Ecuador: CONAIE Indigenous Movement Condemns President Correa

The Confederation of Indigenous Nationalities of Ecuador (CONAIE) declared itself in opposition to the government of Ecuadorian President Rafael Correa on May 12. CONAIE accused the president of continuing right-wing neoliberal economic and racist social policies.

The Confederation of Indigenous Nationalities of Ecuador (CONAIE) declared itself in opposition to the government of Ecuadorian President Rafael Correa on May 12. The CONAIE accused the president of continuing right-wing neoliberal economic and racist social policies. The harsh condemnation focused on Correa´s opposition to two key demands: the recognition of Ecuador as a plurinational state in the new constitution and the requirement that communities must offer prior consent before large-scale mining and other major extractive projects take place.

Ecuador is currently governed by a Constituent Assembly, which is writing a new Ecuadorian constitution as well as performing all legislative functions. The Assembly was convened after voters overwhelmingly approved a constitutional referendum in April 2007. Members of Correa´s Alianza Pais party won 74 of the 130 seats. Patchakutik, the CONAIE’s electoral arm, has four representatives in the Assembly.

While the CONAIE has supported a number of Correa`s programs, most social movement activists in Ecuador say that this conflict was foreseeable. Correa`s support for large scale mining and his opposition to plurinationality run up against the indigenous movement’s top political priorities.

Plurinationality is a broad framework that encompasses a number of key indigenous movement demands, including cultural rights—such as bilingual education and culturally appropriate healthcare—and collective economic rights such as the requirement of affected communities’ consent before any exploration or extraction of non-renewable resources, whether by State or multinational corporations.

The CONAIE’s strong position against large-scale mining and for prior consent is a boon to Ecuador`s anti-mining movement, led by the National Coordinator in Defense of Life and Sovereignty. Over the past several months, the Coordinator has organized massive road blockades in Southern Ecuador, sparking government condemnation and repression. In response, a large pro-mining march took place in Quito in early May, apparently organized by government and industry forces.

The environment is a central issue for the Ecuadorian indigenous movement, as they see cultural rights as closely tied to territorial rights and the preservation of biodiversity. The CONAIE’s environmental demands extend beyond the indigenous movement and involve close collaboration with local and international environmental organizations. The CONAIE, along with a wide range of regional social movements, rejects the South American regional integration plan known as the Initiative for the Integration of Regional Infrastructure in South America (IIRSA). The development program, funded by the Inter-American Development Bank and other regional financial institutions, such as the Brazilian Development Bank and the Andean Development Corporation, consists of mega-development projects such as dams and hydroelectric plants. According to the Bank Information Center, the IIRSA "poses one of the greatest challenges to environmental sustainability and social justice today." In Ecuador, the main IIRSA project is the Manta-Manaos multimodal transportation axis between Ecuador and Brazil, which includes building a port and the construction of several new roads leading to and from the coast. In the words of the Ecuadorian government, this transportation project will achieve the "dream of joining the Atlantic and Pacific oceans through a terrestrial-river route," and will facilitate the creation of a new East-West trade axis.

The CONAIE also strongly criticized the negotiations for a Free Trade Deal (misleadingly called "Association Agreement") between the European Union and the Andean Community, which took place three weeks ago.

The CONAIE’s leadership is now visiting and holding consultations with its constituent base communities throughout Ecuador. The leadership will reconvene at the end of the month to make decisions about what actions to take next. It is widely rumored that the CONAIE will launch a national indigenous uprising, events that have in the past shut down the entire country. According to the CONAIE spokesperson Pacha Taran, "We are not calling for an uprising. But we are not ruling that out, either."

While certain members of Correa´s Alianza Pais (AP) party have made statements in support of plurinationality, Correa and a number of AP assembly members either oppose the measure or support it symbolically while opposing its substance of collective territorial and cultural rights. As Taran put it, "Correa likes us, except for when we start to protest. Then he tells us to shut up."

According to the CONAIE declaration, "We reject President Rafael Correa´s racist, authoritarian and antidemocratic statements, which violate the rights of [Indigenous] nationalities and peoples enshrined in international conventions and treaties. This constitutes an attack against the construction of a plurinational and intercultural democracy in Ecuador. Correa has assumed the traditional neoliberal posture of the rightist oligarchy."

The declaration goes on to accuse the government of "handing over national and indigenous territories to transnational oil, mining, pharmaceutical, logging and hydroelectric companies." The CONAIE also demands that the Constitutional Assembly support food sovereignty and declare Ecuador "free of transgenics and agrofuels."

Furthermore, the twelve-point resolution called for the firing of Minister of Mines and Petroleum Galo Chiriboga and Minister of the Environment Marcela Aguiñaga. Chiriboga has been widely criticized for allowing foreign companies, namely the Brazilian state company PetroBras, to violate Ecuadorian law. Aguiñaga is accused of allowing large scale logging in the Amazon and of failing to adequately investigate the murders of an undetermined number of Huaoroni indigenous people earlier this year. It is widely believed that the Huaorani were killed by either loggers or paramilitary groups hired by logging companies. They have also called for action to be taken against Attorney General Washington Pesántez. Pesántez is accused of persecuting social movement activists from unions and indigenous groups and organizations like Indymedia.

Finally, the CONAIE declared its solidarity with the people of Bolivia and President Evo Morales. They condemned the Bolivian right-wing’s attempt to declare wealthy regions like Santa Cruz "autonomous" and warned against pro-autonomy statements by Ecuadorian opposition leader Jaime Nebot. Although this resolution represents the indigenous movements’ strongest public condemnation of Correa to date, the CONAIE makes it clear that they are not part of the right-wing opposition and oppose Correa on their own terms.

Daniel Denvir and Thea Riofrancos are independent journalists from the United States and collaborators at the Latin American Information Agency ( in Quito, Ecuador. They are also editors at the forthcoming journal Caterwaul Quarterly ( Daniel Denvir is a 2008 recipient of NACLA’s Samuel Chavkin Investigative Journalism Grant.