Indigenous groups opposed to legislation that would consolidate water allocations power with the federal government are in the third day of a 10-day protest march headed for the National Assembly in Quito. The march arrives in Cuenca today and protesters plan a rally in Parque Calderon.
The National Assembly is scheduled to vote on the legislation today. With President Rafael Correa’s ruling party Alianza Pais holding 100 of 137 seats in the assembly, the legislation is expected to pass easily.
Political observers have said the march—led by the Confederation of Indigenous Nationalities of Ecuador, or Conaie—could signal the beginning of a series of protests in the country over concerns the bill would restrict water supplies and affect food security.
The march began Saturday in the Amazonian province of Zamora Chinchipe, where the first large-scale, open-pit mining project is being developed. Marchers say that one of their concerns is that the government will favor mining operations over agricultural use of water.
Indigenous leaders said they want lawmakers to include proposals in the water bill that would guarantee the rights of indigenous communities living near water resources.
Miguel Carvajal, the president of a congressional committee on food sovereignty, said Monday that the bill already includes most of the proposals from indigenous communities. “The bill includes the main proposals made by indigenous groups during the last 20 years,” he said. “There is no reason to protest. The march is driven by political motivations.”
There is disagreement even among indigenous groups, with some agreeing with Carvajal that their interest have been included in the legislation.
The president of Conaie, Jorge Herrera, denied that the march was political and said that it was the first step in a broader strategy by indigenous communities who oppose the bill. “Our concern is that control of water stays with the community. We consider it an ancestral right, not one of the central government,” he says.
The constitution, approved in a referendum in 2008, ordered the legislature to enact a new law on water use and permits to ensure formal regulation and equitable distribution.
Photo caption: Water rights marchers near Loja on Sunday.