Ecuador, like all the rest of the Americas, has a history of Indigenous resistance as long as colonization itself.
In 1990, an Indigenous uprising paralyzed Ecuador, the same year blockades across Canada sprung up in solidarity with the Mohawk resistance at Oka/Kanehsatake.
For more on the current 2019 revolt in Ecuador, see CrimethInc’s article here.
Below is an article I wrote in 2006 for the incomplete third issue of Wii’nimkiikaa magazine that was never published, offline or online. It seemed timely to finally publish it now, in light of current uprisings in Ecuador, Chile, Haiti and elsewhere, and the involvement of Canadian mining companies in Ecuador described in the article. As with other Wii’nimkiikaa articles, this one attempts to give a brief backgrounder on the history of Indigenous resistance in the country in question as well.
– M. Gouldhawke (Métis & Cree)
Indigenous Uprisings in Ecuador
For more than a week in March of this year (2006), Indigenous people throughout Ecuador blocked highways and roads with rocks, trees and burning tires, as part of the struggle against the American oil company Occidental Petroleum (OXY) and the Andean Free Trade Agreement (Tratado de Libre Comercio or TLC) under negotiation by the governments of Ecuador, Peru, Colombia and the United States. Police and soldiers who were sent to dismantle the blockades met fierce resistance from Indigenous men and women armed with sticks and rocks.
Small-scale Indigenous farmers oppose the TLC because they won’t be able to compete with cheap imports from the US, where industrial agriculture is highly subsidized, and because they fear that medicinal plants will disappear. The Indigenous peoples of Ecuador, who make up about a quarter of the population, are already suffering from hunger, malnutrition and the pollution of their land and water by oil companies like OXY, Chevron-Texaco and Encana (based in Calgary)*. These are social conditions that the free trade deal can only worsen.
The blockades against the TLC and OXY began on March 13th, and were called for by the Confederation of Indigenous Nationalities of Ecuador (CONAIE in Spanish) and the Confederation of the Peoples of the Kichua Nationality of Ecuador (Ecuarunari). The government responded by declaring a state of emergency. Thousands of Natives, with the support of students, battled tear-gas shooting police in the capital city of Quito on March 23rd, while Indigenous women fought soldiers at a roadblock in San Rafael. CONAIE offered to engage in a dialogue with the government, mediated by the Catholic Church, but at first the government refused. President Alfredo Palacio said that he would only talk with CONAIE if they lifted the blockades. Later that day, CONAIE announced the roadblocks would be temporarily suspended, but some of them continued into the next day.
In May, the United States put the TLC negotiations on hold because the government of Ecuador cancelled its contract with OXY and the seized the company’s assets. In mid-April, Ecuador’s government had passed a law doubling taxes on the profits of foreign oil companies.
The struggle against the TLC and OXY was not limited to the Indigenous movement, but also included students and workers who clashed with police in Quito and other parts of the country in April. In the city of Cuenca, on April 6th, secondary school student John Montesdeoca was shot and killed by the police during one of the riots against OXY and the TLC.
Social conflict in Ecuador has also flared up in recent months over the exploitation of resources. In May, Taromenani Indians with spears attacked loggers who were attempting to harvest wood illegally in a “protected” area of the Amazon river basin. One of the loggers was killed. The Taromenani are still an independent, yet-to-be “contacted” people, but they are obviously threatened by the encroachment of logging into their jungle territory. So far, their uncompromising resistance has been successful and they remain off-limits to anthropologists and researchers.
In July, people from the northern Intag cloud forest, home to Indigenous, Black and mestizo people, marched through Quito to the offices of the Canadian mining company Ascendant Copper, where the crowd pasted large red “Shut Down for Violating the Community” signs across the main entrances to the building and some of its windows in response to the company’s mining activity in Intag. Inhabitants of Intag had burned down an Ascendant building in their territory in December.
Ecuador’s Indigenous population joined other social sectors in April of last year in the violent social rebellion that caused President Lucio Gutierrez to flee from the presidential palace in Quito and eventually to Brazil, after enraged people blocked his plane at the city’s international airport. Police, government officials and government buildings had come under ferocious attack by thousands of people.
The Confederation of Indigenous Nationalities of Ecuador had initially supported former army colonel Lucio Gutierrez in his election as president in January of 2003, only to denounce him just a few months later in August, saying that his government had “betrayed the mandate given to it by the Ecuadorian people in the last elections,” because Gutierrez had pledged to the International Monetary Fund (IMF) that he would privatize oil, electricity, telecommunications and water. CONAIE described this as contrary to the “national interest” and “national sovereignty” of Ecuador. CONAIE’s stated goal, at least at this point, is to build a democratic Ecuadorian government and constitution that is inclusive of all nationalities, rather than outright dismantle the colonial system to make way for the full sovereignty of Indigenous nations.
CONAIE formed out of existing regional Indigenous federations in 1986 and initially rejected participation in the electoral process. Changes to the laws of Ecuador had allowed for government funding of development projects, leading to a growth of Indigenous organizations and federations in the 1970s and 80s.
In 1989, negotiations between CONAIE and the government’s Ministry of Culture and Education resulted in the founding of bilingual (Indigenous and Spanish) education programs across the country. Beginning in 1990, CONAIE led a series of Indigenous uprisings against successive governments and their policies. The organization’s 16 demands presented in the June 1990 uprising included state funding for Indigenous medicine and education. This was followed by mass demonstrations, occupations and uprisings in 1992, 1994, 1997 and 2000. The organization reversed its policy on electoral politics in 1996 and helped form the Pachakutik party, which won some seats in congress. CONAIE president Luis Macas was one of those who got a government seat in the 1996 election and now he is running for president of Ecuador in the October 2006 election.
Of course, the territory now occupied by Ecuador has always faced Indigenous resistance. The port city of Guayaquil, founded by the Spanish in the 1530s, was quickly re-captured by Natives, who held it for four years. In the 1700s, indigenous rebellions, calling for the overthrow of the government and the ousting of all whites, broke out in the Latacunga and Riobamba regions. Indigenous peoples such as the Otavalos of northern Ecuador, the Saraguros, and the Salaacas in the central Sierra resisted intrusions by whites and mestizos who attempted to build ranches. The Native peoples of the Oriente region (the east) were not encircled by colonial forces until the 1950s.
* In January of 2006, Indigenous people in Vancouver, Canada, distributed leaflets that condemned the corporate sponsorship of the Canadian National Aboriginal Achievement Awards ceremony by companies such as Encana, which has poisoned the land, water and people of the Siona Nation in eastern Ecuador.