Last Monday the Confederation of Indigenous Nationalities of Ecuador (CONAIE) backed by more than 53 social organizations, started a national indefinite strike to force the government to respond to a plea based on ten demands.
The strike occurred a year after Guillermo Lasso took office as the President of Ecuador, who was accused of not fulfilling his electoral campaign promises. In the recent history of Ecuador, the indigenous people only go to strike when their situation is desperate. Therefore, lord have mercy when it happens, it wouldn’t be the first time the indigenous discontent would topple a government.
At the root of the strike lies the continuous increase of poverty and inequality in a country harshly beaten by the pandemic and years of liberal policies implemented by Lasso and his predecessor. While the poverty rate for 2021 was 32,2%, a 10,2% increase from 2015, the extreme poverty rate almost doubled during the same period. Likewise, as a collateral consequence of the social-economic disparity, the homicide rate has undergone a dramatic rise, from 5.6 homicides per 100 thousand inhabitants in the year 2016, to 14 in 2021. Consequently, Ecuador has turned from one of the safest countries in the region to a very dangerous one.
The Indigenous petitions oppose the government neoliberal agenda, which includes freezing the fuel prices; a credit moratorium for more than 4 million people who are experiencing difficulties in repaying their debts; improving the precarious current working conditions; or preventing the privatization of state companies. During the second round of the 2021 presidential election, Lasso obtained the support of some indigenous organizations, what´s more, Lasso´s party contributed to and backed in the indigenous candidate in gaining the presidency of the Legislative. While it cannot be denied that at first the indigenous peoples and Lasso collaborated, this relationship gradually deteriorated.
Leonidas Iza, one of the most prominent leaders of the indigenous movement opposed Lasso’s government from the beginning. He was on the front line of the protests against Lasso’s predecessor, Lenin Moreno, in October 2019. At this time, a high toll was paid in lives - there were 11 deaths, over 1200 people injured, during the 10 days of the riots which broke out all over the country. In the aftermath, the Ombudsman Office created a Truth Commission that described the actions of the state forces as crimes against humanity. Back then, Lasso portrayed the protesters as vandals and criminals in public statements.
On the second day of the protests the government took the drastic action of ordering the detention of Iza under very weak accusations. This was another clumsy move that further enervated the state of mind of the protesters. However, thanks to the pressure of the indigenous movements all over the country the government had to eat its words and release Iza.
Since then, the indigenous people have reinvigorated their protest after what they have perceived as a setback in the strategy to curb the protest. However, both the structural social degradation and economic recession that triggered the strike are far from tackled and the president is turning a deaf ear to the possibility of establishing a negotiating table. In any event it seems that the president is running out of time and the indigenous protesters of patience, guess which of the two are likely to lose.