Movement And Correa
By Federico Fuentes
07 August, 2007
When Rafael Correa was elected
president of Ecuador in 2006, campaigning on a strong anti-neoliberal
platform to bring about a "citizen's revolution", one key
social force seemed notably absent from his campaign — the country's
powerful indigenous movement.
For over a decade, Ecuador's indigenous people — who make up over
40% of the population — were central to national politics as the
key protagonists in a new wave of struggle that toppled several presidents.
Luis Macas, indigenous candidate
for Pachakutik and a leader of CONAIE, which unites the different indigenous
organisations and nations, garnered less than 3% of votes in the first
round of the presidential election — a far cry from the 20% obtained
in Pachakutik's first electoral campaign in 1996. In the second round
Pachakutik endorsed Correa, but played a marginal role in the victory
for a candidate who has since begun to act on many of the movement's
key demands, particular the convocation of a Constituent Assembly.
Speaking to Green Left Weekly
during a visit to Caracas in July as an invited guest of the Miranda
International Center (CIM), Blanca Chancoso, a well-respected protagonist
of the indigenous movement and leader of the indigenous organisation
ECUARUNARI, explained the somewhat contradictory nature of the relationship
between Correa and the indigenous movement.
Chancoso said that while
"there have been some changes under Correa", the movement
is neither in opposition nor part of the government. "The Correa
government has formed its own political movement, Country Alliance,
but I don't think that should mean that we are under the obligation
to be part of it. Instead I think that there is a need to maintain an
identity", commented Chancoso, adding that the indigenous people
have their own movement — Pachakutik — and are part of "a
different process, which existed prior to the current government and
which depends upon its own spaces".
Resurgence of indigenous
While the indigenous people
have waged a continuous struggle against colonialism for over 500 years,
Chancoso said the end of the 1970s marked an important leap forward
for the movement. Even though there had been previous attempts by left
and communist parties to organise indigenous peoples, Chancoso noted
that much was made of "class issues" such as land reform,
yet a key weakness was that "there was no talk about the position
of indigenous people in society".
"At the end of the 1970s
a new process of recuperation of identity and regroupment occurred.
New organisations emerged that incorporated issues of indigenous identity
and defence of our languages, alongside traditional class issues."
This resurgence fuelled a
growing indigenous pride, with people no longer "whitening"
their surnames to hide their indigenous background. Instead protest
leaders would dress in traditional clothing and sometimes address the
crowds in indigenous languages. By 1986, this new expression of revolt
had led to the creation of CONAIE.
As Ecuador became wracked
by a growing economic crisis, the indigenous movement moved onto the
centre stage of national politics with its first uprising in June, 1990,
paralysing the country for nine days. Central to the mobilisation were
the issues of land and agricultural prices and the demand to officially
recognise the plurinational character of the state, granting legal recognition
to the existence of the various indigenous nations.
Unity among indigenous and
In 1994 an intense uprising
forced the government to hold direct negotiations between the president
and the indigenous leadership, consolidating the movement as a political
actor that the elites could not ignore. By successfully combining mass
mobilisations, a strong anti-neoliberal and pro-indigenous discourse,
and gaining victories in negotiations with the government, the indigenous
movement became the central axis of the broader reorganisation of left
and popular forces, which had also begun to emerge in the urban areas.
One of the key actors in
the urban youth movements was Virgilio Hernandez, who was active in
a liberation theology-inspired youth organisation in Quito. Hernandez,
who was also in Caracas as a guest of CIM, explained to GLW how this
growing unity was reflected in the 1995 campaign against the government-initiated
referendum over deepening neoliberal policies. This challenge required
the "further coming together of the indigenous and urban left",
through the Coalition of Social Movements (CMS).
The CMS helped bring together
in a successful campaign different unions, liberation theology organisations,
youth and women's groups and other urban sectors, in essence creating
"a broad anti-neoliberal coalition, but which had at its core Ecuador's
indigenous movement", said Hernandez.
According to Hernandez the
growing unity built up by the victorious "No" campaign in
the referendum, along with the constitutional reform enacted that same
year, which opened the space for independent candidates to run in elections,
acted as important stimuli for the formation of Pachakutik, taking the
movement into the political arena.
Hernandez, who helped found
Pachakutik and for almost a decade played an important role in its leadership,
noted that Pachakutik's emergence was important in two senses: it was
the first political force constructed by indigenous people to directly
take up their demands, particularly that of a plurinational state that
"radically challenged the existing state structure", but it
also created a broad front to bring in other movements and concerns.
