Ecuadorian indigenous stage mass uprising against neo-liberal measures including privatizing water and taking communally held land, 1994

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Timing
Time Period:  
January
1994
to
September
1994
Location and Goals
Country: 
Ecuador
Goals: 
The primary goal of this campaign was to protect Indigenous land rights by blocking legislative reforms to Ecuador's Agrarian Law.

The specific parts of the legislative reform that the campaign was opposed to included:

(1) The end of agrarian reform

(2) The liberalization of the land market by allowing the divisions and selling of land, which had been prohibited in the past

(3) The privatization of water rights

(4) The public auctioning and selling of government-owned lands controlled by IERAC, which in the past would have been sold at a small cost or granted to Indigenous peoples

(5) The increase of export production.

Other campaign goals included:

(1) Increased direct negotiations between the Organization of Indigenous Peoples of Pastaza (OPIP) and Arlington Richmond Company (ARCO)

(2) The declaration of a moratorium on Ecuador’s seventh round of oil concession proposals

(3) A repeal of increases in petroleum prices

(4) The cancellation of loans owed to the National Development Bank (BNF)

(5) The inclusion of Indígena and Campesino voices in Ecuador's development

 

Starting with Ecuador’s founding as a republic in 1822, the country’s
economic policy oppressed Indigenous citizens through measures that led
to the concentration and destruction of Indigenous lands. In 1986,
Luis Macas founded the Confederation of Indigenous Nationalities of
Ecuador (CONAIE) to advocate for the underrepresented Indigenous
Ecuadorians. CONAIE focused particularly on protecting land and water
rights of Indigenous communities. CONAIE leaders of the 1990s emphasized
demands for a plurinational state, collective rights, and territorial
rights of Indigenous peoples.

In 1994, the Ecuadorian government proposed changes to the Agrarian
Reform Law. The Agrarian Reform Law, first enacted in 1964, created an
agency in Ecuador to title land. The establishment of this agency,
Instituto Ecuatoriano de Reforma Agraria y Colonización (IERAC), also
exacerbated tension between Ecuador’s government and its Indigenous
peoples. IERAC had the authority to redistribute land to Indigenous
farmers, but low government funding and further changes to the law had
the opposite effect. Though the law eliminated huasipungo, Ecuador’s
feudal serfdom system, and led to steps toward agrarian reform that
would benefit Indigenous peoples overall, the law also enabled the
government, homesteaders, and oil companies to increase their
colonization of Indigenous lands. The reforms that Ecuadorian President
Sixto Durán Ballén proposed to the Agrarian Reform Law in 1994 would
have enabled this colonization even further, eliminating the IERAC
altogether.

In 1994, highlands Indigenous leaders were especially concerned about
access to water. Water access had particularly harsh economic
implications, because it affected non-traditional agricultural exports,
like flowers, produced by Indigenous groups in these areas. Indigenous
peoples worried that the proposed legislation would lead to further
destruction of the Indigenous systems of land tenure, which would force
of thousands of Indigenous people into city slums to look for work.

To protest legislation that would further reduce agrarian reform and
increase colonization of Indigenous lands, CONAIE, the Confederation of
Indigenous Nationalities of the Ecuadorian Amazon (CONFENIAE),
Organization of Indigenous Peoples of Pastaza (OPIP), and Acción
Ecológica, led an occupation of the offices of the Minister of Energy
and Mines in Quito, the capital of Ecuador, on 24 January 1994. Macas,
the CONAIE president at the time, stated that the occupation protested
Ecuador’s “incoherent petroleum policy” that was "contemptuous of
indigenous peoples and provokes social, cultural and environmental
conflicts.”

In the streets of Quito, outside of the office building, about 150
activists linked arms to form a human chain that blocked traffic in and
out of the building. Across the street, even more protesters picketed in
a park, setting up tents and stringing banners, one of which read “The
Defense of Nature and Social Justice are Inseparable.” Police did not
intervene in the protest.

After five hours, Ecuador’s Minister of Energy and Mines met with the
protesters. One of their demands was that OPIP have access to more
direct negotiations with the Arlington Richmond Company (ARCO), who had
been exploring and exploiting Pastaza land for oil. The minister oversaw
a meeting between the OPIP and ARCO on the morning of 25 January 1994
and agreed to the formation of a commission on petroleum development.
This commission did not form until the end of the 1994 campaign in
September.

On 4 May 1994, after President Sixto Durán Ballén presented neoliberal
reform legislation that would supercede the Agrarian Reform Law to the
Ecuadorian National Congress, CONAIE led a series of protests in
opposition to the legislation. The Ley Ordenamiento del Sector Agrario
would privatize and liberalize land and water rights, assure land
security and future expansion, and increase export production. The
president proposed the law to the National Congress as a matter of
“urgent character” at a time when the National Congress was in recess.
According to the Ecuadorian constitution, in this situation a proposed
law would go to the Plenary of Legislative Commissions and must be
approved, reformed, or rejected by the commission within 15 days. When
the president proposed the law on 4 May 1994, the Plenary of Legislative
Commissions had a majority of conservative members of the Social
Christian Party (PSC), right-wing independents, and members aligned with
the president’s party (PCE).

