A monthly publication of the Institute for Indigenous Sciences and Cultures (IISC)
Year III, No 24, March 2001
General Edition: Pablo Davalos
Editorial Direction: Luis Macas
Translation: Gerard Coffey
Electronic Edition: Marc Becker
También disponible en español.
Significance of the Uprising of February 2001
1. Another view point taking shape?
Ecuadorian society has a challenge: that of beginning to listen to itself, to look in the eye of its history and recognise its
memory, its past, which is also present and possible. To understand that its history does not begin with the founding of a
bourgeois republic, nor that its possibilities were exhausted with its museum heroes.
To know and recognise the diversity of peoples, cultures and histories of which it is comprised. Ecuadorian society must
leave behind the ghosts of the past, must forget the racial prejudices, and begin to construct a world more in harmony with
the new millennium.
It is clear that a task of this nature brings with it significant changes in discourse, daily practice, and in its political and social
rituals. It is also clear that a profound change can be seen between the way in which society assimilated the uprising of 1990
and that of February 2001, which makes one presume that something has changed in our society, something fundamental,
and of enormous importance.
Indeed, when the uprising of 1990 took place, an editorial in the Guayaquil daily newspaper, El Universo, read as follows:
"the recent uprisings and the forms of protest of the indigenous groups merit a number of comments. Amongst other things,
they coincide with the elections and therefore give rise to the suspicion ...... that mixed up in it all are manoeuvres related to
In the same way the National Director of the Democratic Left Party, which was the governing party at that time, stated that:
"some of the indigenous communities are being politically manipulated by known agitators..... who seek to destabilise
democracy in the country at all cost, under a cloak of violence. Even the President of the day, the social democrat, Rodrigo
Borja, could not believe that the indigenous peoples had revolted during his mandate. "I would like to say to the campesinos
of my country, to the communeros of the entire country" he stated in the official press " that in 500 years no government of
either the republican of the colonial era, has done as much to resolve the problems of the indigenous communities, as has my
Indigenous people who were "manipulated", and "wretched", "intent on destabilising democracy", who had generated a
movement which was under the influence of "shadowy interests", amongst other phrases, were the expressions with which
the indigenous movement was qualified, codified, registered, and pigeonholed. Expressions which reveal a way of seeing and
a way of acting.
It is a view related to the Hacienda system. To feudal power relations, and in which the "indian" was not even recognised as
a human being.
A vision which had built up cultural and symbolic significance around the idea of the "indian" which were based almost of
necessity on humiliation, failure, defeat and misery. For a society which has made the ideology of success its leit motiv and
the conditioner of its value structure, the "indian" was completely outside its coordinates of positive value. To discard the
"indian" and to shape it as the antithesis of the ideology of success, was the indispensable condition for achieving
"modernity", "progress", and "growth".
Given this ideology, to see oneself as indigenous was (and still is?) almost a heroic act. It involved the recognition that, from
the beginning, there were no possibilities within the society in which one lived. To speak Quichua or any other indigenous
language, implied closing off the possibilities of a dignified life. To dress in different way was to be exposed to public scorn.
Society did not understand how it was possible that these peoples held firmly onto the past, when all the possibilities lay in a
future of progress and development. Staking all on development, growth, and modernisation, and leaving behind the
obstacles of culture and tradition, this is the nucleus of the dominant ideology.
A decade later, Ecuadorian society began to look on the indigenous peoples with different eyes, and began to look at itself,
and in this view it rediscovered and re-encountered itself. It saw itself to be a complex amalgam of identities and differences.
It is not enough ignore and reject the others, because this clearly involves the refusal to know oneself, it is now a matter of
understanding why the alienation has taken place, which historical conditions structured that view point of exclusion,
authoritarianism, violence. It is a matter of change But it is a profound change that involves the transformation of the
symbolic, of cultural references, of all the constructions of the dominant ideology. A change which cuts across all
dimensions of society, its politics, its institutions, its codes, its norms.
From the time of the uprising of February 2001, a new image and new vision begin to take shape around the indian and the
indigenous. Now, the indigenous does not necessarily embody defeat. Society, astonished, has seen that the indigenous
people posses a level of organisation which could possibly shake the structures of power. It sees that they have a political
proposal. That they have identity, and that this identity acts as a system of recognition which provides solidity, coherence
and strength to their demands.
It is indicative, for example, how the national press speaks about the "indians" after the last uprising. It would now occur to
no one, not even those editorialists or journalists most unwilling to cede political credit to the indigenous movement, to say
that the indigenous peoples are "manipulated", or that they respond to "shadowy interests". Neither would they refer to them
as "wretched". In the main they are editorialists and writers that lived the through1990 uprising, and who now look at the
indigenous people and their organisational movement, in a different light. Since that time, the emergence of a new vision
can be seen, of a new point of view related to the "inidan", which takes these transformations into account, transformations
which, due to their everyday occurrence, seem of little importance, but which in reality constitute the most important
processes of social transformation and historical change that a society can undergo.
