Ecuador’s indigenous movement is in disarray as it prepares to name a presidential candidate

Jun 2, 2023 | 5 comments

By Liam Higgins

Internal disputes among the indigenous movement’s major social and political organizations is threatening to reduce its effectiveness in the coming cross death elections.

Less than year after the movement mounted a powerful national strike that forced major concessions from the government, the Confederation of Indigenous Nationalities (Conaie) and the political party, Pachakutik, are struggling to present a unified front.

Yaku Pérez campaigning earlier this week in Cuenca.

Conaie President Leonidas Iza and Pachakutik leader Salvador Quisphe are competing to represent the indigenous movement with widely divergent agendas. At the same time, many indigenous leaders and political analysts believe that Yaku Pérez, who renounced his affiliation with both Conaie and Pachakutik two years ago, will be the top vote-getter among the indigenous electorate.

Pachakutik leadership worries that it will lose many of the National Assembly seats it gained in 2021 when Pérez, as it standard-bearer, came within percentage points of making the presidential runoff, eventually won by President Guillermo Lasso.

Iza, who commanded broad support during the June 2022 strike, has seen his authority significantly reduced in recent months. When he pushed for new national strikes in February and again in May, following Lasso’s invocation of the cross death, Conaie leadership council told him the time was not right and that a strike would hurt the indigenous more than the government.

“Iza has taken major hits to his authority and even if he is picked as the Pachakutik candidate, his support will be much less than it was last year,” says former National Assembly member Roberto Gonzalez. “He is greatly weakened by the dissension not only within Conaie but in Pachakutik too, and no one believes he will make the runoff. There is also the embarrassment that Pérez will probably be the most successful indigenous candidate and it is widely known that Iza detests Pérez.”

According to Gonzalez, Quisphe will have even less voter support than Iza. “Because of Iza’s strike leadership, he has much greater visibility and would get more votes.”

One of the most divisive issues within the indigenous movement, according to Gonzalez, involves a possible alliance with the Correista Citizen Revolution party. Iza supports a partnership and suggested last week that Conaie and Pachakutik should support the Correista candidate if its own candidate does not make the runoff. It is widely expected that the Citizen Revolution presidential candidate will advance to the October runoff.

Despite his calls for unity, Quishpe rejects any support for the Correistas. “They (Citizen Revolution) have never stopped denigrating Pachakutik and the entire indigenous movement,” he says. “When they were in power, they insulted and ignored us, so why should we now consider joining forces with them?”

Quishpe adds that his feelings are reflected by most indigenous people. “For political opportunism, we cannot turn our backs on the past. Our memory is long.”

Gonzalez says Iza may also be a liability to the indigenous movement beyond his support of the Citizen Revolution. “It cannot be ignored that he calls himself a communist and, like the rest of Ecuadorians, indigenous people reject communist ideology. As a group, they tend to vote center-left but not extreme left.”

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