The March for Dignity traversed more than 700 kilometers and took more than 10 days to arrive in Quito. Made up of indigenous peoples of different nationalities -Kichwas and Saraguros most of them – the caravan set off on August 2 from the province of Zamora Chinchipe, in southern Ecuador, with the aim of participating in the National Strike against the government of Rafael Correa, convened for August 13 by union members, social organizations, the doctors’ union, students and environmentalists, among others. These mobilizations joined the mass protests of different social sectors, which began in June in different cities of the country and have constituted the biggest political crisis in the government’s eight-year rule.
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Jorge Herrera, president of the Confederation of Indigenous Nationalities (Conaie), stated that their aim is not to destabilize the country, but to get the government to rectify certain things. Among their main demands are the permanent elimination of the package of constitutional amendments (which among other things includes presidential reelection), the right to free university education, the restitution of the governance in intercultural education, the annulment of the water law, the land law bill and the rejection of a free trade agreement with Europe.
On August 13, other indigenous groups and peasants who came from northern Ecuador joined this march that arrived from the south. From 00:00 onwards, some of the country’s major roads were blocked by the demonstrators. They blocked the Panamerican Highway in some areas from the north of Imbabura, Pichincha, Cotopaxi, Tungurahua, Chimborazo, Canar, Azuay and Loja. Other roads were also blocked in certain provinces of the Highlands and Amazon Region. At El Chasqui, in the locality of Cotopaxi, there were some moments of tension when the indigenous people and the peasants who had blocked the Panamerican Highway were forced to withdraw by the police, led by Interior Minister José Serrano, who had arrived to lead the operation. One of the indigenous protesters lost an eye as a result of being hit with a tear gas bomb.
In the afternoon of Thursday August 13, the different social sectors marched through the streets of Quito and attempted to reach Plaza de la Independencia (Independence Square), where Carondelet, the Government House, is located. The streets that surround the area were heavily guarded by police who used tear gas to prevent the protesters from passing. The protests, which over the last few months had been peaceful, turned violent. On the first day of the National Strike dozens of arrests and many wounded were reported, both among civilians and members of the security forces.
Several indigenous leaders, such as Katy Betancourt, women’s representative of Conaie, Salvador Quishpe, prefect of Zamora, and Carlos Pérez Guartambel, president of Ecuarunari, reported they were beaten, harassed and unjustly detained. Franco-Brazilian journalist Manuela Picq was detained with Pérez Guartambel and was held for more than 90 hours after her visa was illegitimately revoked. Margot Escobar, a 61 year old environmentalist, was beaten and detained in Puyo (Pastaza province). On Friday, August 21, Escobar was released after Luis Miranda, judge of the Criminal Judicial Unit at Pastaza, issued alternative measures in her favor.
Meanwhile, outside the government house, supporters of President Rafael Correa, as well as public officials, ministers and members of the ruling party Alianza País, gathered to prevent “the destabilization” which, according to them, was the strike’s aim. A platform was set up there, from which the president gave a heated speech downplaying the protest.
Once the day was over, the leaders of social organizations announced the radicalization of the strike throughout the country and demanded the release of all detainees. They also warned that the demonstrations will continue until the government listens to them and the amendments that seek to change the Constitution are permanently eliminated.
On Saturday 15 August, President Rafael Correa signed the decree 755 which declared a state of emergency throughout the country due to the increased activity of the volcano Cotopaxi. According to legal experts in human rights, the yellow warning of Cotopaxi does not justify a state of emergency nationwide and warn that it could be abused suspension of civil rights as a decree of this nature may involve, and challenge the danger of mobilizing forces armed to support the actions of the National Police. The decree also included the censorship of information on the status of the volcano, in the media and even social networks. From this declaration of emergency, the military were taken to suppress protests and blockades that keep indigenous communities and social movements in remote locations of the volcano.
Over the following days there were more demonstrations, more roadblocks and even the seizure of some public buildings. For example, the Government Office of Morona Santiago and the Directorate of the Ministry of Agriculture were closed from August 16, after a blockade by indigenous Shuar and Achuar. As a result of these actions, certain areas have been militarized and the armed forces have participated in the repression of protests in Loja, Canar, Morona Santiago and Pastaza.
Some indigenous leaders traveled to these areas and announced that community meetings would be held. Jorge Herrera, president of Conaie, was in Macas, capital of the Amazonian province of Morona Santiago. Roads that had been blocked were opened again and the indigenous people focused on assisting and holding vigils for those who were detained. Salvador Quishpe, prefect of Zamora Chinchipe, was in Saraguro, a canton of the province of Loja.
In Quito, the members of indigenous communities who are camping at Parque del Arbolito have led, together with trade union members and other social sectors, peaceful marches to the Historic Center. Indigenous women have been involved in these demonstrations and took a letter to the United Nations (UN) representation with an inventory of the attacks they have suffered since August 2, when the uprising of indigenous peoples began. In the letter they ask that the violence against their people should be condemned and they request the release of more than 100 indigenous persons and activists who have been detained.
On Friday August 21, indigenous and labor organizations have called for a new demonstration in different parts of the country. At 14:00 this day a Asamble will be held at the Parque del Arbolito (Quito) and then they will march in protest to the Historical Center.
The protests’ balance
The Attorney General made a preliminary assessment of what the national strike convened by the indigenous movement, trade unions and social movements has meant. From August 13 to 18, the Prosecutor’s office reported 111 people detained. Of that total, 95 are still in prison accused of paralyzing services, attack or resistance, possessing weapons and ammunition or sowing discord among the public. For the crime of attack and resistance, Article 283 of the Criminal Code dictates a sentence of six months to two years in prison. The people who were arrested and then released were let go because flagrancy did not apply or because their violations were of the kind over which the Prosecutor’s office has no competency. These figures differ from the ones presented by the indigenous groups. They built a web platform to record every arrest. They have counted 131 detainees. Most of them in Puyo, Saraguro and Quito.