A Rebellion With an Uncertain Outcome
By Alberto Giovanelli
Ecuador has not been the same since October 1, when Lenín Moreno announced a neoliberal package based on the budget adjustment requirements implemented by the IMF.
A very rich process was sparked, which is still in development, with the Ecuadorian people cornering the government, placing the regime´s institutions in check, and fighting boldly despite the hesitations of their leaders.
The president had announced that, through Presidential Decree 883, fuel subsidies would be eliminated, the salary mass of all public service temporary contracts to be renewed would be reduced by 20%, the annual holiday period of state companies would be reduced from 30 to 15 days, and state workers would be forced to contribute a day´s salary per month to the public treasury. In parallel, a series of labor measures were decreed that implied the flexibilization of the private labor market, justifyingit with the argument of needing to implement a model “in line with the new times” …
Popular Mobilization and Institutional Crisis
The announcement first caused the rejection of transport workers, who went on strike. The next day, the National Indigenous Confederation of Ecuador (CONAIE), together with other trade unions and social organizations, announced a call for a major national strike against the government’s economic measures.
Between that Wednesday, the 2nd , and Sunday, October 6, multiple popular assemblies followed, especially in provinces with a strong indigenous presence – such as the areas of Sierra Centro – and in the Amazonian territory. In parallel, road blockades and mobilizations began in different locations. Over the weekend, the road blockades had already paralyzed all of Ecuador. Likewise, university students in Quito took to the streets in solidarity with the indigenous call, demanding the repeal of Decree 883 and other economic measures announced by the president. The government responded with repression, accompanied by a surprising declaration of a state of exception, limiting the right of transit, association and assembly, freedom of information, inviolability of residence, and correspondence.
A very nervous Lenín Moreno announced the state of exception in a new television network, surrounded by his vice president, Otto Sonnenholzner, a young businessman from the coastal elites, with no political experience, his Minister of Defense, and the Armed Forces high command. To the surprise of Ecuadorian society, the announcement was broadcast from Guayaquil, the country’s second city. The government had abandoned the presidential headquarters of Quito, the capital. What was intended to be a show of strength with the declaration of the state of exception, became the most palpable evidence of the government´s weakness.
Moreno had left the Carondelet Palace because he was afraid that the facilities would be taken by protesters. Contemplating that possibility was not an “exaggeration,” nor was the possibility of the armed forces letting the protesters in: some clashes between police officers and soldiers, a significant number of defections, and the images of police officers held hostage by indigenous organizations, made that hypothesis viable.
That same nigh,t and during the following days, Oswaldo Jarrín, current Minister of Defense, repeatedly threatened protestors with the use of lethal weapons if facilities that the government considered strategic were occupied. Nothing mattered: mobilizations continued throughout the country.
Everyone in the Streets
On Monday, October 7, columns of thousands of protesters from the indigenous provinces began arriving in Quito. Entrances to the capital were heavily guarded by contingents of Special Operations of the National Police. However, given the increasing number of protesters, the indigenous columns entered Quito, but not before there were strong altercations and even burned tanks and police cars. Hundreds were arrested and injured in the fighting.
Despite the strong campaign of fear articulated in social networks by conservative influencers, there was a multitude of gestures of solidarity in the humble neighborhoods of the Quito periphery to greet the arrival of the indigenous mobilization. The mobilization congregated in El Arbolito, the downtown Quito park where the historical events that ended up overthrowing governments during the decade of political instability that preceded the arrival of Rafael Correa to power, took place.
On October 8 and 9, numerous groups continued to arrive in Quito, while in the rest of the country, various government facilities were occupied, roadblocks were maintained and even oil wells were taken and shut down in the Amazon area. The last to arrive on the night of Thursday the 10th were another thousand indigenous people from Amazonian territories.
The cry was unison throughout the country: “The mobilization is indefinite until the national government repeals Decree 883 and the neo-liberal package, breaks with the IMF and Lenín Moreno resigns.” Meanwhile, in Quito, there were marches everywhere and at all hours, with gradually intensifying police repression. In the indigenous territories, and even in the capital, different military and National Police detachments were detained by protestors. All were then handed over to state authorities without harm or injury, while over a thousand protesters were arrested, over 500 were wounded and seven were killed by the night of October 12. During the days of mobilization, some of the detained policemen and soldiers were forced to carry the coffins of the fallen natives on their shoulders under the slogan: “feel the weight of our dead on your shoulders”.
