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Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Marlon Santi: "A very great commitment and a challenge to build a new CONAIE"

Translated from ECUARUNARI

Patricio Zhingri T.

Santo Domingo de los Tsachilas, 13 January, 2008

A brief interview with ECUACHASKI. Marlon Santi, the new president of CONAIE, after being elected by consensus on 12 January at 15h30, granted us the first interview before choosing the rest of the Governing Council.

What is your feeling upon being elected by consensus as the new president of CONAIE?

It is a commitment and a very big challenge for the three years in this position, to work with the Nationalities and Peoples. I am making a strong commitment to visit all of the bases of the CONAIE in the first year.

What does CONAIE need now?

We have to begin on a strong footing; I come from a base where everything is regulated, controlled, behaviors are established by standards. We have to have mutual respect. The congress is the maximum authority for any conflict or internal difficulty, and that will be resolved through dialogue. We have to put in order those who want to hinder any process. We must be forthright and timely when things are not well.

Do you come from a base to build a new CONAIE?

We need to recover the image of CONAIE, as it was in 1990, when it was considered the strongest organisation in Latin America. A new CONAIE built upon the pillars with which it was created following the objectives of its many leaders. CONAIE has not advanced because of the interventions of several governments and the CIA.
So the new leadership must work very hard to achieve our goals because it is in the collective interest of all of our bases.

What do you think were the weaknesses in CONAIE over the last few years?

In entering into governments, especially with Lucio Gutiérrez, important leaders made commitments with the government and followed their policies, ignoring the mandate of the Nationalities and Peoples for other interests. This led to a significant decline in the indigenous movement. Then the State intervened directly to break CONAIE's unity, because the Indigenous movement has an historical basis and is a constant threat to the government of the day - when we propose territorial autonomy, the handling of our natural resources in their own territorial districts, when Indigenous nationalities manage their own biodiversity - all this is a threat to each government and to transnationals.

Do you have any lingering rancour over losing the last election in Otavalo?

No, there is no rancour. I personally went to congratulate Luis Macas, and continued to support CONAIE's process during these years. Nothing has happened, I maintain no rancour. Rather, we have worked together in this process. I have participated in several workshops and meetings, and I share the same proposals that were given to the Constituent Assembly. We also asked CONAIE to intervene in several territorial problems in the Amazon.

What should be the characteristics of a new leader?

Of course, if I lost in previous election, it is because I was not well known by the people, but I remain in the same line of work, the struggle, which is processing strongly.

As the new president of CONAIE, how would you evaluate the first year of this government?

Proposals from the Indigenous movement and other social sectors from the coast, highlands, and Amazon are not present on the national government's political agenda. Nor are they on the agenda of the Constituent Assembly. The government gives a lot of speeches and we hear that they are going to open petroleum explorations, that they are going to privatise water, rivers, páramos (high communal grasslands). So for the moment, nothing has changed. The only change is when the Indigenous movement rises up, because this is how we have made some advances in Collective Rights and other demands. Rafael Correa has not yet recognized the demands of the Nationalities and Peoples, and he must do so.

How will the government of the Nationalities and Peoples act with the current government of Correa?

The doors are open for the government, but we will draw up our own strategies and will not concern ourselves much with the government. If there are meetings it will be to present the demands of the Indigenous movement. I will not request public offices, with me you will see this: that the proposals of Nationalities and Peoples will be presented under a dialogue of diplomacy. If the government responds, good- otherwise, the bases will respond with action.

What is your evaluation of the work the Constituent Assembly?

There are many things that they are not taking into account. I am concerned that the Indigenous movement will not be included in the new Constitution, and that is a danger. If we want to make a new Ecuador, a new republic has to include the Nationalities and Peoples, after excluding us for 180 years of supposed republican life and more than 500 years since the conquest.

Who is Marlon Santi?
I was born in 1976 in Sarayaku. I remember that when it was 12 years old my mom was a leader, my dad was a kuraca (a chief). I learned a lot from them and was already involved in the struggle in the 1980s, against the large petroleum company ARCO. I studied for a while in Quito, but never forgot my principles and family formation, the Mother Earth, my respect for Pachamama, and being an integral part of the community. But recently I have participated in more than 5 years of a strong and rather painful struggle against petroleum invasions, militarisation, and the violation of human rights. During Lucio Gutiérrez's government, I received 17 warrants for my arrest, persecution, and assassination attempts. I always told Lucio Gutiérrez that I would prefer that he kill me in person so that the people would know that he killed a person fighting for the rights of Indigenous peoples.

Will your experiences struggling in Sarayaku help in the running of CONAIE?

I will join with the people who have the same problems especially in the Amazon, in the highlands, and on the coast, since the problems are same and we have to walk together. I am not a leader who sits at a desk. I am a leader who will be out in the field, fighting, with the masses.

What do you hope for in the formation of the rest of the Governing Council?

I hope that it is a conglomerate, a governing council in which there is experience and new faces - people who have come through organisations of the three regions, who come from the bases and through a real organisational process.

Do you have a call and message to the children and youth of the Nationalities, Peoples, and the rest of the country?

Look, someone once said that when the Indian is educated it will be revealed. So then, this is the moment for our youth and children to be educated. Only that way will we be able to confront the globalised system and know both worlds. In ours, it is necessary to value it as primordial, as a base for the demands of the Nationalities.

Patricio Zhingri T.

Comunicación ECUARUNARI

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