to outlining his criticisms of the CONAIE as if it were an enemy. Beware of those filling the head of the president who are from quarters who would profit from the destruction of CONAIE, which is not going to happen! Beware of maintaining a grudge for past differences!

The CONAIE has had many mistakes, but as long as some important government officials helped Jaime Nebot in his campaign, the CONAIE was mobilised. And while other important government officials advised Leon Febres Cordero, the CONAIE struggled against the Agrarian Act of Sixto Duran Ballén first, and for the departure of Abdalá Bucaram later. The various leaders of the CONAIE have committed many mistakes, but as long as some important government officials gave legal support to Jamil Mahuad, the CONAIE was mobilised in the streets against the robber-banks. The CONAIE has made serious errors such as giving in to pressure from Pachakutik and did not go with the government in the elections for national assembly members, but while some people closely related to the government believed the IMF was a sensible institution that still had the confidence of Lucio Gutierrez, something that the president
should remember, the CONAIE maintained its autonomy criticizing Gutierrez's trip to Washington. The CONAIE has undoubtedly done wrong, but while some important government officials said that there should not be mobilisations against the FTA until the negotiations are completed, the CONAIE came out into the streets and highways to stop the FTA and reverse the contract with Oxy . The CONAIE was wrong far too often, but while some not very close to the government raised their voice in protest over the privatisation of water in Quito, the CONAIE was supporting the Coalition for the Defence of Water from the outset. The leaders of CONAIE have been ethnocentric many times, but some officials and associates of the government got rich off projects on behalf of the Indians, or politically negotiated on their behalf. The CONAIE has had many flaws, but while some key government officials joined (in some cases more, in others less) the long dark night of neoliberalism, the CONAIE maintained its resistance.

So we could goon, but I do not mean merely to reminisce over certain things from the past that are not necessarily used to build the future. The key is to build bridges, achieve unity, not diminish ourselves.

The other day, before the indigenous people who filled the Agora of the Casa de la Cultura, Luis Macas handed the proposed Constitution of the
CONAIE to assembly represenatives from Alianza Pais. There were even assemblymen that once distanced themselves from the CONAIE, but nobody brought up the general errors of the past. That should be noted. Errors, discrepancies, mistakes, and they were all good enough to have the necessary humility to recognize not only to lay the blame on others.

Many years ago, Raul Sendic, one of the great revolutionaries of this America, said, referring to some colleagues, "we are on the same path, and should be, even though differences remain. Only those who can not be found on this path are with the traitors. The only thing that can not be overcome is treason, and there is no question that we are not talking about this."

The President, who is a fundamental element of cohesion, must become an element for unity with the CONAIE, although some people do not like it. It is the largest social organization in the country (and it is not a virtual invention like "the citizenry") and it may give real support to the struggle for changes in difficult times, although for now everything is fine.

Luis Macas, who has been a key leader in building the CONAIE, should also put aside any differences, any personal rancour, and reach out to the President as some did on the 22nd. Beware of turning the head of Macas or any other leader against the President.

We need to understand that we are living a historic moment that must be taken hold of. We need a gesture of greatness from both sides, from all sides. And maybe we need to start by measuring the words and not get carried away by rumours.

The other day, at the end of the act in the Agora, and during conversation with Alberto Acosta (the most-voted-for candidate and future president of the Constituent Assembly) he was approached by people from the indigenous base of some communities who told him "we have confidence in you, Alberto, that you will continue defending the poor as when you were with us. " Acosta, after greeting them, replied: "I remain with you compañeros
. I am not in Pachakutik, but I remain with you compañeros." We noticed a gesture of appreciation by those mashis. It was a gesture of greatness from both sides. We need many gestures of greatness, and we need to put many things to one side to find the path.

Kintto Lucas is the author of the book “Rafael Correa. A stranger in the Carondelet”, among others

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