Iza’s election signals an ‘activist’ Conaie; Poverty grows, middle class shrinks in pandemic; Businesses push for ‘return to work’; Border disappearances

Jun 28, 2021 | 6 comments

Following his election as president of the Confederation of Indigenous Nationalities of Ecuador (Conaie) Sunday, Leonidas Iza pledged he would begin a new “era of activism” for the indigenous movement in Ecuador. Iza was one of the leaders of the October 2019 national strike against the government’s plan to end fuel subsidies.

Leonidas Iza is the new Conaie president.

Iza’s election to a three-year term does not come without controversy. María Vicenta Andrade, who was defeated by Iza, claimed that Conaie ignored a 2017 resolution of the ruling council mandating that a woman be the next president of the organization. “This election is an outrage since it ignored a promise to recognize gender equity,” she said. “The order for a woman president is recorded in our records but today it was forgotten and this brings disgrace to the leadership.”

In addition to Andrade’s complaints, Iza has drawn criticism for his refusal to endorse Yaku Perez, the presidential candidate of the indigenous Pachakutik political party. Iza, who calls himself an Indo-American communist, claimed Perez was too friendly with the “oligarchy” and did not represent the leftist ideals of the indigenous people. Perez, however, received the most votes in history for an Pachakutik candidate, narrowly losing a runoff election spot to President Guillermo Lasso.

In an interview last week, Iza said he was encouraged by the apparent victory of socialist presidential candidate Pedro Castillo in Peru as well as massive anti-government protests in Colombia. “We are seeing a leftist shift in Latin America, especially in the Andean region,” he said. “I want Conaie to become part of this movement and to regain the activist footing it has traditionally enjoyed.”

Iza called the election of Lasso, a conservative-centrist, a “fluke,” claiming that the “reactionary legacy” toward the indigenous people of former president Rafael Correa doomed the candidacy of his protégé, Andrés Arauz.

Poverty grows, middle class contracts in pandemic
According to the World Bank, the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic has moved 4.7 million Latin Americans from the ranks of the middle class to poverty. The Bank said another 12 million have probably become impoverished in Brazil but could not make an accurate count due to lack of cooperation from the Brazilian government.

In a statement, the Bank said the increase in poverty is “unprecedented” in recent history. “The continuing devastation caused by the pandemic affects all aspects of life in Latin America and the Caribbean. Sadly, the situation may grow worse as we may not see improvement for many more months.”

In Ecuador, according to the Bank, the middle class has reduced from 33.3 percent to 30.4 percent with the poverty rate increasing from 25 percent to 30.9 percent.

Businesses push for ‘return to work’
Business organizations are pushing the government to adopt of a policy tying the vaccination rate to an allowance for in-person return to work. “We are making excellent progress with the vaccines with most of the vulnerable population already vaccinated and we would like to see an allowance for a gradual return to work for employees,” says Carlos Loaiza, president of the Quito Chamber of Commerce. Although many companies have welcomed back workers, other are still restricted by government mandates, he adds.

Loaiza says that more than 75 percent of Ecuadorians over 65 years of age have received at least vaccine dose with 40 percent receiving both doses.

“We need a policy that accepts the fact that there will be localized surges in Covid cases but allows businesses to continue to operate without interruption,” he says. “It is a terrible situation for both businesses and workers to be subject, with little warning, to new lockdowns and restrictions. We are approaching the point where we must learn to live with the virus.”

Border disappearances mount
Ecuador’s Interior Ministry reports that 37 residents of Azuay Province are missing in their effort to migrate to the U.S. According to a ministry spokeswoman, 26 of the missing are were attempting to enter the U.S. over land through Mexico while the others were reportedly making the trip by sea, on the Pacific Ocean, the Carribean and the Gulf of Mexico. On Friday, the ministry said it was repatriating the body of one Cuenca man who died of dehydration near the U.S. border.

Cuenca’s Civil Registry office reports that it has issued an average of 11,000 new passports a month since March, up from 3,000 a month in 2020. The National Civil Registry office estimates that about half of those receiving passports intend to travel to the U.S., most of them without visas.