July 7 — On Thursday afternoon the Indigenous uprising in Ecuador ended. The trucks loaded with people began to leave Quito in caravans and under applause to their respective communities. They did it after 18 days of a national strike in which participated the different Indigenous organizations of the country, transporters, popular neighborhoods, all those who came out to protest against the government of Guillermo Lasso.
There were almost three weeks of roadblocks in the different provinces, mobilizations in the capital, daily repression, a balance of five protesters killed, a country in crisis.
The agreement between the Indigenous movement, in particular the Confederation of Indigenous Nationalities of Ecuador (CONAIE), and the government took several days to reach. The starting point was Monday, when the parties sat down after two weeks of protests, with the presence of the different branches of government. The government decided the following day not to return to the meeting, not to recognize the main leader Leonidas Iza, and thus to redouble a tension at the limit, crossed by the death of a military officer on Monday morning during a repression in Sucumbios, Amazon region.
On Wednesday, the possibility of the mediation of the Episcopal Conference appeared, which acted as the theater of the meeting on Thursday in the capital. Finally, an agreement was reached after midday. The main point highlighted in the agreement, the 15 cents reduction in gasoline and diesel, left at first the impression of little after 18 days of mobilization, a look that, however, did not seem predominant in the face of an atmosphere of victory.
It was not the only point achieved thanks to one of the longest and most massive displays of force of the Ecuadorian Indigenous movement, against a president with little social legitimacy, but with the support of the sectors of power.
The arm wrestling
Lasso’s government implemented several joint strategies in the face of the uprising that came after a year of his mandate and more than 80% of disapproval. On the one hand, a policy of direct confrontation with Iza, who was arrested at the beginning of the strike, released, and now has an open court case. This attack against the main leader was combined with a discourse to accuse him of being at the head of a coup attempt, and therefore justify a state of exception with militarization and daily and nightly repressive actions, as on Tuesday night, in the popular town of San Miguel de Común, in Quito.
The government sought to show itself in a position of strength in the face of its first major political crisis. That position adopted showed the support of different sectors of power, economic, police, military and political, particularly in one of its most difficult moments: the vote within the National Assembly (NA) to achieve the presidential dismissal promoted by Correismo, something that did not happen for lack of 12 votes.
The calculation of Lasso, the red circle, the factors of power, was that the Indigenous movement could not sustain the strike indefinitely and, consequently, would end up accepting a lower negotiation than the one originally proposed.
CONAIE began the strike with an agenda of ten points which included the reduction of the price of gasoline and diesel; economic relief for 4 million families with moratorium and renegotiation of debts; fair prices for agricultural products; moratorium on the expansion of the extractive mining and oil frontier; respect for the 21 Indigenous collective rights; and a halt to privatizations, among others. An agenda of sectoral demands and at the same time of economic model, with the flag of Ecuador having a central place in the mobilizations. Thus, the Indigenous movement put itself at the head of a national demand through its uprising.
The Conaie leadership’s calculation was, perhaps, that the government would give in before 18 days, as an effect of the crisis unleashed, the economic impacts, and the internal tensions. A re edition of the October 2019 uprising and its dialogue table, but now with real guarantees for the implementation of the agreements. However, the government showed support to be able to prolong the conflict, and the negotiation took place in a framework of attrition due to the days elapsed. What was signed was an expression of this correlation of forces, a crystallization point in a crisis that has been going on since before Lasso’s government and has no end in sight.
The crisis does not end
The national strike achieved several objectives: to double the budget for bilingual education; to strengthen price controls against speculation; to declare an emergency in the health sector; the end of decree 95 of oil policy, subsidy in inputs for small producers, among others.
There will be 90 days to carry out the agreements. How much of what has been agreed will be implemented? Some answers are yet to be seen within a crisis that closed one of its chapters on Thursday and remains latent.
The 2022 strike can be seen as a continuity of the 2019 uprising: massive protests against neoliberal policies and right-wing governments with centrally repressive responses. Lasso’s victory in 2021 meant a deepening of the model reinstalled by former president Lenin Moreno and, therefore, of its consequences and responses to them.
In both cases the Indigenous movement was at the forefront of the protests. Between 2019 and 2022 its presidency changed, now under the leadership of Iza, who became the main political target of the government, which initiated a process of judicialization of the protest. The movement is in turn heterogeneous, as was seen in the difference between the Conaie and its political instrument, Pachakutik. While the former led the uprising, the latter adopted a policy of backing the government in the NA. Many Indigenous congressmen were pressured in their communities to vote against Lasso in the impeachment process that finally did not reach the necessary majority, although it did achieve a simple majority.
The country is now in a moment of post-confrontational tranquility. It is uncertain to know when there will be new protests, surely led by the Indigenous movement that once again showed a capacity for national and massive mobilization, social legitimacy, and a leadership installed at national level in the figure of Iza.
In February 2023 regional elections will take place, which will show the force map at the polls for the government and its allies, Correism, and the Indigenous movement.
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