A Broad Popular Mobilization
Two interesting phenomena occurred in the Ecuadorian capital: on the one hand, the strategy of twitters, generators of public opinion in various media, and several journalists disqualifying the indigenous movement in social networks, was palpable. On the other hand, in real life, solidarity with protesters was widespread. University students of all kinds of disciplines, especially Medicine and Nursing, maintained daily assistance to the injured on university campuses. In parallel, large sectors of Quito society distributed blankets, clothes, shoes, food and water in the facilities where newcomers spent the night in the capital. Finally, a broad deployment of alternative media was created to cover the mobilizations that were being criminalized by the traditional media. The strategy of confronting white people with the dark-skinned inhabitants of the country´s rural areas did not work, nor did the attempt to frighten the well-off Quito classes to confront them with the poor from afar. In fact, according to a Cedatos poll (certainly not a leftist sourse), 76% of Ecuadorians support the indigenous demand to repeal Decree 883.
The marches were actively accompanied by thousands of poor youth from outlying neighborhoods, who did not respond to the leaders of the social movements. They convened themselves and confronted the repressive gangs with valor and a level of self-organization that moved the world.
On the afternoon of October 12, “Day of Interculturality and Plurinationality” in Ecuador, the national government, which on innumerable occasions had reiterated that Decree 883 was not open to discussion, was forced to give in and analyze its contents with the mobilized people. Hours earlier, the Quito women’s movement had taken to the streets with indigenous women declaring María Paula Romo, Minister of the Interior who defines herself as feminist, responsible for the repression and betrayal of the women’s movement.
A Government Against the Ropes
The announcement that the CONAIE leaders were meeting to analyze Lenín Moreno’s proposal to negotiate, demanding minimum guarantees and for the negotiation be public and broadcast by the media, was enough for the sensation that progress could be made and the IMF and government plans could be defeated to fill the streets of Quito with excitement. The night closed with a strong cacerolazo that spread throughout the city.
The demand for the repeal of the economic measures implemented by the government, showed that the Ecuadorian population as a whole had informed the president of the Republic that they were raising their voice in rejection of the government’s administration and its policies.
A Plan to Stop the Revolution
On the afternoon of Sunday, October 12, the negotiation was held between the government and different social leaders, with indigenous peoples and nationalities at the helm. Under the name of tables for a peace agreement, the government was forced to meet each of the indigenous prerequisites: the negotiation was broadcast live by various television networks and held in a hotel complex on the outskirts of the city, a neutral location. With the help of the UN and the Episcopal Conference of Ecuador, Lenín Moreno tried to stop the mobilization by calling for “dialogue”. To that end, he had the invaluable collaboration of the CONAIE leaders themselves, who, at the negotiation, only demanded the repeal of Decree 883 and committed to discussing a new decree, abandoning all the remaining demands.
After three hours of debate, the CONAIE agreed with President Moreno to withdraw Decree 883 in exchange for “the return to peace.” Moreno and his cabinet of ministers ended up accepting the repeal of the decree, but at the same time began arresting and persecuting the leaders of the mobilizations, ratified ministers Jarre and Romo in their posts and, seeking to recover the initiative, blamed Correismo for the uprising and arrested some of its leaders with the excuse that they had been responsible for the mayhem. However, five days after the agreement, the CONAIE itself, pressed by its bases, announced its withdrawal from the “negotiation” until the repression ceases and an agenda of discussion of the entire economic plan is rewritten “with sincerity.”
A First Victory and an Uncertain Outcome
In the coming times, and to the extent that resistance is advancing throughout Latin America against the IMF’s plans, new battles will be waged in Ecuador. Lenín Moreno is hanging by a thread; the rest of the regime´s institutions, such as the National Assembly, are paralyzed. The armed forces have an internal crisis, Correismo tries to distance itself from the situation, and the people return to the tradition of struggle that allowed them to win the first round of a long fight.
The main weakness of the process is the unfortunate role played by the trade union organizations of the divided Ecuadorian labor movement: they have been absent or, worse, playing an ominous role. The old Stalinist leadership, especially the Maoists, who formerly led important trade union organizations, are now reduced to some sectors of public employees and did not call for centralizing any action. They barely put out a statement in the days after October 12, calling once for peace and national unity.