CONAIE and the opposition disagreed with five main points of the
president’s proposed Ley Ordenamiento del Sector Agrario. These
included: (1) the end of agrarian reform; (2) the liberalization of the
land market by allowing the divisions and selling of land, which had
been prohibited in the past; (3) the privatization of water rights; (4)
the public auctioning and selling of government-owned lands controlled
by IERAC, which in the past would have been sold at a small cost or
granted to Indigenous peoples; (5) the increase of export production.

CONAIE printed the slogan “THE EXECUTIVE’S PROJECT IS A PROJECT OF
DEATH” across the top of its first official response to the proposed
law. Macas spoke against the law in front of Congress saying, “Even
though agrarian reform has yet to be implemented in Ecuador, the
government intends to eliminate IERAC and return the Ecuadorian peasant
to an era of slavery.” He also stated that if the Plenary of Legislative
Commissions passed the law, the Indigenous people of Ecuador would
stage a national protest.

On 18 May 1994, the Plenary of Legislative Commissions rejected the
president’s proposed Ley Ordenamiento del Sector Agrario. On 27 May,
however, the PSC proposed its own law, which was almost identical to the
one proposed by the president. On 2 June 1994 at a debate of the
National Congress, Macas stated that if the law passed, “We will not
obey. We will not observe the law in our communities.” On 3 June 1994,
the new agrarian law passed, overturning the Agrarian Reform Law.

Following the passage of the law, COANIE gathered a national assembly of
Indigenous leaders on 7 June and 8 June 1994 to discuss the recent
events at the National Congress leading to the passage of the
legislation, the legislation itself, and future strategies of
opposition. They decided to organize a protest across the country, which
they called “Movilización por la Vida.”

The Indigenous leaders that had gathered published the Riobamba Mandate
document, which stated the reasons and demands of the Movilización. It
stated “The new agrarian legislation is an unconstitutional,
anti-socialist, racist law which threatens the true development the
country needs.” They demanded that President Sixto Durán Ballén veto the
new Agrarian Development Law, declare a moratorium of Ecuador’s seventh
round of oil concession proposals, repeal increases in petroleum
prices, and cancel loans owed to the National Development Bank (BNF).

Indigenous leaders chose roadblocks as the main tactic for the
Movilización. OPIP and CONFENIAE leaders chose five strategic roadblock
locations in Pastaza: El Topo bridge that led east to the Andes, the
Santa Clara bridge that led north to Napo Province, and at three
locations on roads leading south. The Movilización began at El Topo
bridge on 12 June 1994, and then spread across the country.
Demonstrators camped out at each of these locations to block the road,
along with physical barriers. By 13 June 1994, the day that President
Sixto Durán Ballén signed the new agrarian law, Indigenous peoples had
blocked all of the major roadways between provinces. They would not
allow any vehicles to pass, but they did permit people to walk through
the blockades by foot. Demonstrators continued to block roads for 10
days. At the same time, Indigenous peoples and colonists of Indigenous
lands staged a week-long sit-in at the BNF.

On 17 June 1994, CONAIE leaders secured a meeting with President Sixto
Durán Ballén and national secretary of indigenous and ethnic minorities
affairs Luís Felipe Duchicela for 21 June 1994. At this same time,
military trucks and helicopters began moving across the country,
inspecting roadblocks and intimidating protesters. On 20 June 1994, the
BNF signed an official agreement to pardon all outstanding interest owed
to the bank and to stop coercive arbitration.

When CONAIE leaders met with President Sixto Durán Ballén on 21 June
1994, they were not able to come to an agreement. On that same day, 9
days into the roadblock, tensions were building among tired protesters
and between provinces and the Movilización, primarily because food was
becoming scarce in the provinces as a result of the blocked roadways.
Indigenous leaders met with provincial authorities at 5:00 PM and made
it clear that the Movilización did not mean any harm to the people of
the provinces. The following morning, all provincial authorities signed a
petition to President Sixto Durán Ballén and the National Congress “to
repeal or to reform the 1994 Agrarian Law and to include Indígena and
Campesino’s various criteria in order to reach the desired peace and
normal development of our Country.”

On the night of 21 June 1994, after meeting with Indigenous leaders,
President Sixto Durán Ballén declared a state of emergency, giving the
military power to ensure “order” across Ecuador in response to CONAIE’s
organization of demonstrations and road blockades by various Indigenous
groups against the 1994 agricultural development law. Indigenous leaders
organized a rescue of the protesters at the various blockades. By 30
June 1994, Abya Yala News reported 15 Indigenous activist deaths as a
result of military intervention at the blockades. CONAIE leaders called
for an end to the military actions and the formation of a mediation
commission. The president agreed to these measures, and Congress pledged
to revise the new agrarian law. Negotiations began on 30 June 1994, and
lasted until the middle of July.

