By Romero Salazar
Last weekend, I was talking to two extranjero friends from the U.S. about the political crisis in Ecuador. During the conversation I became aware how little they knew of the background of the crisis and I was happy share my knowledge and views with them.
After our discussion, they suggested I write an article for CuencaHighLife, offering the same information to other expats. With the help of my friends, the editor of this website agreed to translate and edit this article.
One misconception my friends had about the current situation is that the alliance between supporters of former President Rafael Correa and Conaie, the Confederation of Indigenous Nationalities, is based on shared ideology. In fact, the two sides are only allies for the purpose of ending Lasso’s presidency. Once that is achieved — or not — I predict they will once again be adversaries.
Many expats may not be aware that during the last stages of Correa’s presidency, in 2015 and 2016, Conaie declared itself in “permanent opposition” to his government. There were violent protests in Quito against Correa’s policies in 2015. People died and were injured and many went to jail. At the time, Correa called the leaders of Conaie “stupid indians” and “golden ponchos” for the wealth he said they had stolen from indigenous people.
It should also be noted that Correa was much tougher on Conaie protesters than either President Lenin Moreno or Lasso. Correa had protesters jailed who blocked highways and invaded public buildings, calling them “thugs and criminals.” Ironically, some of those arrested were granted pardons last year by the Correistas in the National Assembly.
There is also a misunderstanding among many foreigners about the indigenous population of Ecuador. I explained that the terms “indigenous movement” and “indigenous strike” are misleading. The indigenous make up only 6% to 7% of the population and Conaie depends heavily, particularly in times of protest, on those of mixed cultures for its support. I would substitute the word “campesino” (country people) for “indigenous” in many cases. The cultural mix in Ecuador, by the way, runs a continuum from the full-blooded indigenous to almost full-blooded European (about 4% or 5% of the population), with the overwhelming majority being of mixed cultures.
It is also important to understand that Conaie is an umbrella organization that represents dozens of separate indigenous groups from all regions of the country. Its members hold many political points of view. Leonidas Iza, who has become the face of Conaie, was elected president mostly because of his organizing skills and his ability to challenge – and even to scare and intimidate – the government.
Iza holds extreme views not shared by many of the indigenous. He is an advocate of what he calls “Indo-American communism”, which seeks to unite the indigenous people of South America. In his book “Estallido”, he calls for the overthrow — violent if necessary — of governments for the purpose of establishing a unified indigenous state.
For the record and before the recent alliance against Lasso, Correa called Iza “crazy, dangerous and impractical” in an interview in Belgium.
By way of disclosure, I was a member of Correa’s government during his first two years in office, working in the Ministry of Education. I supported most of his programs, particularly those that benefited the poor through better education. However, I became disillusioned when he began to attack environmentalists, leaders of the women’s movement and other groups. Much of my disagreement was with his style, which I considered unnecessarily abrasive and mean-spirited. Toward the end of his three terms, I felt he had turned into an oligarch.
In closing, I won’t venture a guess on the outcome of the Lasso impeachment effort. Dismissal from office, resignation and the Death Cross are all clear possibilities (for more about all this, click here). My intention here is to provide some background on the main players in the process, namely the supporters of Correa and Conaie. We will have to wait and see how this plays out.
Romero Salazar has served in several national and provincial government positions and is a former professor of economic history at San Francisco University in Quito.