A series of interviews with Ecuador’s main political leaders.
President Correa has said the national strike, in which you will participate, is illegitimate. What do you say?
All sorts of declarations can be expected from the president. During his Saturday broadcast of 25 July I heard disparaging words, rude expressions as usual. It is not surprising that he has said the strike is illegitimate. He has always said this. We will never hear President Correa talking about that 82% of Ecuadorians who want a referendum, who call for respect for the Constitution.
is the re-elected prefect of the province of Zamora Chinchipe. 44 years old, descendant of the Saraguro people, sociologist and former representative, he is one of the most influential indigenous leaders in Ecuador.
The president has said that you just got 3% at the ballot boxes. According to him your requests have already been settled electorally.
That is not right. That is not the percentage that, right now, is demanding respect for the Constitution on the issue of the amendments being discussed in the Assembly. The President is manipulating, trying to trick the public with that information.
What are the specific requests you will bring to Quito with the march that has begun on August 2?
Two things have to be said to the president and, especially, to the community: this is not an action led by Pachakutik or by the indigenous movement. This is an action of all Ecuadorians.
I am delighted that Quito has taken the lead. It wasn’t the indigenous movement, it wasn’t the labor unions, without denying, of course, their contribution to the marches of September and November 2014 and March and the 1st of May this year. We are joining this expression of all Ecuadorians.
What are, this time, the issues that bring you all together?
They are not necessarily specific demands of the indigenous movement. We are deeply concerned about the president’s confrontational attitude, his arrogance and his discrediting of others. There are other reasons: the violation of human rights and freedoms. We have a dead Fausto Valdivieso and he does not even notice. Bosco Wisuma and José Tendetza, indigenous comrades, are on that list. Freedom of expression has been violated and that not only affects journalists. When I express an opinion, my voice is discredited.
Media lynching is a permanent problem. I saw on the Saturday broadcast how they show us in a video and how they ridicule and humiliate us publicly because we demand that our rights should be respected.
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In your list, what motives would justify an indigenous uprising?
You can point to two examples. One: we are very concerned because the government, while declaring itself a friend of the indigenous movement, is dismantling the bilingual education system that cost us so much. The irony: they vindicate the work of Mamá Dolores Cacuango when she was the agent of bilingual education, hidden behind the hills to avoid State persecution. It was institutionalized, but then Correa came and he put an end to it. For us it is a mutilation.
The Ecuadorian people are looking at the indigenous people, their customs, traditions, cuisine, crafts, music, languages… as a basis for the national economy. Of course we demand that the lives of indigenous peoples are respected just like the Constitution says: within the context of our culture. This is a right that the State cannot deny us.
What is the second example?
We need the State to remember the recovery of rural areas. It is not right that the indigenous peoples, the peasants, continue subsidizing the food sold in the markets. We need technical support. I know, as prefect, that programs can be implemented for the people to really go down the road of change in the productive matrix without many external resources. That is not achieved from a desk with a microphone. It is done in the field. We are doing it with cocoa in Zamora Chinchipe. We need technology to go a step further: agribusiness. The State can support, not take over.
The president recently said that his government is now paying the debt owed to rural areas and is achieving agrarian change. Don’t you feel it?
One of the things I admire about the president is his ability to monitor concerns and use them as part of his electoral strategy …
Do you not acknowledge the progress mentioned by the government?
There is no such thing. Conaie convened the People’s Summit and one of its resolutions was the need to promote genuine agricultural development. The following week, Correa decreed safeguards to protect, he said, domestic production. Why didn’t he do this over the last eight years? Why safeguards all of a sudden? That has not worked for him and it won’t work. If safeguards were the solution, 15 months is not enough time.
Correa lacks medium-term and long-term strategies to boost domestic production. We will never bring about change in the economic structure or in production by working recklessly. To bring about change we need to leave this political environment and install a different one in which conversations can be had with a minimum of cordiality.
Are you ruling out the possibility of dialogue with the government at this time?
