Ecuador: The indigenous movement and Correa


Richard Moore

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Ecuador: The indigenous movement and Correa

Federico Fuentes
4 August 2007

When Rafael Correa was elected president of Ecuador in 2006, campaigning on a 
strong anti-neoliberal platform to bring about a ³citizen¹s revolution², one key
social force seemed notably absent from his campaign ‹ the country¹s powerful 
indigenous movement.

For over a decade, Ecuador¹s 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 Pachakutik¹s 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 movement¹s 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 ³there have been some changes under Correa², the 
movement is neither in opposition nor part of the government. ³The Correa 
government has formed its own political movement, Country Alliance, but I don¹t 
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 identity², commented 
Chancoso, adding that the indigenous people have their own movement ‹ Pachakutik
‹ and are part of ³a different process, which existed prior to the current 
government and which depends upon its own spaces².

Resurgence of indigenous struggle

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 ³class issues² such as land reform, yet a key weakness was that 
³there was no talk about the position of indigenous people in society².

³At 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 

This resurgence fuelled a growing indigenous pride, with people no longer 
³whitening² 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 urban sectors

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 ³further coming together of the indigenous and urban 
left², through the Coalition of Social Movements (CMS).

The CMS helped bring together in a successful campaign different unions, 
liberation theology organisations, youth and women¹s groups and other urban 
sectors, in essence creating ³a broad anti-neoliberal coalition, but which had 
at its core Ecuador¹s indigenous movement², said Hernandez.

According to Hernandez the growing unity built up by the victorious ³No² 
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 Pachakutik¹s 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 ³radically challenged the existing state structure², 
but it also created a broad front to bring in other movements and concerns.

Pachakutik¹s 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. ³It also became the party of thousands
of citizens who had found no other way to participate in national politics², 
Hernandez said.

While Pachakutik gained strength in the parliamentary sphere, the indigenous 
movement continued protesting on the streets, which Hernandez referred to as a 
³dual strategy² to transform the state ³from within and from outside². 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

Chancoso recounts how having given Mahuad a deadline to negotiate by November, 
³we began to organise the Œparliaments of the people¹ 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.²

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, Gustavo Noboa.

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, Pachakutik¹s defence at all costs of 
institutional spaces it had won began to lead to a growth in cronyism and 

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.

2006 elections

Pachakutik faced further splits from the urban sectors. ³Serious debate became 
impossible. We were accused of being racists, mestizos², 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. ³We first replied saying why not reverse 
the formula and have [Correa] as vice-president, but he refused², explained 
Chancoso. ³Once again the impression was created that we the indigenous people 
came second.² 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 
³to truly test our support². 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 ³a 
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.²

³We 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 Š but if it does 
not fit within this agenda, we will have our own proposals.²

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 Ecuador¹s destiny.

From: International News, Green Left Weekly issue #720 8 August 2007.

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