The Ecuadorian government has
announced that it is giving an Indigenous organization two weeks to abandon the
headquarters it has held for almost a quarter of a century.
A December 11 letter from
the Ministry of Economic and Social Inclusion informed the Confederation of Indigenous Nationalities of Ecuador (CONAIE) that it needed their building
to use as a center for homeless children addicted to drugs and alcohol.
The CONAIE leadership says that
they will refuse to leave. They demanded that they be given title to the building
that they have used since 1991.
Jorge Herrera, president of the
CONAIE, declared that the building “has been a symbol of the construction of a
relationship between the state and Indigenous peoples.” He denounced their
removal as a colonial act on the part of the government, and categorized the
government’s action as “persecution of the Indigenous movement struggle.”
According to Herrera, in the
building “we drafted proposals for a new constitution, we gave life to the
proposal for a plurinational state.” He said, “in this building we have
defended democracy.” The building belonged to everyone, and Herrera said they would
not allow the government to kick them out.
Nina Pacari, former Minister of
Foreign affairs, member of the United Nations Forum for Indigenous Peoples, and
Judge of Ecuador’s Supreme Court, defined the
eviction as direct persecution against Indigenous peoples.
Former CONAIE president
Humberto Cholango proclaimed that if the government threw them out they would
return. He criticized Correa’s actions as part of an ongoing campaign against
the CONAIE, including its bilingual education and collective rights campaigns.
International supporters have
denounced the government’s decision. In an open letter to president Rafael
Correa, Portuguese sociologist Boaventura de Sousa Santos wrote “the legal justifications aside,
kicking the CONAIE out of its building is an unjust and politically imprudent
A quarter century of
The CONAIE was founded in 1986
to unify all Indigenous peoples and nationalities in Ecuador into one unified
In 1990, the CONAIE emerged as
the primary leader of a massive social uprising that challenged the social,
economic, and political exclusion of Indigenous peoples in Ecuador.
At the time, Democratic Left
(ID) president Rodrigo Borja said he could not understand why the movement had
revolted because no government had done as much for Indigenous peoples as had
After strikes and negotiations,
in July 1991 the Ministry of Social Welfare signed an agreement to let the
CONAIE use the building until 2021. Over time, Indigenous activists expanded a
simple building into a three-floor complex.
The CONAIE headquarters have
been a center for social movement struggles against oppressive neoliberal
economic policies. Repeated protests and campaigns, as well as positive
proposal and initiatives, have come out of the building.
The CONAIE has had tense
relations with current leftist president Rafael Correa since the beginning of
his political career in 2006.
Initially some activists
dreamed of an alliance between Ecuador’s strong social movements that had
opened up political space for a progressive government and Correa. The future
president had gained renown as a dissident voice as minister of finance in a
Talks between Correa and social
movements broke down when he refused to run in the vice presidential slot with
an Indigenous candidate at the head of the ticket.
During Correa’s almost eight
years in power, relations with what should have been his strongest social
movement allies have slowly degenerated.
Indigenous activists have been
particularly vocal in their criticism of the government’s extractive policies.
Repeated protests have denounced the government’s reliance on gold and copper
mining and petroleum extraction, and have defended community access to water
Seemingly the final straw for
the Correa administration was when the CONAIE joined a reinvigorated Unified
Workers Federation (FUT) protest on November 19 against reforms to the labor
In 1938, maverick General
Alberto Enríquez Gallo promulgated a very progressive labor code that borrowed
heavily from Article 127 in the landmark 1917 Mexican constitution.
Labor activists, together with
their social movement allies in the CONAIE, opposed the revisions that would
outlaw the creation of public sector labor unions.
Correa claimed that the almost
eighty-year-old labor code was in need of updating to meet the realities of the
twenty first century.