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Indigenous movement strengthens its opposition to government
Luis Ángel Saavedra*
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Provinces where the No vote dominated the referendum request that their decision be respected.

Despite the success of the government’s proposal in the referendum that took place on May 7, the indigenous movement in Ecuador — which supported the “No” vote during the plebiscite — consolidated its electoral power by winning in 11 provinces where its communities have a majority presence, and in doing so, demonstrated that it is still the primary social force in the country.

Although the approval of the 10 questions posed in the referendum and popular consultation, which certainly turned into a way to endorse — or not — the president’s administration, signaled a victory for the national government with 47.2 percent of the votes, compared with 41 percent who rejected the proposal, the triumph still taught the government a few lessons as it did not expect to be beaten in half of Ecuador’s provinces — in the Sierra and in the Amazon — and as was the case in the Amazonian provinces, with a margin of up to 30 percentage points.

The more than 11 million voters had to decide on five questions about constitutional amendments and five queries requested by President Rafael Correa, including judiciary reform and the scope of preventative detention, media regulations, a ban on gambling and killing animals for entertainment, penalization for workers’ non-affiliation with social security and the criminalization of unsubstantiated increases in private wealth

Following a euphoric moment triggered by poorly implemented exit polls, Correa then had an agonizing wait for results before proclaiming himself the winner, especially given that smaller provinces were finalizing their counts and indicating a win for “No” votes. Ultimately, the two largest coastal provinces, Guayas and Manabí, gave Correa a comfortable victory, while in the two largest provinces of the Sierra, Pichincha and Azuay, the winning margin was well under the government’s expectations, though they finally ended up supporting the nation-wide “Yes” victory.

The indigenous movement represented by the Confederation of Indigenous Nationalities of Ecuador, or CONAIE, claimed success with the indigenous people in the provinces as a grassroots victory, despite the government’s intent to fraction the movement by attracting the communities with agricultural programs and gifts of livestock.

Sovereign decision
César Umajinga, prefect, or elected head, of the Provincial Government of Cotopaxi, where the “No” vote led by a margin of 17 percent, urged the government to respect the decision and refrain from implementing changes in the judiciary, as well as control of the media, in the province under his leadership.

Correa reacted by confirming that the win was nationwide, and the proposed reforms would be applied throughout the country. Umajinga, for his part, swore that his province would make use of the right to resistance, considering the large margin with which the presidential proposals were defeated there.

Although in the Sierra — except in Pichincha, Imbabura and Azuay— the “No” vote won by a comfortable margin, which was a major setback for Correa, in the Amazon the triumph of the “No” vote was even more significant. In five of the six Amazonian provinces, “No” won with levels between 56 percent and 62 percent, especially in Zamora Chinchipe and Morona Santiago, which are now threatened with the implementation of large-scale mining projects.

Salvador Quishpe, prefect of the Provincial Government of Zamora Chinchipe, claimed that the win for the “No” votes in his province was a rejection of the mining programs.
“Here the people said no to mining and we are going to make sure that decision is respected,” he said in a statement from the Prefecture he heads.

The win for the “No” vote in the Amazonian provinces signaled support for local officials frequently harassed by the government, which brands them the enemies of Correa’s so-called “Citizens’ Revolution” for opposing the exploitation of natural resources at the expense of the rights of nature.

This win is an endorsement of Guadalupe Llori, in Orellana, whom the government held captive for almost a year; it is support for Salvador Quishpe, prefect of Zamora Chinchipe, on trial now for opposing mining, and for all of the local mayors that fight to maintain a clean environment,” former constituent assembly member Mónica Chuji told Latinamerica Press.

Llori, ex governor (an Interior Ministry-appointed position) of the province of Orellana, was detained following social protests in December 2007 during which the community demanded that the oil firms hire more local workers. As a result, the government declared a state of emergency and arrested the governor on accusations of terrorism, sabotage and fraud. Llori was imprisoned until September 2008.

Government does not understand the message
It is clear that the electoral niche Correa and his Alianza País movement have has suffered a marked deterioration, given the 81.7 percent approval rating obtained in a 2007 consultation for a Constituent Assembly, a number which dropped to 47.22 percent in this referendum. This percentage reflects the drop in popular confidence and, more than anything, the series of social moments that left behind the Citizens’ Revolution plan, which increasingly seems to be concentrated in the electorate that characterized the populist right.

“The result of this vote should be analyzed from a class perspective, as it is evident that Correa has moved toward the populism of the big coastal cities, especially Guayaquil, where there is a broad populist base, located in lowest quintiles of the marginal urban population,” Ombudsman Fernando Gutiérrez told Latinamerica Press.

Gutiérrez emphasizes the shift in the vote for Correa, who in the last five elections had been favored by the electorate of the Sierra and the Amazon.

“The vote of the Sierra and Amazon has historically been an ideological vote anchored on the left, therefore supporting Correa’s initial project; but as this ideological position weakened within the government and was replaced by right-leaning economic positions, Correa’s support fell in the Sierra and Amazon, and has turned toward the populist right, concentrating on the coast,” said Gutiérrez.

For Correa and Alianza País’s political bureau, it is necessary to rebuild confidence in the provinces where they lost, and they plan to do more social investment, according to Coordinating Minister for Policies Doris Soliz.

“We need to concentrate more resources in the provinces where we lost to regain confidence for the president,” Soliz said to the press.

However, investment has not been synonymous with votes, as demonstrated in the province of Cotopaxi, where the government’s social investment has been strong, but when time came to vote, indigenous theories prevailed.

“We have told our people that if the government brings sheep, they should take the sheep, that if they bring shovels, they should grab the shovels. But when voting, do not be fooled by the gifts,” indigenous assembly member Lourdes Tibán told reporters to explain the vote in the province of Cotopaxi.
The national government, by not accepting that its defeat in the indigenous provinces is a warning, is putting at risk the continuity of a political project that began with the participation of the main leftist social movements and indigenous peoples.

“It’s necessary to reevaluate within the government what the left is. This is the only way to bring any continuity to the citizens’ revolution,” said Gutiérrez.
—Latinamerica Press.


Indigenous leaders consider referendum results a grassroots victory. (Photo: Andrea Cuji)
Latinamerica Press / Noticias Aliadas
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