CONAIE stands for the Confederación de Nacionalidades Indígenas del Ecuador. They represent the rights of indigenous people in Ecuador, specifically including the following communities: Quichua, Shuar, Achuar, Huaorani, Siena, Secoya, Shiwiar, Záparo, Cofán, and many more. Since the 1980s this rights protection organization has advocated for the strengthening of positive indigenous identities, recuperation of land rights, environmental stability, opposition to neoliberalism, and rejection of US military involvement in South America. CONAIE activism, uprisings, and protests have occurred since 1990 to advocate for and demand change in regard to policies that negatively impact indigenous rights, living, and health.
As of Monday, June 13th, members of CONAIE and indigenous groups have been protesting in the Ecuadorian capital of Quito, as well as other smaller cities. Their protests are pushing for a negotiation and resolution to ten demands. The fifth demand consists of a moratorium on mining and oil expansion. As our SST group heard in previous lectures by Randy Borman, a member of the Cofán and a documentary, “Crude” (2009) about the Texaco/Chevron disaster, large companies have been extracting oil and petroleum (notably) since the 1960s in Ecuador. Lecturer Natalia Sierra also mentioned this continuing extraction and the requirement of petroleum to repay loans from the World Bank. High prices on the strong oil resources and its use in-country for industrialization and modernization have created a dependency on the oil industry. This dependency has resulted in violent extractive policies on natural resources. It is a continuing issue as the current president, Guillermo Lasso, in his first year has continued neoliberal policies and the extractivism never ceases due to Ecuador’s large, important role as an exporter of raw materials. This process has been destructive to economies, cultures, and structures as well as being a leading cause of disease, illness, and the displacement and removal of people. After decades of extraction and the indigenous peoples’ first hand experience with its effects, it is understandable why CONAIE would demand a halt to such operations. The Indigenous people of Ecuador have several reasons to demand such, and I think it is a valid demand. However, I also believe that the national reliance on such extraction has put the country in a difficult position, as termination risks further economic hardships than what already exists. I believe there is a need for economic reform of some kind to help the people while preventing economic failure.
Another demand which makes sense but requires long term development to attain is the second demand: economic relief and renegotiation of debts. One major economic crisis to occur more recently in Ecuador occurred in 1981 with the conversion of private debt to public debt, as Sierra mentioned. Additionally, the Bank Holiday and Dollarization (1999-2001) “robbed people” in order to save the banks. This massive inflation increased poverty and debt further for all Ecuadorians, especially Indigenous people and disadvantaged groups. The lack of resolution to the personal impacts of these events have ensured continued poverty and nearly inescapable debt for many Ecuadorians. The CONAIE demand insists on a moratorium on debt and reduction of interest for at least one year and cessation of seizure of assets. While acknowledging that this is a difficult demand for government officials to agree to, I think this particular request speaks to many things. Firstly, it speaks to the yearning and need of people to have debt frozen in order to avoid seizure of their assets and to be able to support themselves and their families. With the current state of things, people remain unemployed and impoverished. Secondly, the people are demanding aid with issues that arose or were made more severe through government action. Without further government intervention to rectify this situation, those in debt will continue to be for their lifetime and the poverty becomes generational, nearly inescapable. Additionally, this demand has implications that are valid in other nations, including the US. Generational poverty impacts people all over the world, and if the government has the wherewithal to halt interest or revoke removal of assets, people in poverty would have more opportunity to contribute to their debts without adding to or creating more suffering.
Like the two demands I mentioned, most, if not all 10 of the CONAIE demands are valid, but acceptance and visual evidence of these demands makes them difficult to attain. Even if they are agreed to, what is there to ensure and enforce implementation? What would the timeline look like and how long would Indigenous groups and the Ecuadorian people be willing to wait before reigniting protests? How much could the leaders agree to while sustaining viability in the national economy?
With so many factors and histories to consider, we, Goshen College SST students and Ecuadorians alike, wonder where this is heading. We find ourselves reluctant to discourage a movement that is desperately needed for these people. While there is so much to manage to appease those protesting, I think their wants and needs are valid. I am just not sure how many demands are truly attainable under neoliberal leadership, and even a change of leadership would prolong negotiations. Just like the citizens around us, we are waiting
day-to-day to hear of outcomes. The infinite possibility of choice for leaders, protesters, and military has created an almost unpredictable outcome. Until that outcome occurs, we can only hope and pray for resolution during our time in this town of Tena, EC.