Ecuador: protesters remobilize in Quito

Thousands of protesters again mobilized in Quito on Sept. 16—this time without violent incidents. The march, concluding in the city's Plaza Santo Domingo, was again called by the Unitary Workers Front (FUT) and the Confederation of Indigenous Nationalities of Ecuador (CONAIE), to oppose President Rafael Correa's proposed labor reforms and "extractivist" economic model based on natural resource exploitation. CONAIE president Jorge Herrera said a new demand is "freedom for the political prisoners" who were detained during last month's larger protest campaign, which saw street clashes in Quito and elsewhere in the country.

Protest leaders said they refused to take part in the "national dialogue" on social justice called by the Correa government, charging that it was controlled by the state and ruling party. The results of the dialogue, which was coordinated by municipal governments, were announced the day before the march in a session overseen by Pabel Muñoz, secretary of Planning and Development, at the National Assembly. The "Territorial Dialogue on Equality and Social Justice" began in June, and was assailed by critics as  aimed at creating the impression of a popular mandate for actual government policies. (AndesEFE, Sept. 16; TeleSur, El Teimpo, Cuenca, Sept. 15; Andes, Sept. 14)

Correa supporters—including CONAIE veterans who have now broken with the organization—countered that the protest leaders are abetting Ecuador's right-wing opposition. Former CONAIE leader Miguel Lluco charged: "They are affiliating with politicians of Ecuador's right-wing political parties. So this is the first sign of how this uprising is different from what happened more than 25 years ago." He did not mention any of the supposed politicians. 

Rodrigo Collaguazo, president of the Coordination of Social Movements for Democracy and Socialism (CMS-DS), said: "There is a small sector of the indigenous movement that has a hidden agenda. And this hidden agenda looks to unite with the right, and why is this? To destabilize the country, and to try to launch a coup d'etat. And this is within an international agenda that wants the progressive governments that we see today in Latin America to fall." (TeleSur, Aug. 21)

During last month's protests, the CMS-DS organized pro-Correa counter-demonstrations, and its leaders met with Vice President Jorge Glas Espinel as part of the Territorial Dialogue. (VicePresidencia, Aug. 21; Ecuador Inmediato, Aug. 11)

The Correa administration is still embarrassed by video footage that went viral worldwide during last month's protest mobilization, showing hundreds of spear-wielding Shuar and Achuar warriors sending police and soldiers fleeing from the village of Macas in the Amazonian province of Morona-Santiago, in clashes over plans to open their traditional lands to mining and oil drilling. (Daily MailDemocracy Now, Aug. 20)

The new protests come as Quito is enveloped in smoke from forest fires that are raging across Ecuador's central highlands. Cotopaxi Volcano, whose glaciers supply Quito's drinking water, also came back to life late last month, spewing columns of steam and ash into the air for several days. (BBC News, AP, Sept. 16)