The Indigenous Voices of Ecuador’s General Strike

October 25, 2019

Massive protests forced President Moreno into a negotiation with indigenous opposition movements, which was broadcast on live TV. The leaders seemed to school the president and his ministers, and he eventually canceled the IMF-required austerity decree. We spoke to some of those leaders.

Massive protests forced President Moreno into a negotiation with indigenous opposition movements, which was broadcast on live TV. The leaders seemed to school the president and his ministers, and he eventually canceled the IMF-required austerity decree. We spoke to some of those leaders.


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Story Transcript

OSCAR LEON: In October 2019, a massive strike forced the Ecuadorian government to cancel a decree that imposed austerity measures. The international Monetary Fund, the IMF, had required these measures in return for a $4.2 billion loan. The protests eventually forced President Lenin Moreno to the negotiation table after state security forces failed to repress the growing number of people who took to the streets. The  negotiations were broadcast on live TV, and Ecuadorians could see indigenous leaders schooling the president and his ministers. Eventually, Ecuador’s president gave in and cancelled decree number 883 live on air. This unleashed a wave of celebration among the very same people that had previously been angrily protesting and banging pots and pans on the streets.

The Real News Network spoke with two of the indigenous leaders who debated president Moreno. This is Leonidas Iza, President of the Farmers and Indigenous Movement from Cotopaxi.

LEONIDAS IZA: On October the 13, after the talks with the government, CONAIE’s President called for calm and for the indigenous communities’ return home and it all went back to normal. If we had political pretensions or wanted to take down the government, then that wouldn’t matter, and protests would have continued. So we believe that an alleged coup is the Moreno’s government attempt to cover its terrible handling of the situation. They are looking for political manipulators where there are none. They even had agent provocateurs causing fires and damage to government buildings, sending agent provocateurs to be able to back their conspiracy theory.

OSCAR LEON: Jaime Vargas is president of the largest indigenous organization, the Confederation of Indigenous Nationalities of Ecuador, or CONAIE, which is an umbrella organization for all other indigenous groups. He is Ecuador indigenous’ highest ranking leader.

JAIME VARGAS: So now we delivered the IMF a defeat, and because of that, the IMF ordered the killing of the Ecuadorian people. I want to emphasize that. The IMF is a murderous international corporation. Murderous.

OSCAR LEON: The violence had a serious toll on protesters, and on public and private property.

ANDRES TAPIA: There was unmeasured violence; 1200 injured and 1200 detained, 8 deaths–although today we learned of yet another fatality, so 9 deaths.

OSCAR LEON: Andres Tapia is the Communications Director of CONFENAIE, short for Confederation of Indigenous Nationalities of the Ecuadorian Amazon, which is a member of CONAIE.

ANDRES TAPIA: They supported us through hard times, like when martial law was declared and they took to the streets making theirs pots and pans sound, which made us feel their support, it was very important to us.

OSCAR LEON: Leonidas Iza emphasized the discipline of the movement that mobilized an estimated 20.000 members. Many of them, according to him, joined in response to the unprecedented violence that the Moreno government had unleashed on protesters. Mainstream media reinforced the government’s perspective, portraying the protests as foreign-financed acts of vandalism, by Venezuela’s President Maduro, and the violence as an unprovoked action on the part of strike supporters. Recently the Ecuadorian Army changed its military doctrine from one of guarding the border to counterinsurgency as its main task. Defense Minister Oswaldo Jarrin from the School of the Americas announced that the government is applying anti-terrorism tactics to persecute those behind the uprising, which he sees as an attack on the state.

LEONIDAS IZA: We had control over those within the structure of the indigenous organization, representing all three regions of our country. However, we need to point out that the violence and plunder were a reaction by regular citizens against unprecedented state violence unleashed by Moreno’s government. So over that wes had no control, which needs to be understood.

OSCAR LEON: CONAIE President Vargas is now being investigated for rebellion.

JAIME VARGAS: We cannot dialogue with the government if they are indicting our leaders for rebellion. So if we have to take measures, we are ready to do that.

OSCAR LEON: At the heart of the Ecuadorian government’s accusations is that there is a conspiracy to overthrow the government, according to President Moreno.

LEONIDAS IZA: If the government threw such amount of violence at the protesters, it is no surprise that now they are so publicly indicting our leaders. There are also deaths threats against us.

JAIME VARGAS: I completely reject those stories, saying that the strike was orchestrated by Correa, we have nothing to do with him, the mobilization was organized by our movement. Our stance is stronger than ever, with the support of the different social groups, we are stronger than ever.

OSCAR LEON: Follow The Real News for more on the issue.