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.

Monday, February 04, 2008

The CONAIE concludes its 3rd Congress: For a Plurinational Ecuador

15 January, 2008

In the early hours of January 13th, in the city of Santo Domingo of the Tsachilas, the Third Congress of the Confederation of Indigenous Nationalities of Ecuador (CONAIE) concluded its deliberations. The Congress emphasized that Latin America, including Ecuador, "has begun a deep process of structural changes, but that this state-led process excludes the very social movements who have always fought against neoliberalism", since these political and economic reforms are based on "strengthening the State and not the social movements themselves".

Since the beginning of the event on January 10th, there was a sense of disenchantment with the State´s policies towards indigenous peoples. In his statement to ALAI, the new president of CONAIE, Marlon Santi, argued that Rafael Correa´s administration "does not prioritize the demands of the indigenous movement. For them, all we are citizens, but Ecuador--from the standpoint of peoples and nationalities--is "plurinational" and "pluricultural"; but they want to erase those words. I say, I am a citizen of diversity, we are diverse, with different cultural expressions, ways of life, territories, therefore the government must respect that diversity, which is the origin of the Ecuadorian state, before the creation of the Republic".

CONAIE vice-president, Miguel Guatemal, reminds us that in the 1990s, the indigenous movement was the first to demand a Constituent Assembly. He points out that it was "just in the last election that Correa picked up the idea of the Constituent Assembly. Correa, however, wants to put everyone in the same category, without distinction, with no regard for our identities." For example, if you ask "What will happen in the case of the natural resources? During the presidential campaign they talked about the nationalization of natural resources. Today, on the other hand, they speak of the development of natural resources. And how will development happen? Negotiation with Japan. But will they consult the Huaorani? Will they consult the Shuar, the Achuar?" These are the issues, among others, that the CONAIE wants to see guaranteed in the new Constitution, which is being developed.

A Call for Unity

The Congress, which registered 1,300 delegates of the 14 Nationalities and 18 Peoples of Ecuador, was marked by a desire to transform the leadership of CONAIE, to increase the representation of the different Nationalities and Peoples, and achieve a greater balance between the Sierra region (who are the majority), the Amazonian region and the Coastal region. In this sense, the election-by-consensus of Marlon Santi sent a clear message of the desire for change. Santi, seen as both a symbol of unity and as a leader formed in the struggles for territory, took part in the resistance against oil companies in Sarayacu, in the Amazon region.

Santi identifies two main challenges upon assuming the presidency. First of all, to "unite all the nationalities, call for unity and make CONAIE a strong movement again." To reinvigorate CONAIE, he plans to "to go from village to village, from town to town." The second challenge is CONAIE´s struggle "against the transnational companies that are dividing up indigenous territory and taking the petroleum, the mines, the water, the forest. We are going to fight against this because this is where we live, this is the future of our children, the future of our grandchildren and the future of humanity."

The recovery and defense of ancestral lands, the rejection of oil, mining, timber, hydroelectric and other concessions that affect indigenous peoples and nationalities, and the demand for environmental impact studies and compensation for environmental damages, stood out as the Congress's most important resolutions. The Congress also called for the restoration of indigenous control over natural resources and the democratization of access to water. Moreover, they demanded the demilitarization of indigenous territories.

In regards to the Constituent Assembly, vice-president Guatemal pointed out that the CONAIE has already presented a proposal for a new Constitution, drawn up by the organization’s bases. This proposal is "not only for the indigenous movement, but for all the country, for all sectors of society." As part of their proposal, the Congress demanded that the government make the Declaration of the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, approved by the UN in last September, a Law of the Ecuadorian Republic. In addition, the Congress called for the new Constitution to recognize Ecuador as a Plurinational State "based on the existence of a diversity of nationalities and peoples, that are themselves economic, political, cultural and historical entities with unique histories." (The current Constitution, of 1998, recognizes that Ecuador is a Pluricultural State).

The CONAIE also calls on the Constituent Assembly to declare Ecuador a country free of GMOs and to adopt CONAIE´s Law of Biodiversity. Guatemal thinks that there is a possibility of coming to an agreement with some of the Assembly members to ensure that these proposals are -at least partially- incorporated into the new Constitution. But any dialogue that occurs will go hand-in-hand with mobilizations in support of the indigenous peoples' demands.

On the international level, the CONAIE committed to participate in the World Social Forum´s Day of Global Action on January 26, with actions in solidarity with the government of Evo Morales and the Bolivian people, and against privatizing mega-projects like the IIRSA (The Initiative for the Integration of Regional Infrastructure in South America). It denounced the "Chilean government´s policies of genocide and ethnocide against the Mapuche people, and the Colombian government´s attacks against indigenous peoples".

The 12 working groups also addressed the subject of genetic resources, the status of protected areas, and bilingual education. It was affirmed that indigenous genetic resources are the property of indigenous peoples, and that this should be recognized by the Constitution. The working groups discussed the return of protected areas (national parks and nature reserves) to indigenous peoples. Lastly, they discussed mechanisms to strengthen the bilingual education system, and ways to improve the curriculum.

On the subject of health, the Congress emphasized the need to rescue and strengthen the practice of traditional medicine as well as the importance of food security. They stressed the need to rescue traditional knowledge to ensure food security for this generation and future generations. Young people elaborated proposals to create their own spaces and to increase their participation in the CONAIE.

According to Jonson Cerda, who presided over the Congress, the Third Congress strengthened the CONAIE. In an interview with ALAI, Cerda explained that the Congress achieved more than just a set of agreements. According to him, there has been "a lot of pressure to weaken indigenous organizations by groups tied to extractive industries, by people tied to oil and mining companies. They succeeded somewhat in destabilizing [the indigenous movement]. But we have strengthened ourselves; we have witnessed the presence here of all the nationalities with their proposals. This shows us that we have survived this attack from these companies." (Translation by ALAI)

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