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ECUADOR
10/21/2002
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For the indigenous movement, t

Ecuador’s indigenous movement could find itself in a stronger position after the Oct. 20 presidential election. Early returns showed retired Col. Lucio Gutiérrez — who, along with indigenous protesters, led the overthrow of President Jamil Mahuad in 2000 (LP, May 29, 2000) — in the lead. Gutiérrez will face banana magnate Alvaro Noboa in a runoff on Nov. 24.

While most Ecuadorans were apathetic about the elections, the indigenous movement saw it as an effort to further establish its political legitimacy, despite internal rifts that resulted in two indigenous candidates running for president on different tickets.

Since 1990, the indigenous movement’s politics have been based on massive uprisings that have paralyzed the country. In recent years, protest marches to Quito have ended with the overthrow of two presidents — Abdalá Bucaram (1996-97) in February 1997 and Mahuad (1998-2000) in January 2000 (LP, Feb. 6, 1997, and Feb. 7, 2000). In January 2001, roadblocks and a march to the capital by 7,000 indigenous protesters forced President Gustavo Noboa to reverse a decision to increase bus fares and the price of fuel and cooking gas (LP, Feb. 19, 2001).

Indigenous candidates also ran for office in 1998, when the Confederation of Indigenous Nationalities of Ecuador (CONAIE), in an alliance with other grassroots groups, formed the Pachakutik Pluricultural Movement, putting eight lawmakers in Congress in their first foray into electoral politics (LP, Dec. 3, 1998). Subsequent elections solidified the movement’s political power in provinces where the indigenous population is concentrated. Indigenous candidates won 36 mayoral and parish council seats.

"We saw that it wasn’t enough to overthrow a president; it was also necessary to build power from the bottom up," said Auki Tituaña, mayor of the highland town of Cotacachi. Tituaña, who won the mayoral race in 1996 and was reelected in 2000, is one of the political figures with the greatest credibility among Ecuador’s mestizo population.

This year, the need to solidify local power was combined with a need to increase the indigenous movement’s political force in the national Congress. Voters went to the polls on Oct. 20 to choose a successor to Noboa as well as local authorities and 100 legislators and substitutes to represent their provinces in the national Congress. The CONAIE decided to field indigenous candidates for Congress but not the presidency. Instead, they threw their support behind Gutiérrez, who leads the Patriotic Society movement, a combination of grassroots and traditional leftist groups.

"Going into these elections without a presidential candidate could have fragmented the indigenous movement’s captive vote, because traditional political parties take advantage of the campaign to go into indigenous communities," CONAIE president Leonidas Iza said. "So we decided to support Gutiérrez and concentrate the other candidacies on a single slate."

The country’s second-largest indigenous group, the National Federation of Campesino, Indigenous and Black Organizations (FENOCIN) joined CONAIE in the alliance with the Patroitic Society. The Federation of Evangelical Indigenous People of Ecuador (FEINE), however, did not take part.

"We hope to have 10 indigenous deputies in Congress, besides any others who might be elected from grassroots movements or Lucio Gutiérrez’s party," Iza said.

The FEINE fielded candidates separately through its own political movement, Amauta Jatari. The slate included Antonio Vargas, a former CONAIE president who also played a prominent role in the overthrow of Mahuad. The FEINE slate also included candidates for Congress and local offices in the central highlands, particularly the province of Chimborazo, and in the Amazon basin, where various organizations support Vargas.

Vargas’ candidacy was questioned by the Supreme Electoral Court, which accused him of presenting forged and duplicate signatures on the petitions he filed when he registered as a candidate. The Constitutional Tribunal, however, ruled that he could remain in the race because the number of valid signatures exceeded the minimum required. The electoral court accepted the ruling, but opened legal proceedings against Vargas for forgery of signatures.

The CONAIE has criticized Vargas for running, accusing him of fragmenting the indigenous alliance. "What Vargas has done is treason. When the elections are over, we’ll do an evaluation and heads may roll," Iza said.

The FEINE, whose strategy has been to concentrate on local candidates rather than its presidential candidate, has also been the target of criticism. "After the elections, the FEINE will also have to review its participation and go back to being a strong movement, distancing itself from the manipulation to which it has been subjected," said Ricardo Ulcuango, former vice president of CONAIE, who is running on the Pachakutik movement’s slate for congressional deputy from Pichincha, Ecuador’s largest province.

León Roldós, of the Socialist Party, rejected overtures from Gutiérrez’s Patriotic Society movement and ran for president as the candidate of an odd alliance that included the center-right Popular Democracy party, which put Mahuad in office. The coalition also included a wing of the Conservative Party and the virtually defunct Concentration of Popular Forces (CFP), splitting away from the Patriotic Society’s socialist bloc, with which it had been aligned until September.

Besides support from the indigenous movement, Gutiérrez’s Patriotic Society has gained the backing of the Maoist Popular Democratic Movement (MPD) and unions of petroleum, electricity and telephone company workers.

After an extensive campaign that kept him traveling the country for more than a year, polls showed Gutiérrez tied for second place with former President Rodrigo Borja (1988-92) of the Democratic Left (ID) party, who placed third in 1998. They trailed Alvaro Noboa, a millionaire banana magnate from Guayaquil who is considered to be the wealthiest man in Ecuador. Noboa ran on the Roldosista Party’s ticket in 1998, losing to Mahuad in a runoff (LP, July 16, 1998).

But Noboa, who formed the Alvaro Noboa Independent Renewal Party (PRIAN) to run for president, will not have a significant bloc in the national Congress, which is expected to be ideologically fragmented.

"Whoever is elected president, it will be a tough Congress, because some legislators from the extreme right will be elected, who are known for their opposition to grassroots movements and their desire to privatize everything," Iza said. "But the toughest members of the indigenous and grassroots movements will also be elected, the ones who have taken a strong stand against the Free Trade Area of the Americas and privatization."


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