Luis Ángel Saavedra
Beneath government´s call for dialogue, a plan to divide indigenous groups.
Ecuador´s largest and important organization´s call for a large protest against President Rafael Correa´s policies may have put pressure on the government, but it also gave the administration the chance to further divide the already weakening indigenous movement, once a strong political force in the Andean country.
Since Correa took office in January 2007, the indigenous movement, which emerged as an influential movement in the 1990s, has not been able to formulate a cohesive platform. The government argues that indigenous issues are highly important to the administration´s political agenda. But indigenous groups, which once strongly supported Correa, have become wary of some of his policies, particularly those pertaining to natural resources, and instead of making a solid opposition, have become weaker and fractured.
The umbrella group Confederation of Indigenous Nationalities of Ecuador, or Conaie, had called for marches against Correa´s political decisions, such as lifting a mining ban, stripping state-funded indigenous offices of their autonomy, failing to guarantee bilingual education and other issues. But the Confederation of Kichwa Nationalities of Ecuador, or Ecuarunari, a member of Conaie, urged the groups to focus their demands on a water administration law that is currently up for debate in Congress before Conaie even called the protests and had a chance to develop a platform.
The government met Conaie´s call for protest with an aggressive media campaign to discredit indigenous leaders, and presenting a water administration bill, stated that no privatization of water will be allowed. The promises resonated with the indigenous groups and organizations accepted invitations – that were not offered to Conaie – for dialogue with the government.
Organizations included the small Ecuadorian Indian Federation, which has links to the country´s Communist Party, and the National Federation of Campesina and Indigenous Organizations, which is tied to the Socialist Party.
"The government is trying to turn the indigenous organizations against each other," said William Chena, director of the Evangelical Indigenous Organizations and Peoples´ Council, which in the beginning also met with the government.
The protests in the highlands and coast were sparsely attended and leaders ended up focusing their agenda on the government propaganda for the water bill, while other issues were left by the wayside.
But in Ecuador´s jungle, the site of copper and gold fields, protests against the government´s pro-mining policies drew large crowds demonstrating the potential environmental damage to their native areas.
Amazon protests turn violent
While Conaie and Ecuarunari leaders called off the protests shortly after they began, Shuar and Achuar people of the southern Amazon continued with their demonstration against mining activity.
Fractured and without an unified agenda, the protest would have been a failure if it hadn´t been for the Amazon protest, which only grew stronger after the demonstration grew deadly with the death of Shuar professor Bosco Wisuma.
In the Amazonian city of Macas, Wisuma was killed by a pellet gun. The police said it did not use such a weapon, and Correa said the pellet came from one of the protesters. Conaie reacted by reinitiating the protest, which took place only in Macas.
The government also broadened its call for dialogue, this time including Conaie. Correa´s government also issued a decree establishing "permanent dialogue" with indigenous sectors only if they do not protest.
For the moment, la Conaie has no other option but to participate. The organization has called for talks not only on indigenous lands, natural resources, education and other issues, but also a committee to investigate Wisuma´s death.
But some are skeptical about what the talks will produce.
"The dialogue doesn´t go anywhere. I don´t believe in them anymore," said indigenous lawmaker Lourdes Tibán. —Latinamerica Press.