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Ecuador: Between outburst and dialogue

June 2022 was synonymous with social outburst in Ecuador. The leadership of the Confederation of Indigenous Nationalities (Conaie), together with its communities, began a strike, joined by several social sectors, to demand the government of Guillermo Lasso comply with ten demands that were not achieved in 2021, since three meetings failed due to the lack of flexibility of the parties. The main demand to the Executive was the decrease in the price of fuels since gas stations were selling in correspondence with the market through a scheme that closed the historical policy of subsidies. This decision was taken by former President Lenín Moreno, the predecessor of the current President. The paralyzation lasted 18 days in the context of political and economic crises and citizen insecurity.

From October 2019 to June 2022

October 2019 ignited the cycle of social protest in Latin America and its epicenter was Quito. The outbreak began with the paralyzation of transporters but was contained by the Government. Immediately, a renewed and young indigenous leadership took the baton, appropriated the narrative, and showed a list of demands that exceeded the decrease in fuel prices, which had the support of several social sectors.

The recomposition of the indigenous movement was evident in comparison with its last performance in 2015 when they confronted former President Rafael Correa, their political adversary. Since 2019, a new political scenario for the indigenous movement was glimpsed: a robust Pachakutik presidential candidate for 2021, who came in third, and a rising indigenous leader, Leonidas Iza.

Unlike October 2019, in this case, the indigenous leadership invited the Government to dialogue from the moment of its possession but conditioning its participation in direct line with its interests. In this process, the Conaie did not allow the entry of other party organizations or related social sectors so as not to share the leadership of the social claim. Its direct support is the legislative bloc Pachakutik, which represents the second majority and the bases of the communities of the provinces of the Central Highlands (Bolívar, Chimborazo, Tungurahua, and Cotopaxi), Northern Highlands (Imbabura), and the Amazon (Pastaza, Morona Santiago, Zamora, Napo, Sucumbíos, Orellana). Its presence is exiguous on the coast.

For the last three years, Conaie has tended to strengthen its organization, convocation and mobilization, that is to say, leaders of the affiliates, in synergy with the leadership of Leonidas Iza, who comes from the most radical wing of the indigenous movement, in an ideological mixture of Mariateguism of Peruvian origin, communitarian socialism, and Catholic connection.

This strengthening has perfected the strategy of mobilization from the provinces to the capital and the resistance to face a longer paralyzation. This time there were 18 days, seven more than in October 2019. The protests were conceived two months before the political organizations present their candidacies for mayors and prefectures. Pachakutik will dispute the electorate of Correism, leftists, and urban populism.

The June outburst took place in a context in which the Government’s acceptance reached 20%. In one year, the Executive had lost 50% of support despite the successful vaccination plan, having achieved macroeconomic stability and being exempt from accusations of corruption. However, it faced an onslaught of common and organized crime and prison killings. In other words, there was a combination of insecurity, unemployment, and a lack of connection with the common citizen, who could not understand in what direction the government was going. This, without losing sight of the blockade in the Assembly and the fierce opposition of Correism and the never resolved controversy with its natural right-wing ex-allies, the Social Christian Party. 

Other cards for analysis 

This new outburst highlighted the dispute of the political narrative in the social imaginary about the historical vindication versus the coup d’état attempt. The confrontation took place in the alternative and digital networks, in which community, environmental, feminist, and collective rights media held Conaie’s proposal versus the traditional media, which nuanced the journalistic coverage and added it to what was happening in the Assembly and in the streets. In the legislative precinct, the vote to remove the president from office under article 130 was initiated by Correa’s supporters, plus the votes of Pachakutik and the self-proclaimed rebels of other benches.

While Iza was fighting in the streets, the opposition parties sought the death crusade against Guillermo Lasso. For this, 92 out of 137 votes were required, but they reached 82 with electronic fraud included since the vote of four assembly members who expressed themselves against was manipulated, but their vote was registered in the opposite way. This crime is being investigated by the Attorney General’s Office.

The intensity of the protest varied throughout the 18 days of paralyzation, as the search for an effective mediation seemed to move away at every attempt since no State institution has achieved good results. The president of the Assembly, Virgilio Saquicela, attempted a dialogue, but it fell through when he voted for the president’s dismissal. He played judge and party.

The strike refreshed the population’s memory and once again alerted the State to the neglect of the rural sector. Almost 40% of all chronically malnourished children are indigenous. The provinces where poverty and lack of services are concentrated are those of the Central Highlands and the Amazon. The latter region has, paradoxically, the oil wells and the largest reserves of biodiversity on the planet. Beyond the ten demands of Conaie, the development model is in dispute. 

Civil society and mediation

In the face of the institutional crisis, the civil society helped the country to push for a dialogue process through the role of historical foundations such as Esquel, universities, the Open Government Network, the Ecuadorian Episcopal Conference, the Confederation of Civil Society Organizations, and environmentalists. The indigenous leadership and the Government agreed that the Catholic Church will lead the mediation in the next 90 days, when there will be shocks and ruptures, in a country that needs to return to the path of pacification with social justice, recomposition of the citizen fabric and zero impunity for infiltrated criminal groups that took advantage of the crisis to sow terror.

Conaie’s ten demands

1. Lower fuel prices.

2. Generate employment.

3. Do not expand or exploit more hydrocarbons or mining.

4. Respect and guarantee collective rights.

5. Do not privatize strategic sectors.

6. Control price speculation.

7. Attend health and education.

8. Guarantee citizen security.

9. Implement a fair prices policy for agriculture.

10. Make a moratorium and renegotiate debts for 4 million families.

Translated from Spanish by Janaína Ruviaro da Silva


Otros artículos del autor
Cientista político y comunicador. coordinador general de investigación Instituto de Altos Estudios Nacionales - IAEN (Quito). Doctor en Ciencias Sociales por FLACSO-Ecuador. Últimos libros: (2023) "Ecuador: diálogo y acuerdos mínimos" y (2020) "En el ojo del huracán. Ley de Comunicación en Ecuador".

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