Accusations that Weaken Us All: A response to Eva Golinger’s Attack on the CONAIE

On September 30, as Ecuadorians lived through a police uprising that seemed to put the leadership of President Rafael Correa in jeopardy, people from around the world tuned into Twitter to garner information about what was happening on the ground.
Respected lawyer and author Eva Golinger sent out tweets in rapid-fire, informing readers from around the world with news from her sources in Ecuador. But as soon as translated statements from Ecuadorian Indigenous groups hit the ether, Golinger tweeted:
“Be careful, there are folks in CONAIE funded by US agencies that sway the organization to certain positions…”
Her tweet was in response to the English translation of a statement by the
Confederation of Indigenous Nationalities of Ecuador (CONAIE), one of the most powerful social movements in Latin America. In their statement, the CONAIE was anti-coup, but they also pointed to the fact that Correa himself had helped create the conditions for an uprising. The statement pointed out that the Correa administration has attacked and delegitimized social movements in Ecuador. It also criticized the “authoritarian character” of the government.
Golinger later wrote an article called Behind the
Coup in Ecuador, which was widely circulated online. In it, she repeats her accusation that CONAIE has funds at its disposal from the National Endowment for Democracy that would somehow provoke the organization into destabilizing the government of Ecuador:
“Not all groups and organizations in opposition to Correa’s policies are imperial agents. But a sector among them does exist which receives financing and guidelines in order to provoke destabilizing situations in the country that go beyond the natural expressions of criticism and opposition to a government… Organizations in Ecuador such as Participación Ciudadana and Pro-Justicia [Citizen Participation and Pro-Justice], as well as members and sectors of CODENPE, Pachakutik, CONAIE, the Corporación Empresarial Indígena del Ecuador [Indigenous Enterprise Corporation of Ecuador] and Fundación Qellkaj [Qellkaj Foundation] have had USAID and NED funds at their disposal.”
Golinger, however, provides no evidence to back up her statements and the evidence that has been made public in this regard, shows only that some individuals associated with some of the groups she names have had some kind of association with USAID and the NED at some point in the past.
But the CONAIE is not a US puppet and such allegations only serve to detract from real concerns that indigenous and non-indigenous organizations have been raising about legal reforms that President Correa has been pushing for during the last couple of years since the country’s new constitution was passed in September 2008. Disputes between the CONAIE and Correa have arisen around real differences, for example, over the country’s economic development model, the establishment of a plurinational state, pre-existing conflicts between local communities and Canadian-financed mining projects, oil industry expansion, as well as efforts to bring autonomous indigenous institutions under the control of the state.
All of these disputes have been exacerbated and complicated by repeated insults made directly by Correa against groups such as the CONAIE, most often during his weekly national radio addresses. Other attempts to delegitimize social organizations include serious criminal charges against their leadership.
Golinger presumptuously assumes the role of arbiter in defining what constitutes “natural expressions of criticism and opposition to a government.” In their September 30th statement, the CONAIE clearly outlined how their resistance to the government of Rafael Correa is part of their historical struggle to defend their rights and lands, and to work toward the construction of a Plurinational State. Indigenous peoples have been involved in five centuries of struggle, which has taken place in the courts and in the halls of congress as well as in the streets and on the land. Any attempts by outsiders to take agency away from the peoples and communities leading these struggles should be criticized.
In the week following September 30th, debate has emerged over whether or not what took place was an actual coup attempt. While such questions are being raised from diverse sides of the political spectrum, from the perspective of social organizations that have been persistently attacked by Correa over the last few years, they worry that such a characterization could be leveraged to the benefit Correa and the further passage of new laws without substantial debate, rather that as an opportunity to rebuild relationships and strengthen Ecuadorian democracy.
This is a complex and delicate situation and one that could be explored in much more detail. But it cannot simply be assumed – without wanting to ignore how elements of the right and their imperial backers might seek to take advantage of situations like these – that because groups are protesting against Correa that they are working on the empire’s behalf. These kinds of accusations weaken us all, as they attempt to undermine years of brave and powerful organizing for freedom and justice by indigenous and non-indigenous people in Ecuador.