An inside account of the Indigenous uprising in Ecuador
Oct. 16 — On Oct. 7, 4000 Indigenous people from towns in and around the same canton marched for four hours to Ibarra to present a manifesto to the governor of Imbabura. The governor refused to meet with them and later rejected their primary demands: Cease the military aggression against Indigenous communities and support their resistance to the “paquetazo” (economic package) ordered by the International Monetary Fund and Decree 883, which removed fuel subsidies.
Our friend – we’ll call him K – decided to join the Paro Nacional (Great National Uprising) when he attended a people’s assembly on Oct. 8 organized in his community by the Federación Indígena y Campesina de Imbabura. FICI is affiliated with CONAIE, the Confederation of Indigenous Nationalities of Ecuador. K said that FICI includes Indigenous communities from the following: the Otavalos, Caranquis and Natabuela people.
K is Otavalao and a veteran of two decades of resistance led by the CONAIE against former presidents of Ecuador who were imposing the dictates of the Washington Consensus [the IMF, World Bank and U.S. Federal Reserve] on the people of Ecuador.
In July 1999, FICI marched to Quito, the capital, for a Paro Nacional called by CONAIE. The paro was a general strike which overthrew then President Jamil Mahuad. The manifesto of that insurrection reads as if it were written today.
In 1999, a three-day march of Indigenous women from Imbabura traversed 60 miles over arid terrain and poorly paved mountain roads reaching Quito on July 15. Brutal repression failed to stop that march even though the national police and the military dropped tear gas bombs from helicopters on the marchers.
FICI was planning a similar three-day march on the capital city of Quito for the Paro Nacional that ended this past Sunday, Oct. 13. But last week, the people were spontaneously rising up, and to catch up with the uprising, FICI had to organize comuneros – Indigenous participants – to ride in big trucks and in double decker buses volunteered by a local bus company. The vehicles carried hundreds of comuneros back and forth between Imbabura and Quito during the uprising.
K said he joined the Paro for the sake of his daughters, his grandchildren and his extended family. The comuneros took children to Quito, not expecting that the repression would be an order of magnitude greater than anything they had ever experienced before.
The mobilization itself was a huge and militant uprising of the Indigenous movement, with estimates of 50,000 Indigenous marchers in Quito. They were met in solidarity by hundreds of well-organized Quito residents, Afro-Ecuadorians, students and workers who joined them in the streets.
Solidarity in Quito
Comuneros were housed in five universities in the center of the city. Residents of Quito provided more than enough food and water, mattresses, blankets and personal hygiene items for the out-of-town marchers. The staff in the Politechnical Catholic University, where K found refuge with about 700 people, maintained clean bathrooms and showers that were constantly in use.
People could hardly rest for two straight nights in Quito as the cops kept firing tear gas and noise bombs in and around their campus shelters. The national police used up all their tear gas and sent ambulances to other cities to get more. The gas canisters were being used as bullets – shot at protesters’ heads and bodies, injuring hundreds of people.
In the midst of the chaos, cops called a truce and then double-crossed mothers with children. Cops advised the women that they would be safe in the House of Culture. After the women and children were inside, the police gassed the building.
The Indigenous people were outraged. The well-reported repression was so brutal that the Indigenous forces devised guerrilla tactics for self-defense. K reported that he saw a huge explosion in Arbolito Park at 12:40 a.m. on Oct. 12 that rocked Quito. After being chased by mounted police, comuneros strung heavy steel wire between lamp posts on the streets where cops on motorcycles and horseback charged the protesters. Small groups coordinated to surround the police and pelt them with stones from all directions.
No cops were seriously injured. Nor has the government taken responsibility for the deaths, injuries and disappearances among the demonstrators.
The general strike forced President Lenín Moreno to call for dialogue. Unfortunately, it was much too late to spare the lives of the eight people killed by the police – as reported by the Defensoria del Pueblo (the national organization for the defense of human rights in Ecuador), and too late to prevent grievous injuries to many hundreds more. The Defensoria del Pueblo did not report on the disappeared, which CONAIE estimated to be more than 100.
The joint commission of government and Indigenous representatives is meeting today, Oct. 16, to replace Decree 883, in accordance with the agreement in last Sunday’s dialogue. K was disappointed to learn that not all the items of the paquetazo were going to be placed on the table for discussion.
Lawfare feels like a police state
The persecutions and arrests of political leaders of Moreno’s main opposition party, the Revolución Ciudadana (Citizens’ Revolution) of former President Rafael Correa, have intensified. This repression occurs parallel with the dialogue and the work of the joint commission.
Assembly member Gabriela Rivadeneira, former president of the National Assembly and former governor of Imbabura Province is now targeted. K witnessed her marching with the Indigenous people of Otavalo on Monday, Oct. 7. Today she is reported to be a political exile in Mexico with Ricardo Patiño who the minister closest to Rafael Correa.
The arrest of the prefect [magistrate] of Pichincha Province, Paula Pabón, was recorded and the video has gone viral on social networks. Pabón’s recent election was considered to be a major victory for the Revolución Ciudadana.
Several other leaders are exiled or being sought. Vice President Jorge Glas, a political prisoner for more than two years, was the first target of Moreno’s power grab after Glas exposed Moreno’s corruption in August 2017.
Although few people believe him, Moreno has claimed that Correa was paying the Indigenous $45 a day to hold the general strike and charging that Nicolás Maduro, president of Venezuela, and the FARC (Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia) were supporting the Indigenous movement. K said that the people knew that the whole world was watching.
Today, the CONAIE are calling on CIDH – Comisión Interamericana de Derechos Humanos (tinyurl.com/y225fp5f/ in Spanish) – to investigate claims of human rights violations against the general strike participants.
K had not yet learned as of yesterday, Oct. 15, that only Decree 883 was on the table of the joint commission. When informed of the current situation, K said that he went into the streets to fight the IMF paquetazo of neoliberal reforms and to get Moreno out, not just to repeal 883. Many people here in Ibarra are disappointed that the CONAIE has agreed to limit negotiations.
The class struggle has only begun in Ecuador. ¡Hasta la victoria siempre! Until victory!