Thursday, October 08, 2009
QUITO – Tension marked the first session of talks between Ecuador’s government and the country’s powerful indigenous movement aimed at overcoming a series of disagreements, above all on a water bill that has sparked violent protests in the Amazon region.
In an unprecedented move, more than 30 Indian leaders were received Monday at Carondelet Palace by President Rafael Correa, accompanied by several members of his Cabinet.
Outside the palace, thousands of Indians waited to hear the results of the talks.
The meeting took place a week after the Confederation of Indigenous Nations of Ecuador, or Conaie, called a general strike that was marred by violence.
The government agreed at Monday’s meeting to accept a schedule for discussions proposed by Conaie, as well as “institutionalizing a permanent dialogue” through working groups.
Both parties committed themselves to reviewing the controversial water legislation within the framework of a congressional commission that will include a debate on the Conaie proposals.
The government also agreed to hear Conaie’s objections to a new mining law that took effect earlier this year.
Other accords were related to the violent incidents that occurred last Wednesday, when an attempt to break up an Indian road blockade in the southeastern Amazon province of Morona-Santiago left Bosco Wizur – a teacher and a member of the Shuar nation – dead and 40 police wounded.
Panels representing both authorities and the Indians will investigate the incident as well as the content of messages aired on a Shuar radio station that is accused of inciting the Indians to violence.
Correa, a left-leaning, U.S.-trained economist, says that while his government is working on behalf of the poor and the Indians, some indigenous leaders have become unwitting allies of Ecuador’s right-wing opposition.
The president, during the more than four hours of discussion, said that for him the Indian protest was “useless,” since it has been shown that through dialogue the government’s disagreements with Conaie have been overcome.
He also said that between the government and the indigenous movement there are “more things that unite us than separate us,” and for that reason the doors of Carondelet Palace will always be open to welcome its leaders.
For his part, the president of Conaie, Marlon Santi, said that the Indians’ protest was because they found no opening available for talks, but added that the possibility of discussing matters that concern their movement has now been established.
Santi complained about several parts of the Hydro Resources Bill, which Conaie fears could lead to privatization of water.
Humberto Cholango, leader of the Conaie affiliate Ecuarunari, criticized the government for its stand against their leaders and demanded “respect” from Correa.
Nonetheless, Cholango said that the indigenous movement is agreeable to the radical changes the president has offered and that Conaie, which in the past has been a basic force in the nation’s political life, will also fight for the new approach.
Correa said last Saturday his government has no intention of privatizing water, noting that the nation’s new constitution expressly prohibits such a move.
Posted by Ecuador Rebelde at 2:39 pm