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When, after 11 days of strong social mobilization, Decree 883 was repealed and the beginning of a broad dialogue between the government and the indigenous movement was announced, the issue ceased to occupy the headlines of the mainstream media. However, the conflict is not over. In the following interview, Nelsy Lizarazo, co-director of Pressenza in Ecuador, describes the current situation in the country and reflects on what happened and what may happen.
–How did the mobilizations that began with the announcement of the economic measures end?
-I can tell you how the mobilizations ended in terms of people on the street, because in terms of conflict and process, this is not over. The mobilizations themselves ended on October 13, when the dialogue between the CONAIE [indigenous movement] leadership and the government of Lenin Moreno took place.
–And how was that dialogue?
-It was a public dialogue that was televised throughout the country, at the request of the indigenous movement. The superiority of the arguments and the interventions of the indigenous leaders was very notable. The government wanted the indigenous movement to suspend the mobilizations, setting up a commission to revise Decree 883, which had triggered the conflict. That was the first thing they failed to do, because the leaders said they were not sitting there to modify the decree, but to get it reversed.
I think the government didn’t expect such a forceful response, so that’s where the dialogue really began. After several round trips, the following day the decree was repealed and the installation of a technical table between the parties was announced, in order to reach agreements on the measures, although the central focus was on fuel subsidies.
Obviously there were celebrations and I would even say a certain euphoria on the part of all those mobilized, and the next day the indigenous people began to return to their communities. But before they left they cleaned up the city. With the help of the same people who had supported them, they made very broad mingas, there were community lunches, and Quito was impeccable. It was a very significant community action.
–How did things go on afterwards?
-As far as we know, no technical table has yet been set up as agreed. The day after the talks, the government set in motion a very strong strategy of intimidation that continues to this day and that basically points to the criminalisation of different leaders of some political forces as well as of the indigenous movement itself, including its president, Jaime Vargas.
The repeal of the decree was read by a sector of society and by some sectors of power as a weakness of the government, a concession that should not have been given. This reaction weakened the government which, from my point of view, could have taken advantage of it in its favour, highlighting its vocation for dialogue and its flexibility, for example. That was not the case. On the contrary, they began the denunciations, the detentions, the identification of people in the videos and even, as I said, the presentation of charges against the president of the CONAIE, accusing him of wanting to “constitute a parallel state”. Vargas gave a press conference explaining the position, but that did not stop the attack being made by the government, the right wing and the big media.
So the conflict continues. Obviously, with the repeal of the decree the increase in fuel was stopped and that is very significant because for the peasant and indigenous world fuel has an enormous cost, but it is not at all clear what is going to happen with the rest of the agenda, with measures such as the reduction of the tax on the outflow of foreign currency, tax and labor reforms, and so on. It seems very likely that the government will try to filter them little by little in the National Assembly for approval.
Nor is it clear whether the process of dialogue will continue. The CONAIE has convened this past weekend the Parliament of the Peoples and Social Organizations, in which an important representation of the trade union, feminist and student movements, among others, participated. In addition, the delivery of the proposals for this Thursday, October 31 has been announced. For now, there are still five days of State of Exception, which we do not know what surprises will bring us.
–Would you say that the protagonism of the indigenous movement was surprising?
-I think for the whole country, starting with the government. The response and the speed of the firm and clear response from the indigenous movement was surprising. Ecuador’s history and the last 30 years have shown several times the mobilizing capacity of indigenous peoples and nationalities, but it is true that a good time of demobilization had passed. It is evident that the indigenous movement once again represents the greatest social force, the greatest force of pressure in the country, and that is a very positive balance because we had not seen a mobilization of this magnitude in Ecuador for a long time.
They put the country on their shoulders, and I believe that the popular sectors and the non-racist middle class, as well as the most critical academia, this mobilized them because it was obvious that they were in the fight for everyone and we had to accompany them, sustain them.
I believe that what has happened is very important for everyone, but it is also risky for the indigenous movement itself, because for the government it has been almost an offense and the reaction can be brutal. I believe that this is a well-founded fear and it is indispensable to be attentive.
–And with respect to the movements that accompanied, what would you highlight?
-I believe that many movements and groups of different origins and scope were effectively added around the towns. I would especially highlight the feminist movements -which later led an extraordinary march of women- and the students who, although they move in that inorganic way so characteristic of these times, mobilized in different forms and fronts. It was the young people who demanded that their universities open their doors, that they become shelters, that they welcome the indigenous people, that they give them assistance. They were the ones who surrounded the Catholic University, for example, so that it would be respected as a zone of peace and the advance of the public force would be prevented. There were other sectors, of course, but I believe that women and young people stood out.
Regarding how much these approaches can lead to longer-term alliances, joint work, a common agenda, etc., today we have the sign of their participation in the People’s Parliament that has just been developed. It is a sign of the beginning of a process that can lead very positively to a joint agenda of popular struggle.
Another important factor to highlight were the alternative media and the social networks which operated positively. If the human rights bodies manage to bring forward any sanctions for the excessive use of force in those days, for example, it will be thanks to the graphic documentation of the alternative media and ordinary citizens. It is something very remarkable that we have to cultivate and win in favor.
–What conclusions could be drawn from everything that happened?
-Seen in terms of process, in the medium and long term, I believe that the 11 days lived mark a before and an after. The country revealed itself. Before we knew it but now we saw it: the Ecuador we have is not the oasis of peace and harmony it was supposed to be. Those days revealed how fragmented this country has been for its entire history, the profound racism that crosses it, the enormous distance between the city and the countryside, the neglect and abandonment of the countryside, the absolute ignorance and contempt of sectors of the right and elite for the peoples and nationalities, to what extent we renounce who we are. All that was exposed.
If until now fragmentation was subtle, now it is explicit in social and cultural as well as ideological aspects. The polarizations have deepened, although it could not be said that the people who mobilized in the cities and the indigenous movement represent a political left. Rather, they represent an agenda of the popular sectors, of the people who are “suffocated,” who are at the end of their tether and warn that this is more strategic, that there is a system that oppresses us, that there is a Monetary Fund that can do as it pleases with our countries, and so on. And there are other people who represent the interests of the elites, of the oligarchies, and a “rancid” right-wing with an authoritarian and anachronistic discourse of the type “those who do not want to submit must be forced to do so”.
All this has been very naked and in terms of the historical process, of the evolution of consciousness, it seems to me to be very good.
I also think it is very important that we all help each other to process what happened, to understand it in its historical dimension, not to expect results in the immediate term, but to work to reap the best of what came out of this experience.
It is not that we are in an easy situation. As I said before, this is a moment of great fragility. However, it is an interesting moment and rich in possibilities because the country’s political scenario has also changed. The political forces that were supposed to dispute the next elections
It’s not like we’re in an easy situation. As I said before, this is a moment of great fragility. However, it is an interesting moment and rich in possibilities because the country’s political scenario has also changed. The political forces that were supposed to contest the next elections have been deeply weakened, and many things can happen in this scenario. It could happen, for example, that new alternatives emerge, because in those 11 days many things happened in the territories, in the small cities, many “different” meetings that were mobilized, that met, that left without belonging to any particular party but rather responding to the urgency of proposing something different. Perhaps from there, something interesting can be harvested and built for the future.
So it seems to me that in the immediate we need to be cautious and very attentive, but I also believe that we gained more than we lost, and today we are one step further in history.
At the close of this interview, an IACHR commission has arrived in the country and this week will be receiving denunciations from citizens. The Ombudsman’s Office and human rights organizations are at the forefront of this process.
Translation Pressenza London