Indigenous vote could prove crucial in runoff election but leaders are split in their choices

Apr 5, 2021 | 31 comments

A week before Ecuador’s presidential runoff election between Andrés Arauz and Guillermo Lasso, the leadership of the country’s indigenous movement remains bitterly divided on strategy. With most polls showing a tightening race, many analysts say the vote of the indigenous and their supporters could be critical in determining the next president.

Jaime Vargas

On Saturday, Jaime Vargas, president of the Confederation of Indigenous Nationalities of Ecuador (Conaie), announced his support for Arauz, claiming the candidate’s leftist values “align most closely with the interests of the indigenous people.”

The endorsement was immediately attacked by leaders of the Pachakutik movement, Conaie’s political party as well as by other Conaie leaders. “We reject Vargas’ endorsement of Arauz and remind our members that the Conaie governing council is promoting a null vote on April 11 based on the fraud committed during the first election,” Apawki Castro, Conaie’s communication director said Sunday.

Virna Cedeño

Cecilia Velasque, Conaie deputy coordinator, was stronger in her condemnation, accusing Vargas of “treason” for supporting Arauz. “Rafael Correa, the puppet  master of Arauz, put hundreds of our people in jail for exercising our right to protest,” she said. “He called us ‘stupid indians’. How is it possible to support a return of Correismo?”

Velasque predicted that Vargas’ endorsement will carry relatively little weight. “He is out of step with most of the indigenous. He describes himself as an Indo-American communist and very few of our people align themselves with this ideology.”

Vargas, however, is not alone in breaking with Conaie’s no vote recommendation. Virna Cedeño, Yaku Pérez’s Pachakutik running mate in the March 7 election, has endorsed Lasso, saying she could not, “in good conscience” support Arauz. “Correa was an enemy of the indigenous people,” she said. “He insulted us and rejected our right to self-determination and I would expect more of the same from Arauz.”

Pérez himself has been luke warm in his support of the no vote. Two weeks ago he released a video in which he told his followers to make the choice that they feel is in their best interest.

Others in indigenous leadership say it is not realistic to expect a solid no vote. “When people go to the polling station next week, many of them will decide a no vote is a wasted vote,” says Carlos Hildago, former Conaie governing council member. “In the end, I think only a small percentage will vote no so the choice they make could be very important to the final election result.”

Four polls released last week indicate the race could be close. In two polls, Arauz leads Lasso by six and seven points while the other two give Lasso a three point advantage. “A month ago Arauz was ahead by more than 10 points in some polls so he has lost significant support,” Hildago says. “I cannot predict how the indigenous vote will go since these are difficult times and people want a change. What I can say is that bad feelings toward Rafael Correa run very deep.”

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