I think the Ecuadorian people no longer believe the president. During these eight and a half years we have asked for dialogue and all we have got have been insults. Now they are asking for dialogue because they are nervous about the social mobilization and because we are entering the final stretch of an election campaign. They want to look as Little Red Riding Hood, when for eight and a half years they have shown what they really are: the big bad wolf. Correa wants to buy time to move forward with the changes to the Constitution, which include his reelection. As he goes down that path he uses, in order to distract the public opinion, the inheritance law and the so-called dialogue. It’s all a political game and we will not fall for that trap.
Are you aware that the indigenous uprising and the national strike will be interpreted by the government as a measuring of forces on the streets?
Of course I am. This has always been the case and we have always faced them at a complete disadvantage. Now we are getting ready to come to Quito from Zamora Chinchipe and they have already let us know there will be no safe-conducts for the buses we will need in certain sections. Maybe they won’t even want us to go past on foot. But ‘correísmo’ itself will have buses, permits and all the State apparatus. Correa also has national chains and four endless hours every Saturday to speak his truths and the lies transformed into truths.
What is this mobilization’s major demand?
We want the file on the package of constitutional amendments to be closed.
The president has said that you are part of a destabilization plan. That includes you among the alleged coup mongers.
We reply that as a people we have shown enough patience with him to last two lifetimes. We have been a tolerant people, beyond the permanent insults. Who likes to be told that they have feeble minds and are a bit limited, and these were not the worst insults.
It is the president who, with his attitude, his unconstitutional decrees, such as No. 813, which infringes public servants’ job security, has been destroying the country’s institutions.
If something does happen in this country it will be because the people cannot take any more. President Correa will be held responsible for this because of his attitudes, his decisions, his attempts to break the Constitution in order to get indefinite reelection.
Are you going to march to get the president to leave or to get him to rectify?
He has to rectify, there is no other way. If the president really wants some democratic stability, he has to guarantee it. We do not make decisions. He makes them with a Constitution that enables him to do and undo as he pleases. But this cannot be allowed to end this way. This is why we are also saying it is not good for Ecuador to have a too strong concentration of power on the president, an all powerful ruler, a superman. While the Constitution remains in force, ‘correísmo’ will remain in force, even if there is a different person at Carondelet.
Will you ask for another Constituent Assembly?
We need a minimum of dialogue, not with Correa but with the Ecuadorian people, with the different sectors of the national community to reach a new social contract, a new constitution that guarantees the Ecuadorian people a participatory and democratic government and independence in the functions of the State. To achieve that we need a constituent assembly that should be the result of a minimum agreement between Ecuadorians.
As of August 13, day of the national strike, indigenous peoples and other citizens will stay in Quito. Do you plan to do this until the president revokes the amendments?
The president should not even wait for a march. He is the first to be obliged, according to the Constitution, to respect it and demand respect for it from those he governs. The people are mobilized, no matter whether the package of amendments is revoked or not, or whether the other arbitrary and illegal decisions contained in executive decrees and other resolutions are rectified.
Take the example of the National Council for Participation and Social Control, whose members are directly dependent on ‘correísmo’ and appoint those responsible for many State functions. That is a mockery. That is provoking the Ecuadorian people. It is sowing violence. And ‘correísmo’ is responsible for this. The people are mobilized regardless of whether we achieve these changes now or tomorrow.
What are the minimum conditions to return to dialogue with the government of Rafael Correa? Or do you absolutely rule out that possibility?
That should eventually be analyzed by the assemblies. But the president should show some substantial changes, not these doses of aspirin with which he aims to stop the mobilization or confuse the people.
What does it mean when he invites us to dialogue and immediately afterwards the trials against many of us are speeded up? They tell us, come to dialogue but you are forbidden to talk about the issue of constitutional amendments.
What is non-negotiable at this time?
Respect for the Constitution. That was an agreement between Ecuadorians. The majority of the Ecuadorian people voted for that Constitution (64% approved it: Editor’s note) on September 28, 2008. And the president and all Ecuadorians have to respect that. That means closing the file on this package of amendments to the Constitution and then we could sit down to dialogue about the economy, changing the productive matrix, social equity, which is fundamental for us. There are many issues to talk about. But right now the conditions are not in place for any dialogue with the government.