Commentary: Mining a Leading Issue for Marchers in Quito

In spite of the childish claim by government officials (including President Rafael Correa) that the march was a total failure; in spite of countless obstacles the marchers had to overcome to reach Quito, including police checks and constant rains since the start of the March two weeks ago, as well as ridiculous accusations of intent to destabilize the government, thousands of marchers opposed to  Correa’s policies arrived safely in Quito, and were joined by countless thousands of Quito residents who enthusiastically supported the marchers.

At this moment, the marchers are walking to the National Assembly to present their legislative representatives a 19-point petition in order for the government to act to resolve the issues that sparked the march (see below).  Mining continues to be a primary motivating issue for marchers. However, it is not at all likely that Correa will change course regarding mining.  A little while ago he again- and vociferously- defended mining in front of his supporters, claiming, unbelievably, that mining will not contaminate water.

The strength of the march took Ecuador by surprise.  Correa, on March 8, said that if the marchers came with 500, he and his followers would be 50,000. Seems he got the numbers backwards, though thousands did come to cheer the president, but some suggest many were paid bureaucrats who were pressured into showing their spontaneous support for the president.

Given the dangerous polarization created by Correa’s style of governing, the chances of a major confrontation between the two groups were very high. Fortunately, there has been only one incident near the National Assembly where four police were hurt.

Even if the government makes light of the 19-points presented in the petition (which is highly likely), the outcome of the march will not be felt for a while yet.  One thing the march did do was to bring together the many groups that are opposed to not only Correa’s policies, but his style of governing, which is seen by many to be arrogant, confrontational,  intolerant, at times racist, and polarizing.  His abuse of power used to intimidate the press and to insult his opponents in public were also instrumental in getting people out in the streets.

One very notable success of the march is that it gave the country the opportunity to see just how widespread the opposition is to Correa.  I have no doubt that many eyes were opened.  Importantly, the march also brought out into the open the scale of the opposition to large-scale mining in Ecuador. In this context, it is very revealing what happened in Cuenca, the third most populated city in Ecuador in the south of the country where anti-mining sentiment runs high. Cuenca’s drinking water is threatened by a gold mining project.  This is also where the administration did not spend very much taxpayer money to mobilize its followers and as a consequence, the result was that the anti-mining protesters outnumbered the government supporters by a much wider margin.

How will the government process its widespread opposition and 19 points? And what will the opposition do now that the march ended?

One thing is clear: the opposition was empowered by the march. Before it begun on March 8, the leaders said that this would only be the beginning, and that it was essential to consolidate and orient the opposition to Correa after the March 22.  The support the march received from the citizens of Quito let the government realize that it has the backing of a large segment of the general public. Thus, it is very likely that the opposition will play a key role in creating a  political platform to challenge Correa in the next election, which are due in about a year.  

Correa’s actions on the day of the march gives us some leads as to how the government will process and react to the march.  In a speech to his supporters Correa downplayed the importance of the march and insisted on defaming the marchers by accusing them of being manipulated by groups interested in overthrowing the government.  As in previous charges of this sort, no proof was presented. He also defended mining by claiming it would not contaminate water resources.  In other words, stay the course, never mind the iceberg ahead!

Regardless of the outcome of the march, what is certain is that the growing polarization affecting Ecuadorian society ever since Correa came into power will grow. The outcome of that polarization does not bode well for the country.

These 19 points that presented to legislators are (Spanish follows)

  1. We    demand full respect for the Constitution and the repeal of    unconstitutional laws and regulations.
  2. No    to large-scale mining. Repeal of the mining law as unconstitutional,    and the signing of the contract with the mining company ECSA, on    March 5.
  3. Not    to the extension of the petroleum fronteir. Respect the right to    self-determination of indigenous peoples.
  4. Suspension    of operations in bloque 31.**
  5. No    mega hydroelectric works that generate social and environmental    impacts.
  6. Approval    of the Water Act for the “good life” (Sumak Kawsay) that    includes respect for, and guarantee the right to water.
  7. Approval    of the Lands and Territories Act providing for an agricultural model    that ensures food security.
  8. No    to the signing of the free trade agreement with the European Union.
  9. Effective    protection against taxes of popular and campesino economies.
  10. Recognition    of community transport, reform of the Land Transport Traffic and    Road Safety law. Strengthening of the IESS and require the State to    pay back the debt that it has with this entity, as well as equip    hospitals.
  11. Respect    for labor rights; respect the guarantee of job security and union    rights.
  12. Respect    and guarantee of the right to education.
  13. Repeal    of the Unified General Baccalaureate and the National System of    Equalization and Admission.
  14. Respect    for sexual and reproductive rights. Equality between women and men.
  15. Real    democratization of information and respect for the professional    practice of journalism.
  16. No    criminalization of the social protest, elimination of the court    cases against leaders.
  17. Fulfill    the right to prior consultation of Ecuador’s communities.
  18. Respect    for the judicial functions of the administration of indigenous    justice, and respect for community governments. Respect for the    autonomy of (indigenous) nations and nationalities.
  19. No    verbal aggression against (indigenous) nations, nationalities and    social organizations

*Ecsa    is the chinese-owned mining company ready to open up the country’s    first open-pit mine in the south of the country

**Bloque31 refers to a petroleum extraction site within the Yasuni Park.


LOS 19 PUNTOS DE LOS MARCHANTES ANTE EL GOBIERNO (Entregado hoy a laAsamblea Nacional)

  1. Exigimos    la plena vigencia de la Constitución y de la derogatoria de normas    y leyes inconstitucionales.
  2. No    a la minería a gran escala. Derogatoria de la ley minera por ser    inconstitucional y de la firma del contrato minero con ECSA del 5 de    marzo.
  3. No    a la extensión de la frontera petrolera. Respeto a la    autodeterminación de los pueblos.
  4. Suspensión    de las operaciones del bloque 31.
  5. No    a los megaproyectos eléctricos que generan enormes impactos    sociales y ambientales.
  6. Aprobación    de la Ley del Agua para el buen vivir que contemple el respeto y    garantía del derecho al agua.
  7. Aprobación    del al Ley de Tierras y Territorios que contemple un modelo agrario    que garantice la seguridad alimentaria.
  8. No    la firma de acuerdo de Libre Comercio con la Unión Europea.
  9. Protección    efectiva de las economías populares y campesinas frente a los    impuestos.
  10. Reconocimiento    del transporte comunitario, reforma a la ley de Transporte Terrestre    Tránsito y Seguridad Vial. Fortalecimiento del IESS y exigir el    pago de la deuda que el Estado mantiene con esta entidad, además    del equipamiento de los hospitales.
  11. Respeto    a los derechos laborales, exigir la garantía de la estabilidad    laboral y derecho sindical.
  12. Respeto    y garantía del derecho a la educación.
  13. Derogatoria    del Bachillerato General Unificado y del Sistema Nacional de    Nivelación y Admisión.
  14. Respeto    a los derechos sexuales y reproductivos. La igualdad entre mujeres y    hombres.
  15. Democratización    real de la información y respeto al ejercicio profesional del    periodismo.
  16. No    a la criminalización de la protesta social, eliminación de los    juicios a los dirigentes.
  17. Cumplimiento    del derecho a la consulta previa en las comunas y comunidades del    Ecuador.
  18. Respeto    a las funciones jurisdiccionales de la administración de la    justicia indígena y respeto a los gobiernos comunitarios. Respeto a    la autonomía de los pueblos y nacionalidades.
  19. No    a la agresión verbal de los pueblos, nacionalidades y  organizaciones sociales