Negotiators for the government and indigenous organizations said Friday that talks have been “constructive and cordial” since they began on Wednesday. “We have a long way to go, with major issues to resolve, but we’ve made a good start,” said Gary Espinoza, President of the National Confederation of Organizations of Indigenous and Black People.
Government Minister Francisco Jiménez agreed and said that “general consensus” has been reached in several areas but offered no specifics.
On Friday the government presented its plan for fuel subsidies to the Federation of Indigenous Nationalities (Conaie), which is coordinating negotiations for indigenous groups. Conaie President Leonidas Iza said Conaie’s plan will be complete next week and he and other indigenous leaders will conduct a “cross check” with the government’s proposal to determine areas of agreement and conflict.
In principle, Iza says he believes in targeting fuel prices, adding that its success depends on the good will efficiency of the government. He agreed with Jiménez that it is important that targeting not benefit Colombian cocaine production but said the charge that large numbers of indigenous people are involved in the drug trade is untrue. “In his comments last week, the president [Guillermo Lasso] attempted to smear the movement with claims we have drug money and this is a lie.”
Iza said that, in the past, indigenous groups insisted on across-the-board fuel prices because it did not trust the government to properly target those in the most need. “We agree rich people do not need subsidies but the government did not provide a workable plan to assist the poor and critical productive sectors,” he said. “Maybe this time they can convince us they can do it.”
Iza said that he welcomes savings from targeted subsidies agreed to by both sides. “Yes, is this is done the right way there will funds that can be applied to social causes, health care and education.”
Jiménez said that discussions about providing targeted debt forgiveness and refinancing loans have begun. “Although the government can consider this for the banking entities it controls, we must work with the private banks to reach other agreements,” he said. “We cannot order the banks to make concessions they do not agree to. Banking representatives are involved in the negotiations and we believe we can reach an agreement that will be satisfactory to all parties. Making agreements with the cooperatives will be more difficult to the public ownership.”
Within its own banks and financial services, the government is offering debt forgiveness for loans up to $3,000, depending on the circumstances of the borrower. Conaie, on the other hand, is asking forgiveness up to $10,000.
In addition, the government is proposing a three-year grace period for active loans, with refinancing plans of up to 10 years.