From firstname.lastname@example.org Thu Feb 17 14:11:04 2000
Date: Wed, 16 Feb 2000 15:20:09 -0600 (CST)
From: IGC News Desk <email@example.com>
Subject: POLITICS-ECUADOR: Power Is Not Indigenous Goal, Says Leader
Copyright 2000 InterPress Service, all rights reserved.
Worldwide distribution via the APC networks.
Power Is Not Indigenous Goal, Says Leader
By Kintto Lucas, IPS
2 February 2000
QUITO, Feb 2 (IPS) - The objective of Ecuador's indigenous peoples
is not power, but to create social change "from within," assures
Antonio Vargas, president of the Confederation of Indigenous
Nationalities of Ecuador (CONAIE), a leading force in one of Latin
America's best organised native movements.
"There are many things more important than power: social change
from within and building lives that are more colourful, more
lively, and awareness that there is a serious problem here - and
that change is necessary," Vargas stated in an interview with
According to Vargas, the indigenous peoples were close to power
during their January 21 insurrection, but they were not obstinate
"If we had been stubborn about power, there would have been
confrontations and death. But since we weren't, we offered the
possibility of another path. The important thing is that we caused
a shake-up in the political class, and it was made clear that
there is a rebellious population here that will make change
without violence," he maintained.
The CONAIE directorate, accompanied by tens of thousands of
indigenous people from throughout the country who had gathered in
Quito, led the insurrection alongside military officials who
stepped outside the chain of command.
The uprising occurred, in part, to protest president Jamil
Mahuad's proposal to replace the Ecuadoran sucre with the US
dollar as the nation's currency.
But the armed forces launched a coup d'etat, overthrowing Mahuad
and replacing him with his vice-president Gustavo Noboa, in order
to prevent the insurgents' "National Salvation Junta," installed
in the parliament, from taking over the entire government.
The uprising has "shown Ecuador and the world that there are
people living marginalised from government decisions," affirmed
the indigenous leader.
"We achieved our objective of bringing down the three government
branches, even if it was just for a few hours. But above all we
were able to put the branches' lack of prestige in the centre of
debate. Many said that this was a fantasy, suicide, a crazy idea
of the leaders, but we proved them wrong," Vargas said.
He criticised the "apartheid" the indigenous peoples suffered
when military personnel forced anyone wearing a poncho to get off
buses destined for Quito, in an attempt to prevent them from
amassing in the capital for the protest.
"They arrived anyway, on foot. And it created great unity for
the different actions we have underway," he stated.
The leader, who for the first time since January 21 agreed to
reflect on the insurrection, affirmed that it was not a defeat
because "it served to strengthen the indigenous movement and
deepen the unity among Ecuadorans who want change."
"Since July 1999, CONAIE has become the unifying axis between
social sectors and the indigenous world. Perhaps one mistake was
not being able to put a more social emphasis in our political
plan, but it is true the media hit us hard," he commented.
According to Vargas, the indigenous people never felt they were
being used, because their actions were the result of their own
"We never let ourselves be used. Sometimes discrepancies arise
with some sectors that want to move ahead in a hurry, and this
hurry ends up as little marches and confrontations with the
police, without moving anything forward because the government has
them (stopped)," Vargas affirmed.
Some television stations tried to provoke fighting among the
indigenous groups by "giving space to certain personalities who
did not represent anyone, in order to highlight differences and
open wounds, but they were unsuccessful," said the leader.
"They were also anxious to release a falsified document, in
which the alleged signature of (indigenous leader) Salvador
Quishpe appeared, that said 'kill the mestizos,' and later, when
it was disproved, they did not give the issue the same space," he
Antonio Vargas is of the Kiwcha indigenous group, and became
CONAIE president in 1996 at a time when the movement suffered an
acute division between groups from the Amazon and those from the
Sierra. The tensions were fomented by then-president Abdal
Bucaram, who parliament removed from office in February 1997.
Vargas was re-elected as CONAIE president this year, and was a
key player in the alliance between the indigenous movement and
junior officers from the armed forces during the insurrection.
He stressed that the officers and the troops supporting them
represent the beginning of a change in attitude in the military
"From this experience, a new military is born, which sees change
is possible. It is the hope that the generals do not have, because
they are more involved in corruption and defending their
interests," asserted Vargas. "There is a seed that one day will
germinate throughout the armed forces."
The indigenous leader believes it may have been a mistake to
launch a take-over of the Government Palace and leave behind the
legislative Congress the rebels had already occupied. From a
position of power, "perhaps" they could have negotiated some
important points with the new government.
"There was great pressure from poeple who wanted to take over
the presidency because it was another symbol of corruption.
Perhaps it was a mistake, and if we had stayed in Congress the
results would have been different. In any case, the events have
already occurred," he said.
The leader also accused the military's upper echelons of having
prepared a coup attempt that they later aborted thanks to the
actions of the indigenous groups and junior officers.
"When we arrived at the Government Palace, the generals had
prepared a proclamation and a communique in which they announced
they were taking over all government branches and that we had not
accepted it. That's why they had to sit down and talk with us."
Vargas acknowledged another mistake of the uprising, which was
accepting that general Carlos Mendoza, then Chief of the Joint
Command, take part in the National Salvation Junta, which also
included Vargas and former Supreme Court president Carlos
"Maybe it was a mistake to accept Mendoza, but if we hadn't a
great deal of blood would have been spilled, and neither the
colonels nor the indigenous leaders were willing to take that
risk," he explained.
The Noboa government, which CONAIE has granted a six-month truce,
could make changes if it has the will to do so. "If it doesn't,
it will fall in the same mess as Mahaud and will be digging its
own grave," Vargas maintained.
"If (Noboa) thinks what we want are some little agreements for
some communities, he is mistaken and has not understood anything
of what happened, because what we want goes much deeper. We are
not asking for handouts."
"Many times the authorities are where they are because they are
educated, but in practical terms they are ignorant because they
don't understand the situation of the people," stated Vargas,
"Therefore they fail."
The leader expressed hope that there will be changes in Ecuador's
"Change will arrive without violence, peacefully, directed at
the communities. What occurred Jan 21 was a rehearsal. It made
people feel in their hearts that it is possible, that they must
not remain quiet because it only serves to help the same
politicians as always."
Vargas rejects violence because he believes it will not get the
indigenous movement anywhere, and argues that "mobilising great
masses using organisation is the best road for seeking change."
"If (change) doesn't come it may unleash violence, but we must
manage ourselves with caution so that doesn't happen. In any case,
one must realise that in the future there could be a huge social
explosion, even a civil war, because the people may go out and
loot and plunder if they don't have anything to eat."
Along with the CONAIE announcement that it would give the new
government a six-month truce, the organisation proposed that
president Noboa convoke a plebiscite on four questions, "in order
to reaffirm democracy."
One of the questions for the Ecuadoran people is whether they
agree with the removal of former president Jamil Mahuad and the
destitution of legislators and Supreme Court ministers.
Another asks if they want "Ecuador to maintain its monetary
sovereignty and the sucre to remain the official currency, and
reject the 'dollarisation' plan."
The plebiscite would also request the public's opinion on whether
the State should "maintain control and ownership of petroleum,
electricity, telecommunications and social security."
Vargas argues, "If they (government officials) love democracy so
much and fill their mouths with it, they should return sovereignty
to the people in a plebiscite and prove they are truly
If Noboa rejects calling a national vote on these issues, CONAIE
and the social movements would have to gather approximately
605,000 signatures in order to legally require a plebiscite -
which may be the indigenous movement's next major challenge.
[c] 2000, InterPress Third World News Agency (IPS)
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