Pachakutik's full name was
Movement of Plurinational Unity — Pachakutik — New Country,
in order to reflect the three main components: CONAIE, the Amazonic
indigenous movement and the urban sector. "It also became the party
of thousands of citizens who had found no other way to participate in
national politics", Hernandez said.
While Pachakutik gained strength
in the parliamentary sphere, the indigenous movement continued protesting
on the streets, which Hernandez referred to as a "dual strategy"
to transform the state "from within and from outside". By
1999 the indigenous movement had led seven uprisings and had overthrown
President Abdala Bucaram in 1997. With a deepening economic crisis hitting
hard in 1999, then-President Jamil Mahuad reacted by freezing bank accounts,
deepening popular discontent.
Chancoso recounts how having
given Mahuad a deadline to negotiate by November, "we began to
organise the 'parliaments of the people' in preparation for the insurrection.
The insurrection was later delayed until January and by this time our
demands had radicalised: we were calling for the abolition of the three
powers of the state [executive, legal and judicial] and for a revolutionary
government to be formed from below."
This insurrection led to
relations being built between the movement and a section of the military,
led by Colonel Lucio Gutierrez. This united force brought down the government
on January 21, 2000, placing power in the hands of the Junta of National
Salvation, but by the next day power had been ceded to the vice-president,
The movement enters government
After a dispute over candidates
for the 2002 elections and several failed attempts at unity with other
left and centre-left forces, Pachakutik was left with only one possible
alliance, with Gutierrez and his Patriotic Society.
Almost immediately after
being sworn in as president, Gutierrez began to betray the movements.
Hernandez, who was sub-secretary of the interior ministry, was the first
to speak out, resigning from his position. After seven months, when
Gutierrez demanded that Pachakutik overturn its vote against his International
Monetary Fund-endorsed economic program to allow it to go through parliament,
Pachakutik broke its alliance.
A section of CONAIE aligned
with Antonio Vargas, who had been president of CONAIE between 1998 and
2001, maintained its clientalist relationship with the government, which
Gutierrez in turn used to further split the indigenous movement. According
to Hernandez, Pachakutik's defence at all costs of institutional spaces
it had won began to lead to a growth in cronyism and bureaucratism.
Differences grew and as discontent
increased against the Gutierrez government, the indigenous movement
retreated in the face of a growing identity crisis. As the middle classes
of Quito erupted onto the streets against Gutierrez in April 2005, forcing
his resignation, the indigenous movement — while supporting the
protests — was unable to muster any mobilisations on the streets.
Pachakutik faced further
splits from the urban sectors. "Serious debate became impossible.
We were accused of being racists, mestizos", said Hernandez, who
at the end of 2005 left Pachakutik.
According to Chancoso, Correa
had approached Pachakutik to offer the vice-presidential spot on his
ticket. "We first replied saying why not reverse the formula and
have [Correa] as vice-president, but he refused", explained Chancoso.
"Once again the impression was created that we the indigenous people
came second." However Correa did propose primary elections among
those forces that came behind a broad united project of change.
Disorientated and weakened
by its alliance with Gutierrez, and fearing a possible repeat performance,
Pachakutik decided it was better to run Luis Macas "to truly test
our support". Macas came in last.
Although the mass mobilisations
against the free trade agreement in March 2006 demonstrated a continued
presence of the indigenous movement, today it has clearly lost its hegemonic
role in the popular camp. New actors have emerged and a new process
of change expressed through the leadership of the charismatic and radical
economist with whom the majority of Ecuadorians sympathise and actively
For Chancoso, the indigenous
movement today continues to identify with "a political agenda that
is: No to Plan Colombia, no to the FTAs, no more military base in Manta,
no to the payment of the external debt."
"We support this agenda
of change against the neoliberal model. With Correa winning government,
our proposals continue to remain within this agenda. Our struggle was
for the convocation of the Constituent Assembly. So we identified with
the call for a consultation on the Constituent Assembly. We have said
we will support proposals as long as they are within this agenda …
but if it does not fit within this agenda, we will have our own proposals."
Today the indigenous movement
faces some real challenges. However forging unity between this process
of change and the indigenous movement to help push forward and defend
Correa as his government comes under heavy attack from imperialism will
have an important impact on Ecuador's destiny.
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