The process of becoming visible, which began in 1990, has generated a new vision. The whole of society now recognises the
indigenous movement as a legitimate social actor. There is now the awareness that the indigenous people are not a
"problem", nor a "question" to be debated from a paternalistic, "helping" or racist point of view. They are part of the social,
cultural, ideological and symbolic core and structure of the entire society. Their presence ratifies our presence, in the same
way that their absence implied a real absence of society in the recognition of its history.
Political Conjuncture and the Indigenous Movement:
Elements for Analysis
The author attempts an analysis of the conjuncture in which the Ecuadorian indigenous movement finds itself after the
latest uprising, but based on a perspective of the advances made by the indigenous movement during the last decade. Thus,
the author suggests that there are a number of outstanding issues on the agenda of the indigenous movement, such as the
content of the political restructuring of the state. Also presented are the risks, contradictions, and paradoxes which recent
events, such as the negotiations between the government and the indigenous movement bring with them.
Each historical era has its own logic, its own framework, its own complexity. It is part of the past yet at the same time is a
precondition for the future. To attempt an interpretative reading of these snap shots in historical time, is a difficult and
complex task, as it involves a separation between the individual and his/her place in time. A separation which is, however,
necessary in order to be able to visualise and understand the conjuncture as part of a more long term process.
Within the present conjuncture, the indigenous uprising of February 2001 is turning out to be a fundamental political event,
an event inscribed in a political process initiated by the indigenous movement a number of decades ago, and which presently
has been slowly involving the whole of society in the definition of new tasks, under new discourses. This recent uprising has
provided a new reading, a new appreciation and a new vision of the indigenous peoples, their project, their organisational
structures and their relationship to the country.
The February indigenous uprising left the sensation that the so called "indigenous problem" is, in reality, a national problem
which belongs to all of us. And that this problem is necessarily linked to the forms that our democracy, our economic
system, our national references, and our history have taken.
2. A radical critique of the State: a vacuum to be filled
Since the uprising of 1990, the indigenous uprisings, as political forms of expression and presentation of new issues for
national debate, have contributed to the positioning of the political proposals of the indigenous movement. This was the case
in 1990, when they proposed the plurinational character of the Ecuadorian state, a proposal which took a major forward
step in 1998 in the National Constituent Assembly. And again in 1994, when a proposal for the capitalist modernisation of
agriculture was defeated, and the need for a national policy of food security and sovereignty was placed on the table; also in
1997 when president Bucaram was deposed and precautions were taken against the risks of monetary convertibility; and in
2000 when, after the downfall of President Mahuad, a short lived government was formed in which the President of
It is precisely the uprising of January 2000 which opened up the possibility of a national debate on the political reform of the
Ecuadorian state. In effect, when in January 2000 the indigenous movement produced the coup which led to Mahuad's
downfall, CONAIE's proposal was to change the functions of the state (the executive, the legislature, and the Courts of
Justice) functions which were the product of a system of representation, election and participation which were sustained and
given legitimacy by the representative democracy discourse.
What this implied in reality was a fundamental and radical questioning on the part of CONAIE, with the implicit support of a
large part of the population, of the forms and systems of political representation, its institutional nature, its procedures, its
codes and its norms. A questioning which made evident the need to establish a debate on the structure of power, the links
between that power and the state's mechanisms of political management , and the almost unavoidable need to reform the
institutional framework of the state, at the same time as giving rise to new content for the discourse of democracy,
representation and popular participation.
CONAIE's political objective flowed from a different conception of the state and democracy, but one for which it had not
been possible to develop procedural content, theoretical proposals, and to an even lesser degree social legitimacy. In fact an
attempt was made to wipe out, at a single stroke, state functions which had shown themselves to be more a part of the
power structure, than a set of institutions outside of it, but what was not stated was which institutions, or by means of what
plans or proposals they were going to be replaced.
This opened up a type of empty space which was never filled by the indigenous movement, but which, at the same time, left
a deep question hanging over the existing institutions. A questioning, it is worth underlining, which enjoyed a social
legitimacy, to the extent that the citizenry felt disarmed and impotent in the face of institutions which had used all their
power to pass the cost of the crisis on to them.
If the system of political representation, and its institutions, does not perform the functions for which, theoretically, it has
been created, and on the basis of which, in a manner of speaking, the social contract was constructed, its questioning was
fair, as was CONAIE's proposal for reform.