The CUT, a trade union center promoted during Correismo, has reached the extreme of negotiating with the Ministry of Labor. While thousands of indigenous people, young people, neighbors, social organizations and workers in general, were risking their lives by facing Lenín Moreno´s government, the CUT leaders met with Minister Madero, who announced: “We have reached consensus with the CUT, which is part of the National Wages Council”. “The labor issue gets solved through dialogue,” said Agustín Lindao and Richard Gómez, leaders of the CUT. (1)
For these reasons, the courageous Ecuadorian people are indispensable to overcome the weaknesses of a leadership that merely intends to “negotiate” and seek a political solution within the current institutional framework of the capitalist and semi-colonial state. Hence, the strenuous effort of our comrades in the search for an organization to centralize and promote the formation of new leaderships for these processes of struggle. We will continue to discuss with the best social fighters, with leaders of the working class and the poor peasantry, trying to articulate and continue the struggle to turn everything around and win the battle so that those who have never ruled, the workers and the people, will rule on the path to the socialist revolution.
 El Comercio, 9/10/19.
What is the CONAIE?
protagonist of the rebellion in Ecuador has been the indigenous movement,
organized primarily around the CONAIE, the Confederation of Ecuadorian
Indigenous Nationalities, which integrates indigenous nations from the country´s
three regions: Andean, Coastal and Amazon.
The CONAIE has been a central actor in Ecuadorian politics since the 1990s, due to its capacity to mobilize and overthrow presidents, as it did in 1997, 2000, and 2005, as well as to impose political agendas or participate in different governments, contributing ministers and officials to some of the administrations it later helped oust. This is exactly what happened when they supported and then confronted Gutierrez, Correa, and Lenín Moreno himself.
Access to land, and the incursion of indigenous groups in the commercialization of agricultural products, allowed the emergence of well-off layers, a kind of new indigenous oligarchy, which have formed the basis for the development of a new Andean intellectuality. This phenomenon is seen in most ethnic groups. The CONAIE leadership itself is the product of this process.
The CONAIE is the majority organization but does not, however, represent the entire indigenous movement. Ethnic consciousness is also manifested in other organizations such as the Ecuadorian Federation of Evangelical Indigenous People (FEINE) and the National Federation of Indigenous and Black Peasant Organizations (FENOCIN).
The FEINE, for example, was founded in 1980 on the initiative of US Protestant churches. It is currently made up of 14 provincial associations, covering the Quichua, Shuar, Achuar, Siona, Sequoia, Huaorani, Cofan, Tsáchila, Chachis and Awa nationalities. Although its organization is mostly rural, it has spread to Quito and Guayaquil, cities with significant indigenous populations. The FEINE is a religious organization and has always been located to the right of all mobilization processes.
The reasons above mentioned, as well as the diverse nature and intention of the indigenous organizations themselves to represent the poor and well-off sectors, explain not only their oscillations but also their objective limitations to advance in the anti-capitalist struggle. The same factors explain the numerous crises that have affected the CONAIE: Jaime Vargas, CONAIE president since 2017 and fundamental protagonist of the October mobilizations, belongs to a new leadership that emerged against the previous leaders who were co-opted by the Lenín Moreno government.
Poor natives have been the ones to express the degree of discontent felt by the popular classes after the crisis caused by the fall in the price of oil, and the IMF austerity package. The rank-and-file dragged the leadership, and especially Vargas, to call the demonstrations, and other groups were integrated.
The political axis of the indigenous movement is the Plurinational State, and its economic axis is sumak kawsay (“good living” in Quechua), in reference to the ecological economic model defended by indigenous people, which includes the suspension of all oil and mining concessions. These measures are opposed by the more moderate sectors of the CONAIE, represented, among others, by Salvador Quispe, the confederation´s former president.
Vargas, then, emerges these days as the main leader, and has already expressed his willingness to run as a political alternative “if the people ask for it.” Of course, their role in the negotiation, the comings and goings, the hesitations and setbacks we described in other articles, express the limitations of the CONAIE and the need for working people, together with the poor peasantry, the youth and the people, to self-organize under a program that continues down the path of the anti-capitalist struggle.