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Indigenous people lose spaces for their own development
Luis Ángel Saavedra*
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Disappearance of public institutions on indigenous education and health threatens ancestral languages and customs.

Although the Ecuadoran Constitution declares the country to be plurinational, the government has dismantled the institutions that sustain indigenous development in line with the communities’ needs and world vision. The new policy seeks to centralize all planning in one agency, the National Secretariat for Planning and Development, or SENPLADES, which will look at development from the perspective of economic indicators and wealth accumulation.

This dismantling, launched after the 2008 Constitution was approved and further intensified in the National Plan for Good Living 2009-2013, not only applies to indigenous institutions, but to all those groups who planned their own development independently, like women, people with disabilities, children and adolescents, among others. They have been replaced with so-called “Counsels for Equality,” and folded into SENPLADES, where they produce thematic agendas to incorporate into the National Plan for Good Living, conceived as a comprehensive plan for the development of the country. While it is a general policy covering all of these groups, the implementation of SENPLADES has focused particularly on dismantling indigenous institutions.

The Development Council of the Nations and Peoples of Ecuador, or CODENPE, has been the flagship indigenous institution. Its origin is in the uprisings of 1990, 1992 and 1994, which forced the government to design agencies that responded to this sector’s specific problems. During the administrations of Presidents Rodrigo Borja (1988-1992) and Sixto Durán Ballén (1992-96), offices on indigenous affairs were created under the Executive branch, but had no indigenous participation and were managed according to political interests and alliances.

In 1997, after the ouster of President Abdalá Bucaram (1996-97), the indigenous people demanded the convocation of a constituent assembly that would transform the structure of the state, recognizing the existence of their peoples and nations. The interim government of Fabián Alarcón (1997-1998) responded with the creation of the Council for Planning and Development of the Indigenous and Black Communities, but it was not enough.

Finally, with the 1998 Constitution, which recognizes collective rights, CODENPE was created as a public institution with its own budget, headed by indigenous people and responsible for promoting these rights and autonomously planning their development. CODENPE reached its pinnacle on Sept. 21, 2007, when the Law on Public Institutions of Indigenous Peoples of Ecuador was enacted, which specified the communities’ role in designing public policies, and planning and executing development programs and projects.

Correa’s revenge

In January 2009, the indigenous movement staged a march in defense of water and against a law that facilitated large-scale mining. On Jan. 20 of that year, President Rafael Correa removed CODENPE’s budget, which amounted to US$12 million monthly, arguing that those funds were financing the indigenous protest. Four days later the president announced the closure of the agency, and the transition to the Counsels for Equality, though CODENPE couldn’t be legally shut down that way. It was created by a law and only the National Assembly could vote with a two-thirds majority to eliminate it. Unable to shutter the organization, Correa then suppressed its powers.

Ángel Medina, an indigenous Kichwa Saraguro and current executive director of CODENPE, said the transition process was consulted with the indigenous nations and communities. What they want, he said, is that through the Counsels for Equality, “the indigenous demands crosscut planning and management in the entire state structure.”

Assemblywoman Lourdes Tibán, an indigenous Kichwa, denied that the indigenous people have an impact in SENPLADES, stating that “Correa wants to relegate indigenous development and seeks to eliminate an institution that is the result of the indigenous struggle,” while for Amazonian Kichwa indigenous leader Mónica Chuji Gualinga, what was done with CODENPE is “another example of racism and authoritarianism of President Correa.”

Indigenous education and health institutions were also affected by the elimination of their autonomy and budget cuts.

Indigenous education was regulated by the National Directorate of Intercultural Bilingual Education, or DINEIB, which was created in November 1988 and managed by the indigenous community. Its mission was to transmit, along with basic education, the ancestral knowledge, customs, and traditions in the mother tongue of the community or nation where each of its more than 2,100 schools was located.

Correa accused indigenous officials of using bilingual education as political token fought over by the large organizations that represent them and, in November 2010, announced his intent to reform the administration of indigenous education and put it under the Ministry of Education, with the creation of the Intercultural Education Law.

The indigenous protest did not prevent the enforcement of the new law and the creation of the Under-secretariat of Intercultural Bilingual Education, which took over management of existing bilingual schools.

 Closing indigenous bilingual schools and health networks

The new Educational Management Model included under the Intercultural Education Law,and the creation by the current administration of so-called “Millennium Schools” (education centers in low-income communities equipped with the latest technology) have led to the closure of smaller bilingual schools because, in the absence of educational tools, parents prefer their children to go to the Millennium Schools, which follow the guidelines of mixed education.

Likewise, the incorporation into the Ministry of Health of indigenous health networks, which reached out to far-flung communities through healthcare workers and incorporated ancestral and Western methods, has eliminated their sense of purpose and put them on the path toward extinction.

“Small schools are closing and families are migrating toward population centers where the Millennium Schools are being built. This is triggering the abandonment of the countryside and increasing extreme poverty,” said the campesino leader Diocles Zambrano, coordinator of the Ángel Shingre Network of Community Leaders, of El Coca, in the Amazonian province of Orellana.

There is the same worry for the Association of Young Kichwas of Cascales, in the Amazonian province of Sucumbíos.

“It’s possible that we, the young indigenous population, will be the last generation to speak an ancestral language,” said the group’s coordinator, Tonny Chimbo. —Latinamerica Press.


In addition to basic education, indigenous schools also pass on ancestral knowledge to students. (Photo: Luis Ángel Saavedra)
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Latinamerica Press / Noticias Aliadas
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