But the indigenous people have said nothing about the content of this reform proposal. In other words, the most basic level
of the present debate did not have references to guide its movement, on the basis of which to define positions, or, at least, to
propose new alternatives. The space for debate was opened, but the power structure attempted to close immediately.
In fact, it was precisely the defence of institutionality and democracy, which allowed the power vacuums that were created
on the 21st of January 2000, to be legitimated and repaired. It was said that the indigenous peoples, together with the mid
rank military officers, intended to destroy the prevailing order, i.e. democracy, its system of participation, its procedural
logics and its institutions, and to install a dictatorship.
On the ideological level it was insisted that the worst of democracies is preferable to the best of dictatorships. But this was
no more than an ideological defence whose objective was to close off a debate, opened on the 21st of January, which was
related to questioning the use of democracy, its system of participation, and its institutions solely for the benefit of the
economic, financial and political elites.
It was not a matter, from that point on, of extending the real limits to which democracy had retreated, for example its
corporate character and its overlap with the principal economic groups which control and manipulate the country, its
patrimonial character which facilitates local chiefs and political bosses, nor the perversion of patronage which its
representative system had adopted, and its procedural system which generated an enormous amount of corruption in the
management of the public administration.
CONAIE's demand for the destitution of the three functions of the state, cut the ground out from underneath a whole
judicial, political, ideological and even deontological framework related to democracy. But CONAIE did not propose a new
framework, did not have the opportunity to propose an alternative to the prevailing system, or at very least to propose
guidelines for what these alternatives might be, and how they could be derived from the proposal of plurinationality and
interculturality. For the indigenous movement It is a matter of a job outstanding, of a space which needs to be filled with
different contents, and which, in the long run, will become the key to the national debate on democracy, social participation
and popular sovereignty.
3. The need for the political reform of the state and the coincidences with the calls for autonomy.
The closure of this debate did not in any way signify that it had become irrelevant. To the extent that the debate touched on
issues related to the character that the construction of the state and its forms of representation and management had
assumed, it coincided directly with the criticisms coming from the other side of the divide, those of the banking, industrial
and commercial sectors of the city of Guayaquil, which were related to the bureaucratic and centralist nature of the state,
and with their requests for local autonomy. Thus, two critiques of the state, arising from different and antithetical positions,
came together to urgently call for a radical political reform.
Indeed, when CONAIE carried out the uprising of the 21st of January 2000 and brought down President Mahuad, it did so
with a discourse which had clearly political elements, and which pointed in two directions: to the judicial-institutional
structure of the state, and to the discourse which legitimated and sustained the state's representative system, the discourse
of representative democracy.
CONAIE also presented a criticism of the state, of its centralised decision making model, its authoritarianism, its corporate
character and its attachment to the power groups and elites, and in this way it placed itself firmly in the debate over the
political reform of the state. A troubling and inopportune coincidence for the elites of the City of Guayaquil. And so, since
the 21st of January 2000, the debate which the latter promoted over decentralisation and autonomy, little by little has lost
In fact, for these elites to insist on this debate, signified for them, for better or worse, coinciding with the criteria of the
criticisms made by CONAIE or, in any case, to take a position regarding them, which would have meant recognising
CONAIE and the indigenous movement as official negotiators in the debate over decentralisation, autonomy and the
political reform of the state. A privilege which had always been reserved for the elites, above all those from Guayaquil.
This implies that throughout the year 2000 and up to the present in 2001, it would appear that the debate over
decentralisation and autonomy has been exhausted, not so much in relation to changing the public administration model, but
rather regarding the possibility of debating the political reform of the state. This exhaustion of the discourse find its
correlation in the political force taken on by the indigenous movement during this period. And so, within the strategic action
of the elites, there was an attempt made to close off the possibilities for action of a new political actor, the indigenous
movement, whose logic of action were outside the forms of control which the elites had created for society.
4. The uprising of February 2001: paradoxes and contradictions
It is in this context of political redefinitions and strategic readjustments, both on the part of government and social actors,
that the indigenous uprising of February 2001 took place. In contrast to other uprisings the last encountered a whole
historical, political and organisational background, which provided a new dimension to this political action.
This time around the indigenous people posses real possibilities for achieving power , while their movement presents the
most efficient and legitimate counterforce presently active in Ecuadorian society. While it lasted, the new uprising left the
entire democratic framework up in the air, and restricted the government's room for manoeuvre in such a way as to place it
in a defensive position from the very first moment; finally turning it into political actor with no ability to define state policies
without the help, the vigilance and approval of the indigenous movement.
