Indigenous Uprising in Ecuador – a View from the Ground

October 24, 2019


Indigenous Uprising in Ecuador  – a View from the GroundI was in Ecuador last week to represent at a gathering of indigenous leaders and allies working on strategy development for protecting the Amazon Sacred Headwaters. In the midst of this work, a State of Emergency was put in place given the uprising of indigenous peoples and other social movements who were protesting an austerity package that was put into effect by President Lenin Moreno in connection with loans for restructuring debt from the International Monetary Fund (IMF).
Austerity Only for the Lower Classes
These austerity measures, known as Decree 883 included eliminating fuel subsidies that keep the price of fuel low in-country as well as cuts to health and education programs. Meanwhile, investigations in-country had recently shown that forgiving back taxes and providing tax breaks to a range of businesses would total near to $4 billion – coincidentally near to the same amount of the IMF loan restructuring that was driving cuts to social spending.
The People Bring the Power
This proved too much given that it would adversely affect the poor and low-income peoples on many levels and limit their mobility. Accordingly, indigenous peoples joined with labor and other movements to bring massive numbers of people into the streets – with some protestors walking up to five days from places as far as way as Puyo and Tena to demonstrate in Quito – Ecuador’s capital. By some estimate, as many as 100,000 people were protesting daily and it got ugly. Instead of allowing people their democratic right to peaceful protest, policy and military units were bringing massive force to their crowd dispersion efforts with armored tanks firing tear gas and arrests of thousands – including elders, women, and youth. President Moreno and his cabinet left the seat of government in Quito and set up shop in Guayacil – a large city on the coast away from the throngs of protesters.

Anarchists and Organized Crime Take Advantage of the Situation
As the days went on, the protests became increasingly violent with anarchists, criminal elements, and others loyal to the former President Correa throwing malatov cocktails at police and sparking even more violent police brutality and repression of innocent indigenous local protesters. Estimates range from between six and thirty people killed, with thousands injured and incarcerated. In the midst of the chaos, criminals broke into a government building where evidence of corruption against former president Correa was held and set it ablaze – darkening the skies of downtown Quito. With things spiraling out of control, Martial Law was put into effect and the country effectively shut-down with anyone seen on the streets subject to arrest. By some estimates, reductions in crude exports, productivity, and tourism losses had cost the country almost $1 billion in the tens days or so of the conflict and people were calling for an end to the presidency and even talk of a military coup was rumored.
Stand Supporting the Humanitarian Effort
While there, and with the financial support of, we were able to go on humanitarian supply runs and to provide 300 blankets for newly arriving Amazonians who weren’t prepared for the cold in Quito as well as carloads of food and medicines. It was an honor to provide this support for these brave protesters who were facing violent repression of their rights.

A President Comes to His Senses
Fortunately, President Moreno reversed his stance that he wouldn’t cancel the Decree or negotiate and he came to the table with varying indigenous and social movement leaders along with members of the United Nations of Ecuador and other stakeholders and agreed to cancel the decree and to set up a commission to develop a clear path forward. This led to all of the local communities to open the road blocks that they had been maintaining for days and to allow for the country to return to some sense of order.

What’s Next: Massive Organizing  2.0 for Protecting the Amazon
While peace has been negotiated, this experience demonstrated a few things – indigenous and social movements have power. With effective coordination, that power can be channeled for advancing real and meaningful protections for the Amazon Sacred Headwaters if the people make no expansion of fossil fuels and mining a core part of their platform and next coordinated protest efforts. In so doing, these amazing organizers and brave protesters can advance an affirmative vision that upholds the protections of rights and territories indigenous peoples in Ecuador and beyond!