This article was published on 1 July 2022 at Baricada Bulgaria. The title comes from Cross-Border Talks.
Ecuador seems to be witnessing a remake of the drama we saw three years ago, in the massive protests and general strike against the neoliberal policies of then president Lenin Moreno. Both then and now, the protests were led by the Confederation of Indigenous Peoples of Ecuador (CONAIE), and ended after half-hearted agreements resulting from tense and controversial negotiations. The unresolved issues at the time have continued to fester over the past three years. They erupted with renewed force with the announcement on 13 June this year of a new general strike led by CONAIE.
The Confederation is now headed by a new, more radical leader, Leonidas Issa, and taking aim at the increasingly neoliberal policies of the new head of state, Guillermo Lasso.
Eventually, after an 18-day strike, accompanied by blockades of businesses and roads and violent clashes between protesters and the law enforcement forces, who threw indiscriminate reprisals against them, causing six deaths and hundreds of injuries, CONAIE declared victory on 30 June. Thus they ended the strike.
A series of concessions by the government, won during the negotiations that began on 27 June, were presented as a victory. Incidentally, the dialogue was interrupted by the authorities on 28 June, following another violent incident, this time in which a policeman died. It was then restored, however, because the country’s economy – and especially its key oil industry – was about to collapse because of the strike. It was vital to reach a compromise and bring it to an end. So the government is also counting the outcome of the negotiations, shaped in a signed Peace Act, as its victory. At least that was the spirit of President Lasso’s comments, who otherwise maintained a consistently tough approach against the protesters, and especially their leader Issa, against whom he did not stop making personal attacks.
CONAIE had already formulated and presented to the government a year ago its 10-point demands, for the non-fulfilment of which the current strike was declared. We recall them:
- The lowering and refusal of new fuel price increases. Freezing the price of diesel at $1.50 and eco-gasoline at $2.10.
- Economic protection for more than four million families by introducing at least a one-year moratorium and renegotiating their bank debts by reducing interest rates in the financial system (in public, private and cooperative banks).
- Introduce fair farm gate prices.
- Guarantee the right to work and labour rights.
- A moratorium on the expansion of oil and other mineral extraction boundaries; an audit and comprehensive reparation for socio-environmental impacts.
- Respect for the fixed 21 rights of rural and indigenous peoples’ collectives.
- Stop the privatization of strategic sectors that are national wealth for Ecuadorians.
- Establishing price controls and market speculation in essential goods.
- Prioritise health and education. Allocation of an emergency budget because of shortages of medicines and staff in hospitals. Ensuring that young people have access to higher education and improving infrastructure in schools, colleges and universities.
- Security, protection and the generation of effective public policies to stem the tide of violence from which Ecuador is suffering.
If the strike is now a victory, does that mean that all these demands have been met? No, far from all have been met, most remain “pending” and those on which compromise has been reached have been modified from their original placement – which is, of course, common practice in any negotiation.
But the agreement that the Table of Dialogue will continue to work, reaching agreements within 90 days on the still “pending” points of demands, is highlighted as an important achievement. At the same time, we cannot help remembering that there were similar promises of continued dialogue and future concessions to the authorities when the CONAIE strike was called off three years ago, but something positive did not come of it.
Nevertheless, CONAIE now maintains a triumphalist tone.
Here’s what the Confederation wrote on its Twitter, “Only the struggle allowed us to reclaim our rights! Yes, we got results on our national 10-point program. Yes, we have achieved relief for the economic situation, health and education of the most vulnerable families of the countryside and the city. We withheld decrees to protect lives.”
The decrees in question are numbers 95 and 195 and were issued by President Lasso last year. The first decrees an even wider expansion of hydrocarbon extraction and the oil industry, giving the private sector a greater role in these activities, while the second expands the extraction zones, affecting the territories of indigenous communities. Following negotiations, Decree 95 was repealed and Decree 195 will be reformed.
In listing the 6 agreements now reached, it is these agreements that are highlighted first – the repeal of Decree 95 and the forthcoming reform of Decree 195. Obviously, this is considered the greatest achievement. Then is mentioned the agreement that the Table of Dialogue will continue its work and specify the other “pending” demands in the next 90 days.
The points on ending the strike and lifting the state of emergency declared by the authorities are then stated.
And only lastly is the compromise on the price of the leading fuels mentioned. In its initial list of 10 demands, CONAIE put this topic first and demanded a freeze on the price of diesel at $1.50 and eco-gasoline at $2.10. But now the compromise has been reached at other levels – 1.75 for diesel and 2.40 for eco-gasoline.
Photo: CONAIE leaders, including Leonidas Isa (in the red poncho), declared victory after signing the agreement with the government. (source: Twitter)