This is an unheard of event in Ecuadorian politics. While it is certain that "talks" have been held between government and
the indigenous peoples, above all during the brief period of the Mahuad administration, the difference here lies in the fact
that the "talks" which emerged from the February uprising, proscribe the real possibilities of the whole of a professedly
national government, and provides the Ecuadorian indigenous movement with decision making capacity on national issues.
On the internal level, this is the first uprising in which almost the entire range of indigenous organisations participated in a
unified and virtually organic way. The very fact of assuming a task of such proportions implied that the discourses within the
movement had to be harmonised, that tasks be prioritised and that action be made coherent and organic in the face of the
This involved a higher level of internal awareness within the indigenous movement, a consciousness of strategic unity, of
united action, an awareness that within the movement there exist different political expressions, the particular nature of
which must be respected, and that this organisational diversity can guarantee the building of a joint political project.
Awareness that the best guarantee of becoming an option for power, is, in fact, unity.
The national indigenous organisations took on the political direction of the February uprising under the watchful eye of its
grassroots. Whether they want to or not, they are moving together, and the mere fact of being together generates the
consciousness of their power.
They can now let go of allies considered strategic in the past. On the one hand, this makes it possible to measure the real
power of the indigenous movement, it ability to mobilise, and its capacity to propose.
In previous uprisings it was thought that the ability to mobilise was simply an adjunct to the key participation of other
actors, such as in the case of the taxi drivers in the uprising of June 1999, or the military in January 2000.
The official view, which is also the view of almost the whole of a society shot through with a deep seated racism which
literally stops it from seeing the other, did not see, or did not want to recognise, the indigenous movement's ability to
mobilise and organise. It was always thought, and in fact presented as such in even the most recent studies and books on the
fall of Mahuad, that the indigenous people and their organisation were an auxiliary factor, almost an accessory, to the real
power factors present in those events.
In the indigenous uprising of February 2001, the indigenous people went on alone, and it is, therefore, possible to measure
their political and strategic capabilities. While it is clear that they were backed by a large segment of the population, for a
number of reasons this support was never manifested in direct organisational support. Amongst these reasons could be
mentioned: the lack of organisational spaces for some sectors of the middle class, the fear of repression, the political
opportunism of other social actors etc.
If the indigenous people are the sole promoters of the uprising, and are not able to make links with other sectors, actors or
social movements, then the uprising is presented to society in general as a conflict between the indigenous people and the
state. This limits the political ability of the movement and takes away legitimacy, above all the legitimacy of becoming a
national focus of resistance and struggle against the dominant political and economic model.
Separated from the rest of society, the indigenous movement, with all its strength, legitimacy and credibility, does not posses
the political force to promote a national plan, and to present its critique of the state, of democracy and its system of political
representation. Its accumulated strength could become a tool for negotiating certain specific issues, but not for the
negotiation of a system of political and economic power.
The fact of coming forward alone, as the most important societal social actor and political being, gives it a force previously
unknown to the movement, but at the same time it creates vacuums which contribute both to its isolation from society as a
whole, and to making it into the sector best organised sector, but one lacking the possibility of becoming a national focal
For the indigenous people dialogue is part of their ancestral tradition. The community always comes to agreement, without
excluding anyone, over the most important aspects of its life. Indeed, the indigenous movement has always proposed
dialogue as a way to put an end to conflict and to come to agreement over the basis for consensus. In the indigenous world,
dialogue is not tied to fixed time frames, nor does it have fixed agendas. It is held with the participation of the whole of the
community, where the authority of the "ancient ones" or "elders", as they themselves prefer to be called, is a determining
However, this dialogue, as a historical condition for the social regulation of conflicts within the community, appears to have
little or nothing to do with the process which resulted from the uprisings.
If the indigenous peoples propose dialogue as the way to resolve conflicts, and if this request is made in the context of an
uprising, it involves an implicit recognition that society has closed off its avenues for talks, and that politics, that is, the
business of the Polis, is not a matter to be resolved by means of dialogue and consensus, and that the systems of political
representation have not incorporated within themselves the mechanism of dialogue.
In other words, Ecuadorian democracy, as it is presently conceived, structured, and legitimised in its procedural and
institutional framework, uses neither consensus nor dialogue to resolve and process conflicts within society.
As such, democracy as a political system, must incorporate the mechanism of dialogue and consensus in both an
institutional and procedural way. And perhaps this will be the indigenous people's major contribution to the present political
system. Of course, the recognition of dialogue, implies an acceptance of the fact that democracy needs to incorporate it
within its own dynamic. But given the structure of power relations in Ecuador, the dialogue that emerges as a condition of
conflict resolution, is located within a dynamic in which everything is used strategically by the power structure itself.
In effect, any possibilities, any discourses, or proposals are integrated into the needs of the elites and the structures of
power. This practice of the strategic use of any possibility for human communication, is part of the logic of power.
