The government to begin talks with Conaie leaders; Mining and fuel prices are key issues

Aug 19, 2021 | 1 comment

The Conaie leadership at a recent press conference.

Ecuador Interior Minister Alexandra Vela said Wednesday that the government is ready to begin a dialog with the Confederation of Indigenous Nationalities of Ecuador (Conaie). It is not clear, however, when talks will begin since Vela proposed a Friday start date while Conaie says it will be available Tuesday, August 24.

Interior Minister Alexandra Vela

The two sides traded charges in the media in recent weeks, particularly in association with last week’s labor protests, and it is unclear what issues will be open to discussion.

In an interview with television network Teleamazonas, Vela said that news and social media are not the proper forum for exchanging ideas and resolving disagreements. “Only by sitting down, face-to-face, can we work toward solutions that benefit the country,” she said. “There has been a great deal said but we need a sincere exchange of views and information if we are to move forward.”

In previous statements, the government and Conaie appear to be far apart on several key issues, most notably fuel prices and mining.

President Guillermo Lasso says he will not back down on plans to allow the price of diesel fuel and gasoline to be determined by market rates while Leonidas Iza, Conaie president, says the reinstatement of fuel subsidies is “non-negotiable.” Lasso also supports increasing the number of mining concessions issued, claiming the revenue is needed to support public spending. Iza has demanded the immediate suspension of all mining, insisting it is destroying indigenous lands and polluting water sources.

Both sides claim they do not want a repeat of the October 2019 riots that shut down much of the country but Iza says that Conaie will take to the streets if its demands are not met. Some indigenous leaders are discouraging mass protests, however, saying that support will be limited by fear of the Covid pandemic.