The last few weeks in Ecuador, characterized by indigenous mass action and protests and which culminated in a formal agreement between the indigenous leaders and the president of Ecuador, have marked the beginning of a promising new phase in relations between the government and the country's indigenous populations.
This process started on the 27th of September when The Confederation of Indigenous Nationalities (CONAIE), led by Marlon Santi, called for an indigenous mass mobilization with the goal of having the indigenous proposals regarding the National Water and Mining laws heard by the government. The indigenous populations feel that the proposed laws have a direct influence on their rights and a process of prior and informed consent should be met before the government takes unilateral action on delimiting the use of these natural resources. Pachamama, a close ally to CONAIE in the technical and political sphere, shares the objective with the indigenous movement in Ecuador to strengthen indigenous rights and self-determination in Ecuador. This call to action by CONAIE stemmed from the recognition that indigenous rights were not being respected, and attention needed to be drawn to this urgently.
The mobilization began at midnight on the 27th of September with the blocking of several of the countries main highways, mainly in the Cotopaxi, Imbabura, Morona Santiago and Pastaza provinces. The mass action got off to a slow start, and there was even talk of calling off the mobilization after 22 hours. Nevertheless, a struggle between Ecuadorian police and Shuar protestors in Macas , which tragically left one Shuar dead, sparked a massive reaction nationally from all indigenous sectors and a strengthening of the protests on all fronts.
Under pressure for almost the first time in his term, the president of Ecuador, Rafael Correa, extended an invitation to CONAIE to come to the dialogue table. Initially the indigenous communities of the Amazon expressed that there could be no dialogue until the community bases (remote villages) had agreed on a unified position regarding the two proposed laws under debate. From the 30th of September and for the next week, the indigenous federations of Ecuador in the Amazon and the Andes held fierce debate while establishing a unified position to take in the negotiation with the Ecuadorian government.
On the 5th of October, Rafeal Correa met with a unified Ecuadorian indigenous movement in Quito to formally discuss the indigenous position. In a reflection of the priority being given to the event, this discussion was televised live nationally.
The talks were a success and the Ecuadorian government agreed to:
1. Receive the agenda presented by CONAIE and its affiliates and initiate a formal and permanent dialogue on a working group basis. The organization of this process will be under the responsibility of the Secretary of Populations and Social Movements in coordination with CODENPE, and all the Ministries and delegations that the indigenous sectors deem necessary. Regarding Intercultural Education, consider the proposal that the National and Provincial indigenous authorities select by means of a merit based contest. For this purpose, Decree No. 1585 will go under revision without excluding the possibility of it being outlawed. Work to reach consensus on the Water Bill, based on the two projects that have already been presented, one by the President and one by CONAIE. This process will be undertaken through the Legislative Commission.
2. Receive a proposal to reform the Mining Law in order to debate is contents within the framework of a commission composed by both the CONAIE and the Government.
3. Agree to investigate the content of the messages transmitted by a Shuar radio station to determine whether or not its transmissions called for violence.
4. Agree to establish as responsibility of the Truth Commission, - to which two delegates from CONAIE and two from the Government will be appointed - the thorough investigation of the causes of the death of the Shuar indigenous member in Macas.
With these agreements the mobilization came to an end on the 6th of October 2009 with celebrations amongst indigenous movements throughout the country. The consensus is that this has been a vindication of the defense of indigenous territorial, self-determination and collective rights pursued by indigenous populations and supported by Pachamama.
Furthermore, the events of the last two weeks are a major victory not only for the indigenous movement in Ecuador, but also for democracy on the whole. In the words of ex-constitutional assembly president, Alberto Acosta "It was a debate of the highest standards; an exposition that the state developed in favor of the excluded groups. It parted from the principle that the state could be the facilitator of a culture of peace with the goal of debate within the constitutional framework and respect for pluri(multi)nationalism. The indigenous movement has been significantly strengthened [by this process]."