And so the "talks", even though they present contradictory processes in which the indigenous movement become both the
questioner and the political actor capable of defining, discussing and approving the design of state policies, also demonstrate
a political manipulation on the part of the regime, by which it has managed to turn the movement into an isolated actor, the
justice and legitimacy of whose demands will not permit it to become a spokesperson or a focal point for other social
actors. The talks also allow the regime to buy political time, demobilising the indigenous movement by fully incorporating it
into the dynamics of the dialogue.
There is no doubt that this is a contradictory, and apparently paradoxical, process, but one which reveals the enormous
complexity of the present political conjuncture in Ecuador. According to the way in which these conflicts, these strategic
positions, and these projects of different societies are eventually resolved, tomorrow's history will be structured. The
political time of the future is conditioned by what is done or what is left undone in the present. And at the present time, the
indigenous people are radically transforming the traditional scenarios of politics and power. This leads us to think that
perhaps this new decade will be also another decade "won" by the Ecuadorian Indigenous Movement.
The Indigenous Uprising of 2001
Julián Guamán Gualli
Taking up the line of thinking prevelant since the beginning of the recent indigenous uprising, the author proposes a new
reading of this political event. A recount is made of the particular features of the uprising, above all those related to one of
its participants, FEINE, and also to one of its most important regional movements, that of Chimborazo. The author
proposes that in the same way that the Salesian University in Quito became a focal point which attracted the world
attention to the uprising, the occupation of the Cathedral in Riobamba had the same political effect.
One year after the fall of the ex Christian Democrat President Mahuad, between the 26th of January and the 7th of January
of this present year, Ecuador experienced another indigenous uprising, one more powerful than those of 1990, 1994, and
The objective of this article is to explain the socio-economic and political context of the country and the context of the
indigenous organisations at the time of the uprising, and the process and lessons of the uprising itself. The analysis will be
made with the intention of underlining the strength of the unity of the organisations which make up the indigenous
Economic, social and political context
After the popular and indigenous rebellion which brought about the downfall of ex president Mahuad on the 21st of January
2001, the present president Noboa made no modifications to the country's political economy, but, rather, continued with the
application of the market based economic model, the application of the IMF recipe of structural adjustment, and in particular
with the dollarisation proposal, the maximum expression of the neoliberal model. At the same time he continued with the
bailout of the banking sector and allowed corruption to go unchecked.
In terms of social indicators, poverty levels reached 85% of the population; the concentration of wealth and income is
alarming: the poorest 10% of the population has only 0.6% of total income, while the richest 10% has 42.5% of income;
unemployment stands at 18%; 50% of children are undernourished; and more than 170,000 Ecuadorians have migrated in
search of better times in the exterior. The external debt has also risen above U.S.$16,000 million, for which reason
approximately 50% of the national budget is destined for service of same. Inflation has also not been brought under control,
reaching 105% in 2000, in the same period that the dollarisation was brought into effect. (Sources, UNICEF, UNDP, and
Ecuadorian Central Bank)
However, the event which lead directly to the uprising of 2001, was the implementation of the economic measures taken
between Christmas and New Year. The measures were characterised by an increase in the price of gasoline, diesel, and gas
for domestic use; the increase in the cost of electricity and basic services; as a result, the cost of transportation and basic
products rose between 25 and 100%.
What upset the indigenous and popular sectors were the proposals for compensation (the sale of Kerex, and poverty
bonuses), the fact that the funds collected through the new economic package were to be used to support the bankrupt
private banks and to service of the country's external debt; the possibility that private sector debts would be forgiven, and
the payment of huge salaries to government officials; at the same time that two of every ten Ecuadorians has an income of
less than one dollar per day.
Also adding to the anger were the proposal to raise the Value Added Tax from 12 to 15% and the reduction of income tax
rates for the highest earners from 25 to 20%. In other words, these measures only succeed in further squeezing further the
miserable economy of the majority of Ecuadorians and in fattening the pockets of a close circle of business men. That is to
say, the measures only further increased poverty, inequality and therefore the exclusion of millions of indigenous and
Context of the Indigenous movement
Despite the fact that the indigenous movement, its principal organisations (CONAIE, the Confederation of Ecuadorian
Indigenous peoples, FEINE, the Council of Ecuadorian Evangelical Peoples and Organisations, and FENOCIN, the National
Federation of Campesino, Indigenous and Negro Organisations), and their political arms (Patchakutik - CONAIE, and
Amauta Jatari - FEINE), reached third place in the local elections of May 2000, it was suffering from internal conflicts, and
had been discredited as a result of the uprising called for September 2000.
