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In June 2022, Ecuador experienced an 18-day-long nationwide strike led by the indigenous movement. Although this strike was the longest in recent Ecuadorian history, it is not an isolated occurrence. In fact, in October 2019 the indigenous movement and other social movements led an 11-day-long strike. These two events show similarities in terms of the leading agents and some of their causes but are especially different when looking at their outcomes.
To understand the two most recent national strikes in Ecuador, it is essential to understand the importance and power of The Confederation of Indigenous Nationalities of Ecuador (CONAIE) holds. This organization serves as a national representative to the various indigenous groups in the country, and although they are not a political party nor do they have direct representation in the National Assembly, CONAIE holds important levels of legitimacy among indigenous people. Indeed, once a protest or strike has been announced by its leadership, indigenous groups from all parts of the country will join and follow the CONAIE’s instructions.
Both, in 2019 and 2022, CONAIE, and more specifically, its leader Leonidas Iza called on the rest of the population to rise and protest against the government’s policies. However, it is important to notice that the 2019 strike was also joined by other social groups such as drivers’ unions and student unions. In the 2022 case, the protests were led in its great majority by indigenous groups and saw the financial and logistic assistance of other individuals, but no formal organizations or groups announced publicly they were joining the fight in the streets. This is a crucial difference between the two strikes. The fact that more people and formal groups decided to directly part-take in the 2019 protests created a sense of greater commitment to the cause in the general Ecuadorian population.
When speaking about causes leading to the two strikes, gas prices are the common denominator. For decades, the Ecuadorian government has provided subsidies for gasoline. Consequently, when former president Moreno announced in 2019 that these aids will come to an end, the social uprising was imminent, as price gouging for essential items was almost immediate. In the case of the most recent strike, gas prices played an important role. However, this time there was no one specific trigger for the protests. On the contrary, the causes for this strike were multiple. In fact, the indigenous movement (CONAIE) presented a list of ten demands. These demands included:
- Reduction of gas prices
- Moratorium and re-negotiation of individual debts
- Fair prices for milk, rice, bananas, onions, potatoes, tomato, among other products
- Employment and labor rights. Actions to stop job insecurity
- Moratorium on the expansion of mining extraction spaces
- Respect for the 21 collective rights: Intercultural Bilingual Education, indigenous justice, informed consultation, organization, and self-determination of indigenous peoples
- No more privatization of strategic sectors such as telecommunications and healthcare
- Policies to stop price gouging
- Increase in healthcare and education budgets. Guarantee youth’s access to higher education
- Public policies to stop the rising levels of violence, drug trafficking, kidnapping, and organized crime
From this list, it is evident that the concerns of those protesting were much more extensive and covered multiple areas, contrary to the 2019 strike.
These two sets of protests shared similar motivations and leaders, but their outcomes were completely different. On the one hand, the 2019 strike ended as former President Lenin Moreno went back on his decision and reinstated gas subsidies in the country. As soon as the President announced this, the protests ended and the country went back to normal in a matter of days. Of course, the physical consequences (i.e., business destruction, material defacement, road damages) took more time to recover.
On the other hand, the process to end the 2022 strike was longer and has been composed of multiple negotiations and consultations among the various indigenous organizations and the government. The 2022 strike officially ended on June 30, but the document sealing the peace is a long-term commitment to dialogue between the government and indigenous organizations mediated by the representation of the Catholic Church in Ecuador. Additionally, these negotiations were tainted with verbal accusations regarding the protests’ source of funding, the murder of a soldier, and the levels of legitimacy that both; Iza and the government’s representative to the negotiation, possessed. In the end, the initial agreements refer to gas prices and the creation of spaces for dialogue to discuss the remaining 9 demands the CONAIE had initially presented. In other words, although the country has pretty much gone back to its normal activities, one cannot rule out future protests if the spaces created for dialogue fail to reach agreements between the parties.
The dichotomy of these two outcomes mirrors the difference in motivations and causes for each of the strikes. However, it is interesting to notice that despite the 2019 strike gathering many more social sectors and having witnessed more participation in terms of the number of protesters from different organizations, the outcome of the strike seemed to be much faster than that of the 2022 strike. Looking at this particularity from a negotiation perspective, it is evident that former president Moreno realized the enormous challenge that negotiating and dialoguing with multiple groups represents. Thus, he decided on a solution that would directly address the concern driving the uprising. On his part, president Guillermo Lasso has decided to give dialogue and collaboration a try.
Hopefully, this attempt will be effective in creating collaborative spaces for any and all social groups, so that in the future national strikes with catastrophic economic and human consequences will not be encouraged by the CONAIE or any other organization. In the end, if these two strikes demonstrate anything, it is the grave social fracture Ecuador presents, one that reaches across social and economic sectors and is also based on race and power dynamics.
- Could dialogue be enough to fix the social fracture Ecuador presents?
- What are the real motivations behind these strikes? Could they be showing something beyond a concern for the cost of living?
- Could the creation of dialogue spaces with only CONAIE be counterproductive?