Rafael Correa probably does not know this because he was not there. In 1991 he had just returned from Europe and the United States, after a few years of college thanks to a scholarship, and he was beginning to make his way in the professional world as a bureaucrat at the Inter-American Development Bank, where he held one or another administrative management position away from any social movements. By then, after an amazing process that Rafael Correa missed because he was abroad and after the previous year’s uprising, CONAIE (Confederation of Indigenous Nationalities of Ecuador) had reached a level of organization and representation which was unprecedented for an indigenous movement in Latin America and had become one of the main political actors in Ecuador. Its truly national character, its extensive participation in public life and its vast agenda of issues that needed to be resolved with the State, as the representative and spokesperson of 13 nationalities, meant it was essential that the movement had headquarters in the capital. When President Rodrigo Borja provided it with the building on Granados and 6 de Diciembre Avenues free of charge, it was a gesture of political recognition by the State of this opponent with which it had to dialogue and negotiate on so many fronts. The contract of commodatum, probably based on a staple model, was just a formality. What mattered was that the building became, it was clear to everyone and no one was shocked by this, the political headquarters of CONAIE. Much needed and well deserved.
It seems like a joke that it should be necessary to remember these things. And it seems like a joke that a president of the Republic would now seek to expel CONAIE from its headquarters because “it has used them for political activities, opposing the government”. What else is it supposed to do? CONAIE was constituted to “drive the struggle for the rights of peoples and nationalities” and every struggle for rights is a political struggle with the State as its main opponent. So what is new about CONAIE engaging in political opposition and doing it from home? Who could be surprised by this? Ask Rodrigo Borja, who shortly before handing over the building had to deal with the century’s greatest indigenous uprising. Not a strike by police officers who were dissatisfied with the public service law but a real and massive popular mobilization demanding fundamental changes, with violent demonstrations and roadblocks throughout the country, cut off towns and half the country paralyzed for weeks. To that social movement that caused his government to totter, Borja gave a house from which several subsequent uprisings were coordinated and executed without anybody thinking that CONAIE should be evicted from it because of this.
How would Rafael Correa react if he had to face an indigenous uprising such as the one of June 1990? What he has proved to be (and be willing to do) over the last few years does not lead us to think the best. Most likely he would be unable to solve the crisis in democratic terms, which is how it was solved then. The indigenous uprising of the 1990 solstice and the democratic attitude with which it was taken on changed the country forever and for good. The terms of political debate were modified, the paradigms of social organization were renewed, internal borders that had existed for centuries were abolished and the image that Ecuador had of itself was changed, so much so that all the subsequent social and political processes which lead to the creation of Alianza PAIS and to Rafael Correa as President of the Republic would not have been conceivable without the 1990 uprising. That the indigenous peoples became fully-fledged political actors as the emblematic Fifth Centennial approached was, if history is taken into account and its length is envisaged, the greatest revolution in the country in a long, long time. The process was endorsed by the 1998 Constitution and made of Ecuador a better country, even though the political and economic calamities that followed sometimes prevent us from realizing this. CONAIE achieved what “Correísmo” does not even dare to try or attempts it very badly: to transform Ecuador from within the Ecuadorians’ minds.
Given the scale of what is at stake, the legal arguments put forward by “Correísmo” to justify the eviction are so revolting that they do not deserve the slightest attention. You simply cannot make such a huge political decision invoking regulation issued by the Comptroller’s office and the finicky and biased reading of a commodatum contract. Politics is not engaged in with devious lawyers whose jobs are to look for shortcuts and loopholes in the fine print of the laws. That is petty and reveals a narrow-mindedness of the soul that is discouraging. Politics requires, on the contrary, much generosity and a certain high level, both attributes that are not to be found within “Correísmo” even if they were to be looked for with a sieve.
Rafael Correa wants CONAIE to stop engaging in politics, that’s all. And wanting CONAIE to stop engaging in politics is having utterly failed to understand the issue. This flawed perception may be the result of his only experience of contact with the indigenous world: the year he spent in Zumbahua as a volunteer in the mission of the Salesian Fathers. More or less like joining the Peace Corps, but with a Pope. This is probably the origin of the paternalistic view that conceives the relationship between the State and indigenous peoples as a matter of social assistance and political mentoring. He said it clearly in his 403 Saturday program, when he spoke about the topic for nearly half an hour: if they already have roads, they already have schools, they already have hospitals because the “Correísta” government has provided them with all this, why are they protesting? The PAIS movement also said it in an open letter to Buenaventura de Sousa Santos: this government has supported the indigenous causes, how is it possible that they continue to oppose it? As if social demands were a shopping list. Once the pantry is stocked, why go to the market? Once the revolution was achieved, why keep engaging in politics? “I know – boasted Correa during his Saturday program – that (the indigenous peoples) were victims of great injustices, but those days are over, now they have great opportunities”. What news: the indigenous problem in Ecuador has been definitively settled after 500 years of making very little effort. And nobody had noticed!
While Rafael Correa was enjoying his scholarship in Europe, was an international bureaucrat and taught at the University of San Francisco, social movements led by CONAIE changed the country. Because of this he could become President. But instead of feeling like a heir to these causes and in debt to these popular struggles, he sees himself as their Messiah. Once he arrived, every struggle must cease and every movement must dissolve to join the only great tide of history that leads to a bright future. He is the only representative of this true tide. Everything that lies outside, he said on Saturday referring to CONAIE, “goes against the tide of history” of which he is alpha and omega. Now CONAIE has no right to meet with whomever it wants, it has no right to make deals and reach agreements, it has no right to protest or complain, it has no right to engage in politics and make mistakes because CONAIE, he said this twice, “does not represent anyone”. Now the only one who represents the indigenous peoples is he, the Messiah. Too much vanity. Too much ignorance. Too much lack of respect.