The conflicts were made evident by, and were confined to, an internal test of strength and the struggle for representation and
participation in state indigenous institutions, particularly the Ecuadorian Nationalities Development Council (CODENPE)
and the Indigenous and Negro peoples Development Project (PRODEPINE)
CONAIE also made its mistakes, such as in the collection of signatures for the popular plebiscite proposal; in the fact that
the indigenous uprising called for September of 2000 did not find an echo in the grassroots; while the declaration of the
leaders of FEINE and FENOCIN, also important organisations, as personas non grata, made relations between the
The process of the uprising
And so, how is an indigenous uprising organised if the most important sector of Ecuadorian society is both discredited and
enveloped in conflict?. Seemingly, the dispute was located within the national and provincial leaderships, while the
grassroots were more expectant and purposeful; and from this we can understand how pressure from the grassroots was
decisive in ensuring that ECUARUNARI (the Regional organisation of CONAIE in the Sierra), FEINE, FENOCIN, and
other campesino organisations sat down to talk about the painful situation of the majority of Ecuadorians and thus promoted
In fact, the indigenous sector of Cotopaxi had blocked certain sectors of the Pan American Highway in the central mountain
region a week before the uprising, and, as a result of the violence and brutality of the military and police, several dozen
people were hurt and arrested. This precipitated the decision of the three national organisations to call for an indigenous
uprising, "Minga por la Vida" on the national level.
On the 26th of January, in Calpi, Province of Chimborazo, the three organisations and their respective provincial arms called
for the uprising, with the idea of pressuring the government for the repeal of the economic measures both from Quito and
from the Capitals of the Cantons of each province. To achieve this, the principal leaders of the organisations, communities
and churches were to travel to Quito accompanied by their advisers and locate themselves in the Salesian University, while
the rest of the leaders were to assume responsibility for the mobilisation and uprising on the local and provincial level.
In the province of Chimborazo, it was the indigenous evangelical churches that were the first to take up the call and to block
the principal roads by which produce entered the city of Riobamba, with the objective of winning over the urban - mestizo
sector; later. Little by little the organisations of the various regions and provinces of the country joined in, until activity in
the entire country was blocked, causing, according to the Chambers of Commerce and Production, a loss of around 30
million dollars per day.
An important event which took place on the 30th of January in the City of Riobamba in the central mountain region, was the
ecumenical march in support of the uprising. The march drew close to 40,000 people and lead to the occupation of the
Cathedral of the Diocesis of Riobamba by 70 indigenous Catholics, Evangelical pastors, and community leaders, who
remained there until the last day of the uprising.
We would not hesitate to say that the uprising had two nerve centres; one in Quito with the brothers and sisters of the
Salesian University, and the other in Riobamba, in the Cathedral.
On Friday the 2nd of February, after the talks between the indigenous movement and the government, facilitated by a
Mediating Commission (comprised of representatives of Human Rights organisations, The Association of Municipalities; the
Church in Riobamba, The Council of Latin American Churches and others), were broken off due to the brutality of the
police and military which had caused the deaths of four people in the city of Tena, Province of Napo, the government,
bowing to pressure from the Chambers of Commerce and Production, and with the idea of dislocating the uprising, decreed
a state of emergency; denying the basic rights of freedom of association, movement. Only the right to freedom of expression
was left untouched.
The government's and the Chambers intention was thwarted by the massive, and strategic, support that the indigenous
brothers and sisters received from the urban population. At the same time, the increase of repression and violence which
had already caused the deaths of seven protesters, injured dozens, and lead to the arrest of hundreds, together with the
national and international social pressure, forced the government to re-establish a dialogue on the highest level (ministers
and social-indigenous leaders). On the 6th of February, after many hours of work a document was made ready for signing,
and on the 7th the "Agreement between the National Government and the Ecuadorian Indigenous, Campesino and Social
Organisations" was signed.
Lessons from the Uprising
As part of the agreement, a number of important demands and proposals have been made, even though they do not represent
the entire Agenda for Dialogue originally presented. On the other hand, there has been an insistence in the revision of the
prices of domestic gas and of rural and urban transportation fares; the elimination of the proposal for the sale of kerex; the
increase in resources for the Ecuadorian Development Bank, in order to provide credit to small farmers and community
businesses; compensation for the injured and for the families of the dead; and the recovery of the bad debts of the banks
taken over by the state, amongst others.
