On Jan. 10 the Confederation of Indigenous Nationalities of Ecuador (CONAIE), the country’s main indigenous umbrella group, issued a communiqué reporting a “surprising and inexplicable” police presence in the organization’s headquarters in Quito. “[A]round 9:45 am police arrived [in a] truck [at] the CONAIE offices, and two police agents dressed in black entered inside the offices,” the group wrote. Asked to explain their presence, one agent mentioned a possible danger to CONAIE president Humberto Cholango; later the agents said they were there to protect a meeting of indigenous organizations scheduled for that day. CONAIE said it hadn’t reported any dangers or asked for protection, and the group denounced the “arbitrary and illegal acts against social organizations that [are] being implemented in Ecuador.” (CONAIE communiqué, Jan. 10)
The incident shows the level of distrust that has developed between popular Ecuadorian president Rafael Correa and many of the grassroots and leftist organizations that helped bring him to office five years ago. It came just as Correa was preparing to celebrate the fifth anniversary on Jan. 15 of his first inauguration and of the start of what he calls the “citizens’ revolution.”
Respected figures from the Latin American left and social movements and the arts attended festivities held in Cuenca, including Cuban musician Pablo Milanés and the Guatemalan indigenous activist Rigoberta Menchú Tum, the winner of the 1992 Nobel peace prize. But Menchú also paid a visit to CONAIE president Cholango, who gave her a document that accused Correa’s government of criminalizing social protest and of bringing legal cases against indigenous leaders. In the past five years, Cholango told Menchú, the government had failed to push forward agrarian reform, the redistribution of water rights, the democratization of the economy and the development of a state that recognizes Ecuador’s different nationalities. (El Tiempo, Quito, Jan. 10)
Camila Vallejo Dowling, the best known of the leaders of Chile’s militant student movement, was also expected at the celebration, but on Jan. 10 she announced via Twitter that she wouldn’t attend, because of “time and responsibilities here in Chile.” (El Comercio, Cuenca, Jan. 10)
Meanwhile, Correa offended women activists in his own PAIS (Proud and Sovereign Nation) Alliance with remarks he made on Dec. 31 during his weekly television program. “I don’t know if gender equality improves democracy,” he said. “What is certain is that it has improved the party”—a New Year’s Eve party for government ministers and members of the National Assembly. “What pretty Assembly members we have! We need to raise their salaries, since they didn’t have money to buy enough cloth, with all of them in miniskirts. My God…they told me they have some amazing legs.”
On Jan. 10 a group of women, including members of his party, sent Correa a letter saying that “[s]ince politics is also pedagogy and a president’s discourse can send many messages, allow us to remind you how the participation of women has improved democracy.” They noted that a democracy is incomplete if it excludes half the population, and that women have strengthened democracy by “questioning the traditional division between the public and the private spheres.” “Machismo too is violence,” they concluded. But another PAIS Alliance member, Loja province governor Alicia Jaramillo, defended Correa: “This is the first government that has included women in ministerial posts,” she said, attributing the president’s Dec. 31 remarks to his good humor. (Otra América website. Jan. 10)
The Coordinating Committee for the Unity of the Lefts has chosen Mar. 8, International Women’s Day, to protest government policies with a national march “for life, democracy and the defense of natural resources.” The sponsoring coalition includes CONAIE, the National Union of Educators (UNE), the Unified Workers Front and the Federation of Secondary and University Students. (El Comercio, Jan. 17)
From Weekly News Update on the Americas, Jan. 22.
See our last post on Ecuador.