Eye on the Amazon

Indigenous March Descends on Quito, as National Strike Presses for Major Reforms

Protestors preparing to march in Quito today

Major roadways across Ecuador were closed yesterday as indigenous groups joined by labor, campesino, and civil society organizations began a national strike against proposed constitutional amendments that would curtail indigenous rights and allow President Rafael Correa to stay in power indefinitely.

The "March for Life and Dignity" began last month as dozens of indigenous leaders set out from the southern province of Zamora in a 500-mile walk to the capital city of Quito. After winding their way through Andean peaks and valleys for close to two weeks, the march crescendoed into thousands as it descended into Quito last night.

Indigenous groups from the northern Andean provinces also arrived Wednesday evening by foot, and will merge with groups already in Quito for a major march through the city to the Presidential Palace. But as of 8 a.m. this morning, with sirens wailing and helicopters flying overhead, a massive police presence has shut down the historic old town, allowing only government supporters bused in from surrounding provinces to fill the main square. This sets the stage for a potential major standoff.

In cities and towns outside Quito, indigenous groups and social movements have paralyzed sections of the Panamerican highway with logs, rocks, and burning tires, and shut major access roads to parts of the country's Amazon and southern Andean region. The 'levantamiento,' or uprising, is being led by CONAIE, the national indigenous confederation of Ecuador, one of the continent's oldest and most powerful indigenous organization with a long history of grassroots mobilizations stopping free trade agreements and ousting presidents. Now CONAIE is calling on Correa to scrap proposed constitutional amendments that allow for the indefinite re-election of the president. They are also asking Correa to oppose laws that would take away community control of water in Ecuador's southern provinces and put it in the hands of the government to be used for open pit mining.

Additionally, the march is calling for an end to the criminalization of protest and dissent, which has led to trumped up charges for many indigenous community leaders, an end to the government crackdown against free speech that has targeted social movements and journalists, and an end to oil drilling in Yasuni National Park and the expansion of new drilling into fragile areas.

Widespread discontent is growing around the arrogant tone of President Correa, who has ridiculed CONAIE and the march, accusing the organization of joining forces with the political right wing, who is also upset with Correa over a new inheritance tax.

According to Jorge Herrera, President of CONAIE, "It's the government of Rafael Correa and his Alianza Pais party that has a right wing agenda. They're the ones pursuing a free trade deal with the EU, repressing civil liberties, and drilling and mining all over the country."

Others are seeking to co-opt the march and its critique of Correa's presidency. Chevron PR hack James Craig is shamelessly tweeting up a storm supporting the uprising, as if his company didn't dump 18 million gallons of crude that destroyed the land and livelihoods of thousands of Amazonian indigenous people, and for which Chevron still refuses to pay despite being found guilty and ordered by court to provide $9.5 billion to communities for a clean up and clean water.

Herrera and CONAIE have vowed to remain in the streets throughout the country until the government shelves the amendments.

"You can't deny the good things that this government has done, or for doing the work that the people elected him to do. But it simply doesn't justify the human rights abuses that the government has committed over these eight years," said Nina Gualinga, an Ecuadorian youth leader from Sarayaku.

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