As of today, we have been in Tena for more than a week longer than expected. This is due to the countrywide protests regarding indigenous rights and economic security, led by the organization CONAIE, which stands for the Confederación de Nacionalidades Indígenas del Ecuador. This is a collective organization made up of different indigenous groups that has existed since 1986. They work for the autonomy of indigenous communities, education, and legal rights, while providing a platform for bringing indigenous groups together for common goals. With roadblocks and protests, CONAIE has been fighting for 10 demands they proposed to President Lasso.
One of the demands from CONAIE is the reduction in fuel prices. This demand is unsurprising to me for several reasons. First, my host parents in Quito often spoke about how high gas prices were in Ecuador. My dad mentioned that they purposely bought a small car that would get better gas mileage. In observation of other cars in Quito, as well as the number of motorcycles, this seems to be common practice. Second, gas prices are rising in other places as well, such as the United States. I think it is interesting how the idea of “high” gas prices is relative for where someone is in the world. Like many other things, gas is much cheaper in Ecuador than the U.S., but is clearly very expensive compared to what Ecuadorians are used to. For this reason, it makes sense that CONAIE is demanding lower prices.
However, another of the demands is a pause or cease of oil expansion in the Amazon. This seems to contradict the previous demand of lower gas prices, since it would limit availability of petroleum. Even so, the desire to limit oil expansion and protect ecosystems makes sense. In the documentary, “Crude,” the damage to the Amazon by oil production was described. Clearly, it has caused major health and economic issues for indigenous groups. I wonder if it is possible to lower gas prices and protect the Amazon and its indigenous communities.
In connection to this, another demand of CONAIE is to respect collective rights such as intercultural education, indigenous justice, access to information, and the organization/autonomy of indigenous communities. Based on our lectures and readings, indigenous groups have been working for legal rights since formal government first encountered their territories. Randy Borman discussed the lack of land ownership and citizenship for the Cofán people, and Natalia Sierra explained the struggle for laws to preserve indigenous lands, particularly the contradiction between laws and the reality of exploitation.
Overall, the demands of the CONAIE fit into the background of lectures and observations so far in Ecuador. I support the push for economic security and general opportunity for all people in Ecuador, especially indigenous people who have been hurt and exploited for years. It is exciting to see the way Ecuadorians can group together to push for common goals. It seems different from protests in the U.S., but that could partly be because I am more directly affected by the Paro than I am by big city protests in the United States. At the same time, the blockages and lack of supplies are surely affecting people without the proper resources to attain food and income in the midst of this movement. I hope that an agreement will be reached before damages outweigh the political progress that CONAIE desires.