President Lenin Moreno’s government withdrew the neoliberal program which had sparked the massive protests. Indigenous groups remain wary, though, in case the government implements new austerity measures.
After 11 days of massive protests, brutal repression and a general upheaval in Ecuador, the government of President Moreno and the most important indigenous organizations agreed to engage in negotiations to discuss the cancellation of austerity measures that President Moreno had imposed about two weeks ago, following the IMF’s prescriptions.
The economic had policies included a near doubling of fuel prices, about 23,000 layoffs in the public sector, and the deregulation of labor laws, following a neolibral model.
As soon as the measures were announced, protesters came walking and in caravans from different regions of Ecuador. They started to arrive at Quito on Saturday, October 5th, and continued arriving for over eleven days. They marched to demand the cancellation of the IMF decree, that would directly affect the poorest.
One of the main organizations behind the protests and the strike was CONAIE, the Confederation of Indigenous Nations of Ecuador:
Sonido Luisa Lozano – Conaie Leader: “We are calling on all the Ecuadorian people, different organizations such as CONAIE are here demanding Decree 883 to be repealed. We reject the decrees that go against the interest of Indigenous peoples and farmers. We as Indigenous peoples remained in resistance for more than 530 years and we are not saboteurs as the mainstream media are portraying us. We are a people who fight with dignity, demanding our rights. And we will stand for this as long as decree 883 is not repealed, we will not move from this space that we have made our own.”
Ever since the Indigenous movements announced that they would be marching to the cities the government began militarizing the capital.
The indigenous rally managed to enter Quito nonetheless, but security forces systematically attacked and repressed them.
Their massive presence in the city, aroused racist reactions from right wing and xenophobic urban groups, something that Ecuador’s indigenous peoples clearly reject:
Indigenous protester: “Why don’t they go to the field and work? Let’s see if they can stand a long labor day as farmers do, plowing the land, sowing the farms, reaping the fruits, they can only go to the supermarket to buy with money, that are the result of our work. Without the rural areas, the city is nothing”
“We are used to the struggle and we will not give up. Despite people saying that we are lazy, they tell us to go to work, we are used to that too. We have come here and we continue to preserve our language, our customs, and we will continue to reject the ‘paquetazo’ that affects us all as Ecuadorian citizens.”
Although race conflicts are structural in Ecuadorian society, not everyone rejects the indigenous population. Hundreds of volunteers in the capital organized an enormous solidarity operation, collecting supplies, such as medicines, blankets, and food for the thousands of Indigenous people who cameto spend several nights in the city. For over eleven days they have been cooking, serving and helping the Indigenous communities in a struggle that they also share.
Volunteer: “I’m a volunteer and a student at the Catholic University. I’m here because I think the best we can do now is to help our brothers and sisters out. To help them and show solidarity and empathy regarding what’s going on. I’m not going to stay at home watching how people are dying here. I won’t do that. So that’s why I came and why we are here.”
Over the weekend the Indigenous people marched against austerity measures and again faced state violence and repression.
As night fell, a ceasefire was supposed to take effect, but security forces continued to try to expel protesters from the city and to neutralize them with little respect for the shelters that had been declared peace zones.
Volunteer: “In the Catholic and Salesiana universities shelters, we were victims of repression and saw how they threw tear gas bombs in areas that were declared peace zones, and we were precisely organizing a shelter with over 1000 people from different Indigenous communities all over the country . We felt the tear gas, so of course there was unrest and we started an emergency plan to exit, because as you know, the place has limited exit doors. This is a call for the government to respect human rights and peace zones, and for everyone to support the Ecuadorian people and their struggle for the rights of everyone.”
As of October 13, CONAIE denounces there has been 10 deaths, over 2,000 injured, over 1,000 people arrested and 100 people missing. They also denounced cases of torture performed by police and army officials.
Among the arrested there are at least 13 journalists and 26 politicians. Also, at least 57 journalists were reportedly attacked by police and 9 media outlets closed. The leftist Latin American outlet teleSUR was taken off the cable companies’ programming without any explanation.
After 11 days of conflict the main Indigenous organizations and President Lenin Moreno agreed to participate in a dialogue with the mediation of the United Nations mission in Ecuador.
Miriam Cisneros: “I’ve been in the streets starving for 13 days, our brothers have been killed, and that means our president ordered the security forces to attack us when our march was a peaceful one. It hurts my soul to see how our little kids were struggling to survive in the midst of tear gas. Let it weigh on your conscience what happened to all the brothers and sisters who have died in this struggle.”
In his speech, Lenin Moreno again blamed former Ecuadorean president Rafael Correa, for the crisis in the country, while Indigenous representatives confronted him, demanding the resignation of his ministers of interior and defense, as well as the immediate drop of the IMF measures.
After hours of negotiation, Moreno agreed to withdraw the neoliberal measures, known as “decree 883,” but insisted on a joint commission to issue a new one on how to reduce the fuel subsidies. Some of the Indigenous leaders were opposed to a new decree, and there is uncertainty how much the IMF’s prescriptions will actually be dropped. The popular and Indigenous movement is divided between those who are already celebrating a victory and those who plan to remain alert and ready to go back to the protest, until they see the new decree.