Government Troops Kill Four in Clashes as Ecuadorian Indians Demand Reforms

AMAZON ALLIANCE FOR INDIGENOUS AND TRADITIONAL PEOPLES OF THE AMAZON BASIN(Formerly the Coalition for Amazonian Peoples and Their Environment)

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Washington, DC - In an interview with the Washington DC-based Amazon Alliance, the President of the Confederation of Indigenous Nationalities of Ecuador (CONAIE), Mr. Antonio Vargas, stated that four Indians died in clashes with government forces Monday in Ecuador's Amazon region as tensions continue to rise in this third week of intense protests in Ecuador. Under the leadership of CONAIE, indigenous protests continue to paralyze the country as negotiations with the government carry on. CONAIE and their indigenous protesters are calling on the government to lift the state of emergency and reverse a series of economic reforms that doubled the price of home cooking gas, dramatically increased gasoline prices, and raised public bus fares about 75 percent. The International Monetary Fund imposed the economic measures as conditions for a three-year, $2 billion aid package.

In the interview with Amazon Alliance Co-Director Johnson Cerda Monday evening, the President of CONAIE Antonio Vargas stated, "We are rising up to protest the economic measures... We will fight until the end, even if it means to our death... We want the government to stop throwing tear gas bombs and firing bullets at us, and not to remove us from the Salesian University." Mr. Vargas reported four deaths including three in Napo and one in Tungurahua and over five hundred people arrested. He is calling for increased international pressure on the President of Ecuador to enter into serious negotiations with the indigenous leadership. Mr. Vargas was detained last week but was later released.

"The indigenous movement is one of the most important political factors in Ecuador. Until the current government takes the Indians seriously, these kinds of problems will continue. The violent response of the government will lead to increased tensions and further violence. We call on the government to restrict the use of violence by the armed forces and to enter into serious dialogue with the indigenous leadership," stated Mr. Johnson Cerda, a Quichua Indian from the Ecuadorian Amazon and currently the Co-Director of the Washington DC-based Amazon Alliance, a coalition of environmental, support, and indigenous organizations working in the Amazon.

The protests are a result of a long history of discrimination. In the past years Ecuador has gone through many social and economic crisis. The Indians make up 40-50% of the population and are one of the poorest sectors of the country. Average income for Ecuador's Indians is $2 a day. According to CONAIE there are currently 13,000 protestors in Quito - 6,000 of whom are concentrated on the grounds of the Salesian University.

The Indians have blockaded provincial highways, preventing meat and produce from getting into the capital and other major cities. President Gustavo Noboa declared a state of emergency late Friday. Noboa's emergency decree prohibits unauthorized demonstrations, gives authorities the power to restrict travel, and to search homes and property without a court order.

Only one year ago in January 2000 indigenous protesters took over the Ecuadorian Congress building along with a small group of army officers. The peaceful takeover of the government ousted Noboa's predecessor, then President Jamil Mahuad.

Interview (audio tape) with Mr. Antonio Vargas, President of the Confederation of Indigenous Nationalities of Ecuador - CONAIE - and up to the minute updates available.

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