After a week of marches and roadblocks, Ecuador’s indigenous movement and President Rafael Correa have opened talks. On Oct. 5, a delegation of some 150 representatives from the three regional organizations of the Confederation of Indigenous Nationalities of Ecuador (CONAIE) attended a meeting with the president and his cabinet in Quito.
Following hours of intense discussion, the government agreed to review a presidential decree affecting the autonomy of the indigenous bilingual education system and to work toward consensus with the CONAIE over changes to the new water law. CONAIE will also propose reforms to the new mining law passed in January and which they have appealed before the Constitutional Court.
Additionally, a joint commission incorporating members of the government and CONAIE will investigate events during a confrontation between police and indigenous in the Amazon Oct. 7, which left one indigenous man dead and several dozen police and indigenous wounded.
While exchanges during the meeting were reportedly still pointed, CONAIE acknowledges that the government has previously adopted social movement proposals, including for a popular National Constituent Assembly to rewrite the constitution, recognition of part of the external debt as illegitimate, and non-renewal of the US contract for Manta air base. CONAIE calls talks part of ongoing efforts toward “a national agenda for peace, democracy and the rule of law” within the context of Sumak Kawsay [good living] and plurinationality.”
Outstanding issues include a proposal from the Shuar and Achuar indigenous nations to declare the Amazonian province of Morona Santiago “ecological,” or off-limits to extractive industry projects. The proposal echoes a recent provincial ordinance passed in the Amazonian province of Zamora Chinchipe, which declares it “the lungs of Mother Earth and a source of water and life.” Both provinces encompass vast stretches of intact tropical rainforest where some of the largest recent finds of gold and copper have been discovered. Canadian-financed companies including Corriente Resources and Kinross Gold have contracts in the region.
Indigenous organizations also want to see a recent presidential decree revoked that puts the Catholic church in charge of state development efforts in the Amazon for the purposes of evangelizing and incorporating Amazonian peoples into the socio-economic life of the country. The decree also applies to the predominantly Afro-Ecuadorian province of Esmeraldas and the Galapagos Islands.
Ongoing dialogue will be facilitated by the Secretariat of Peoples, Social Movements and Citizen Participation in coordination with the Development Council of Nationalities and Peoples of Ecuador (CODENPE).
As of Oct. 7, although CONAIE had officially suspended the national mobilization, road blockades were still being maintained by Shuar people in two points around the southern Amazonian city of Macas while they awaited the arrival of the Quito commission to discuss the outcome of talks with the government. Father Juan de la Cruz Rivadeneira, a native of the city of Macas and a local Salesian missionary for more than thirty years, says despite the violence and insults that the Shuar have suffered he remains hopeful “that they will seek out the best solutions possible.” (Jennifer Moore for Upside Down World, Oct. 7)