One extremely important aspect of the agreement is that of having proposed a dialogue on fiscal, financial, monetary and
commercial policy proposals. The implication is that the indigenous sector must be a participant of the country's economic
decision making processes, which previously had been the reserve of the chambers of production and commerce, and of the
But, the Accord is being questioned, by those that argue that the indigenous sector made few gains in return for such a
major mobilisation and loss of life; it gave away a great deal and the government still came away strengthened. However, we
believe and think that we have gained, in that :
The unity of the indigenous organisations or movement has been strengthened, due to the fact that the governing and
economic cupola of the country worked systematically to discredit the indigenous movement, and to find ways to dislocate
it, and to create conflicts within it; and despite the fact that the indigenous organisations themselves fell into this trap.
This unity is expressed through the massive participation of the evangelical indigenous organisations, which was generally
not visible in previous uprisings due to the fact that while their leaders did not take the decision to participate, the grassroots
joined the protests on their own account. This time, both the grassroots (indigenous evangelical churches), as well as their
leaders, participated actively on a par with the other indigenous and social organisations.
And so, one of the most authoritarian governments which Ecuador has had was made to sit down and talk. The idea of the
present right wing government was to exercise its mandate in the style of a plantation owner. Ecuador is not its plantation,
there exist diverse social actors, therefore, in order to find consensus and govern, it has to listen and talk.
Once more a precedent was set for the multilateral agencies, that a country such as Ecuador, highly indebted by bad
governments, can not continue to apply the letter of the outdated recipe of structural adjustment, which only creates more
poverty and inequality. Since the nineteen eighties in Ecuador, as in the rest of Latin America, its application has been
negative. The state also must not continue to sacrifice its future, the population, to debt service, by reducing the budget for
The uprising allowed the establishment of ecumenical relations between the indigenous evangelical and catholic churches and
between the catholic and evangelical indigenous leaders. During the uprising, ecumenical services were held in Riobamba
and in other places. This is important, as historically the evangelical sector has been virtually unrecognised by society, and
even less by the Catholic Church.
In summary, the indigenous movement, has once again initiated a national debate on the issue of the restructuring of the
economic and political apparatus of the country, as a way to achieve a more equitable distribution of the income and wealth
of the country, and thus a developed Ecuador.
A clear lesson is that social and economic problems are not resolved by changing presidents, but rather that it is necessary to
form long term state policies directed at the poorest and most vulnerable sectors of society in order to transform the
economic and social reality. However, mestizo society, the politicians and the Ecuadorian business people must understand
that if there are no profound changes in the political and economic structure, the uprisings will continue, because the
indigenous sector has awoken to its power to demand and propose.
Seeking Their Own, Different, Voice:
The participation of women in the indigenous and campesino struggle
The author presents the difficult relationship between gender and culture, and links her analysis to proposals made by
groups of indigenous women, and to their organisational proposals, such as ECUARUNARI's Dolores Cacuango School
for Indigenous Women Leaders. She also proposes the need for a new reading of the evident conflicts of gender with those
|and they were slowly impressed
listening to the laughter
trembling with cold
looking toward the river
filled with the moon
flowing to the sea
|we are the threads of the poncho
alone the thread can be broken
woven into the poncho
no one can break them
Gender and Interculturality:
The need for a new perspective
Women have formed multiple theories, discourses, and practices which reveal a basic characteristic of past and
contemporary societies, that of patriarchal power and authority. From the strength of Eloise in a society in which women
simply did not exist, to the struggles of Flora Trista, Micaela Bastidas, Manuela León, Dolores Cacuango, Maria Luisa
Gomez de la Torre; women have sought their own forms of expression, their own voice, the many ways to build, dream and
live while still beneath the ramparts of a machismo sweetened "transversally" by programs, lines of action discourses,
mentions of gender.
Indigenous women locate their struggle of their organisations in the territory of the commune, and from the action and
presence taught them by other women; their grandmothers, their mothers, aunts and older sisters. In the community, women
are the essential transmitters of culture in the widest sense of the word.
The Kichwa language has been maintained as the language of the lullaby, the diminutive, the daily language of sweetness, the
errands, the asking of favours. The activities of raising children are, considering the immense range of community cultures,
the right of mother and father, in permanent communication with the families of both. The woman knows the agricultural
cycles linked to the moon. The man knows the methods of assisting with the birth and depositing the placenta of his wife
deep in the earth, and with this offering to exact a commitment to always nourish his son or daughter. They are not
relationships in which there is an absolute equality, but neither are they essentially relationships of patriarchal power.
However, it is possible to make some approximations to the delicate forms of relationship of women with their environment,
with the couple, with the family, with herself, detailing the gender perspectives which mark the pathways of society as a
The understanding of the roles assigned to women as part of the tradition of male power, as well as the way in which she
manages her family environment, being mother, companion, daughter, aunt; but also member of the community, a leader,
should be part of any reading of the indigenous woman. If for women in the urban environment of a westernised society,
insertion in the work force, acquiring a professional status, achieving salaries equal to those of men, became the tasks of the
women's movement in the past few decades, these are not the ways of understanding, nor the demands, that the indigenous
women seek for themselves.
