Disagreements within the labor and indigenous movements, and Covid, could reduce protest impact
Although large protest marches are scheduled for Wednesday, Ecuador’s labor movement will not present the unified front its organizers had hoped for. Indigenous groups are also grappling with internal conflicts which could blunt the strategy of some leaders to challenge President Guillermo Lasso.
The Popular Labor Front and the Unified Workers Front will draw thousands of marchers in Quito, Guayaquil, Cuenca and other large cities, and protest leaders are discounting the refusal of the Central Unified Workers (CUT) organization to join the protest. “The vast majority of workers are on our side and we will be just fine without a few of the trade groups,” says Juan Cervantes, president of the Guayaquil chapter of the Popular Front. “If the government does not accept our demands, we could see a repeat of October 2019 and I do not think they want that.”
Among the chief demands of the labor movement are the reinstatement of the fuel subsidy and elimination of recent labor legislation that leaders say benefits employers at the expense of workers.
Cervantes’s problem and that of other protest organizers is that CUT represents 500 independent trade groups. CUT President Richard Gómez calls Wednesday’s protest “a political stunt” and says it is too early to attack the Lasso government. “It is foolish to ignore the fact that the Covid pandemic is still ranging and that we are months away from controlling it,” he says. “The current government has been in power for less than three months and correctly recognizes that defeating the virus is its biggest challenge. We must allow the vaccination program to remain on course, protecting Ecuadorian lives and restoring economic activity.”
Gómez adds that thousands of people in the streets will lead to a spread of Covid-19. “It’s crazy to forget the dangers of this terrible disease and the people it has killed. Now is not the time for mass gatherings.”
Cervantes responds that the rights of workers cannot be put aside while a conservative government “serves the selfish interests of the neoliberals and international money changers.”
Although recently elected Conaie President Leonidas Iza seems intent on answering the “arrogance and insults” he feels Lasso aimed at Conaie, he too faces discord within the ranks. Iza was a leader of the October 2019 uprising, which some indigenous leaders say hurt the movement, especially small farmers who were unable to get their goods to market due to highway closures.
“We are not united at this point and the strong [presidential] campaign by Yaku Perez proves the point,” says Carlos Subía. “Yaku represented a movement that sought to work within the system, a movement that emphasized negotiation and political action, and Iza has said he wants to tear down the existing system and build a new one. No one disagrees that the current government favors neoliberal positions but we must first work on reconciliation before we take to the streets.”
Like Gómez, Subía says that protests during the pandemic is a bad idea. “Small, focused protests are fine but a massive uprising will endanger public health and damage the indigenous cause.”