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Tensions are high between government and indigenous following Cotopaxi confrontation

The talks between the government and indigenous organizations are at a standstill and indigenous leaders warn they could call for new protests if progress is not made soon. A Weekend confrontation between government employees and an indigenous crowd in Cotopaxi Province has further inflamed the situation.

Minister of Social Inclusion Iván Granda claims that indigenous protesters threatened to kidnap government workers.

On October 13, the government and Confederation of Indigenous Nationalities (Conaie) agreed to hold talks to address the complaints of Ecuador’s indigenous and poor population. The agreement ended 11 days of protests that resulted in 11 deaths, hundreds of injuries, major property damage in Quito and blocked the country’s highways.

“The dialog has stopped and the relationship with the government is deteriorating,” Conaie president Jaime Vargas said Sunday. “We are not playing and we will reactivate our uprising if the attitude does not change.”

Vargas’ comments followed an incident Saturday in the Tigua community of Cotopaxi Province when an indigenous crowd refused to allow government personnel and vehicles to enter the community, demanding an explanation of their mission. At one point, according to Minister of Social Inclusion Iván Granda, the indigenous protesters threatened to kidnap the workers representing the Lifetime Plan rural assistance program.

Indigenous leader Salvador Quishpe

Granda said that the government was simply doing its job by delivering technical assistance and equipment for an agricultural program aimed at helping poor communities.

Vargas denied Granda’s kidnap charge but acknowledged that the confrontation indicates the level of distrust between the indigenous community and the government is high.

Calling Granda and other government officials “sons of bitches,” Vargas said he does not trust anyone from the government. “They have murdered our brothers, they have locked them up, and until this poisonous climate persists we cannot talk.”

President Lenin Moreno said he regretted the Tigue incident but said the government has the right to travel to any location in Ecuador. “There may have been some confusion but we cannot tolerate acts that endanger those that serve the people of Ecuador. I don’t think that Mr. Vargas clearly understood the task the government is fulfilling.”

In a Monday interview, Salvador Quishpe, one of Vargas’ associates and an indigenous leader in Zamora Chinchipe Province, said the weekend encounter in Tigua was a symptom of larger disagreements between indigenous people and government. “Forget Tigua and let’s focus on the decisions of the government that disrespect our people, such as the economic reform law that ignores the suggestions we sent to the government,” he said. “The country is fractured and change must come quickly or the indigenous nations will be forced into the streets again.”

Granda agrees that what happened in Tigua is the result of unresolved tensions between the government and the indigenous. “Yes, there are much bigger issues here and they need to be discussed and resolved. On the other hand, we will not accept threats and actions of intimidation since it is impossible to find solutions in this climate.”