The view of gender, the need for equity between the two genders, the transversal nature of women in projects, policies, and
structures of all kinds, has made progress and has found an important place in Ecuador. However by dint of being a woman,
and in general, excluded, she must necessarily link her understanding to the complexity of the indigenous reality, which is
important in both cultural and quantitative terms.
From Micaela Bastidas, the fighter who began the presence of the indigenous women in the uprisings of her people, to
Dolores Cacuango - Kichwa Cayambe - the inseparable companion of María Luisa Gomez - a mestizo; the process of
indigenous resistance and participation has been nourished by the presence of women*.
Within the Indigenous movement the participation of women is still found amongst the bonds of maintaining the integrity of
the family, in the roles of mother and father accumulated due to the exodus caused by poverty, even in the incomprehension
of fathers, husbands, brothers and even sons, confronted by active participation as organisational leaders or militants.
However, opportunities such as that provided by the "Dolores Cacuango" School for Women provide promote joint
reflection, the self esteem of each one, allowing the formation of valuable contributions to a "female being", with the colours
of the rainbow,: being a woman, a voice, to be a presence and a leadership in the indigenous world.
Woman and Native
A different complexity
This past eighth of march, the celebration of International Women's Day, associated with urban expressions in the minds of
many, was renovated by the participation of approximately one thousand indigenous and campesino women: Otovalos,
Chibuleas, Cayambis, Kichwas from the provinces of Cotopaxi, Napo, Pichincha and Bolivar, Salasacas, Saraguras, Negro
and Mulato women from the province of Esmeraldas, Pilahuinas, Shuaras, amongst others, who decided to occupy Quito.
The expression is not out of place. After fifteen years of celebration in the majority of provinces and cantons with indigenous
populations "their" 8th of march, reinforced by their participation, importance, presence and voice in the indigenous and
campesino uprising of this year, these women decided to hold their own celebration in Quito.
There was a joint announcement, the general slogan created by the women and expressed by Josefina Lema was "together
we worked on the logistics of the uprising, together we will continue in the political balance, together we will maintain the
unity of our people". Decided to speak out with their voice: at times a murmur , at times strident, they raised it with a
certain amount of fear, on doing so in public, after first touching their shawls, necklaces, and skirts.
In the hall of the Casa de la Cultura an analysis was heard which expressed concern over the maintenance of unity, over the
dialogue, the integrity of their cultures in the face of the assault of a consumer society, which also promises an "equity" blind
to diversity. These concerns and elements were presented to all for the analysis that the indigenous women did of their
political participation. It was an 8th of March which recovered the almost lost traditions of the women who question, who
take what is denied them, who shout or caress, but who question on behalf of the rest.
Their participation can not be diminished because the role they visibly play manifests itself as a negative stereotype in the
mind of the urban, westernised, woman. There was no attempt to deny that the subjugation of the woman's condition to its
predetermined form, is in itself evidence of the gender difference, and of the imposition of male power. However, it is
necessary to understand the complex difference of the "female being" which the indigenous diversity presents.
When the women leaders clearly state that they will go from logistics to leadership it is necessary to listen to them.. While in
the general meetings, from the beginning of the last uprising a group of brave women leaders were charged with providing
food for the protesters, this role was not rejected by them. In the meetings of the provincial leadership or parochial
organisations there was also no lack of their criteria. The public voice lacked more female presence. All these notes were
made by the indigenous and campesino women, at the same time that they recognised the immense counter weight that they
exercise and have exercised in important decisions, elections, mandates and definitions of Conaie, Ecuarunari, amongst
Different Voices...... voices of women
How to understand this quiet participation: silenced and self suppressed with the weight that women, their work, projects
and needs, have been bearing in the organisations? Perhaps attempting to see them on the same plane, not speaking of an
"indigenous women problem" with an anxiety to protect, with parameters inadequate for reading the complexity of our
reality, could permit a more freely formed viewpoint in order to do so.
From the view, often condescending and subordinating, of people and organisations who measuredly paint their proposals
with a transversality of gender, limiting it to blinkers, rather than a different vision, it is possible to take an erroneous view of
the real diversity of the indigenous woman. If the women's movement in general should recover its radical, revolutionary,
nature, which questions the very basis of the society in which are rooted the differences, inequalities, the liberty trampled by
a master and a patriarchal discourse; it could probably see this other, not on the margins of its own world, but in the very
territory of the other.
Institute for Indigenous Sciences and Cultures (IISC)
Address: Buenos Aires 1028 y Estados Unidos
P.O. Box: 17-15-50B
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