Despite the efforts of Indigenous groups, and the commission on the
Agrarian Development Law that was able to form as a result of the
protest, the Ecuadorian national government did not meet demands of the
Indigenous peoples to repeal the law. A reformed version of the law went
into effect on 3 August 1994. The government did make concessions to
the Indigenous people, permitting the maintenance of cooperative, small
agrarian organizations, the inclusion of two Indigenous organization
representatives on a state agrarian development agency, and public
ownership of water. Importantly, the Movilización demonstrated the
strength of the Indigenous peoples of Ecuador.

As a result of the January protest, Ecuador’s Minister of Energy and
Mines agreed to the formation of a commission to monitor Pastaza
petroleum development. The commission, which did not come together until
24 September 1994, included members of OPIP, pro-petroleum production
groups, ARCO, and Ecuador’s petroleum company. Topics of discussion
included stopping road construction into Indigenous territory,
directional drilling, and contamination of industrial chemicals,
solvents, and muds, but the discussion did not lead to clear results.

Research Notes
Sources: 
Anon. 1992. "CONAIE: A BRIEF HISTORY." The Confederation of Indigenous Nationalities of Ecuador (CONAIE), edited by Marc Becker. The Confederation of Indigenous Nationalities of Ecuador (CONAIE), December. Retrieved February 22, 2015. (http://web.archive.org/web/20150223052426/http://conaie.nativeweb.org/conaie1.html/).

Anon. 1999. "The Confederation of Indigenous Nationalities of Ecuador." The Confederation of Indigenous Nationalities of Ecuador (CONAIE), edited by Marc Becker. The Confederation of Indigenous Nationalities of Ecuador (CONAIE). Retrieved February 22, 2015. (http://web.archive.org/web/20150223052602/http://conaie.nativeweb.org/brochure.html).

Andolina, Robert. 1994. "Second Indigenous Uprising Secures Concessions on Agrarian Reform." Abya Yala News Fall 1994 8.3 (1994): 19-21. Second Indigenous Uprising Secures Concessions on Agrarian Reform. Abya Yala Online. Retrieved March 6, 2015. (http://web.archive.org/web/20150306072621/http://abyayala.nativeweb.org/ecuador/vida_94/andolina.html).

Becker, Marc. 1999. "The Confederation of Indigenous Nationalities of Ecuador (CONAIE)." The Confederation of Indigenous Nationalities of Ecuador (CONAIE). The Confederation of Indigenous Nationalities of Ecuador (CONAIE). Retrieved February 22, 2015. (http://web.archive.org/web/20150223052209/http://conaie.nativeweb.org/).

Research Directorate, Immigration and Refugee Board, Canada. 1999. Ecuador: Role and effectiveness of the IERAC in conflicts with indigenous people and landowners; role of its financial directors, and mistreatment of its officers by conflicting parties (1992-1999). Canada: Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada, February 1. Retrieved March 6, 2015. (http://web.archive.org/web/20150306032356/http://www.refworld.org/docid/3ae6ac4c50.html).

Clark, A. K. 1997. "Globalization seen from the Margins: Indigenous Ecuadorians and the Politics of Place." Anthropologica 39.1 (1997): 17. ProQuest. Retrieved February 22, 2015.

Lawrence, William. 2011. "Ecuadorian Indigenous Peoples Resist Oil Drilling in the Amazon, 1989-1994." Global Nonviolent Action Database. Swarthmore College, June 16. Retrieved February 23, 2015. (http://web.archive.org/web/20150223053204/http://nvdatabase.swarthmore.edu/content/ecuadorian-indigenous-peoples-resist-oil-drilling-amazon-1989-1994).

Sawyer, Suzana. 1996. "Indigenous Initiatives and Petroleum Politics in the Ecuadorian Amazon." Cultural Survival. Retrieved February 22, 2015. (http://web.archive.org/web/20150223045234/http://www.culturalsurvival.org/publications/cultural-survival-quarterly/ecuador/indigenous-initiatives-and-petroleum-politics-ecuad).

Sawyer, Suzana. 2005. Crude Chronicles: Indigenous Politics, Multinational Oil, and Neoliberalism in Ecuador. Durham: Duke University Press.

Webber, Jeffery R. 2010. "Indigenous Struggle, Ecology, and Capitalist Resource Extraction in Ecuador." Global Research. Centre for Research on Globalization, July 13. Retrieved February 22, 2015. (http://web.archive.org/web/20150223045812/http://www.globalresearch.ca/indigenous-struggle-ecology-and-capitalist-resource-extraction-in-ecuador/20118).

Weinberg, Bill. 2015. "ETHNOPOLITICS IN ECUADOR." Native Americas XIX.1 (2002): 80. ProQuest. Retrieved February 22, 2015.

Additional Notes: 
Both OPIP and CONAIE worked together closely because the two organizations had similar goals. OPIP, however, represented Indigenous Ecuadorians primarily from the Pastaza region, while CONAIE represented Indigenous peoples from across the country.

This 1994 campaign primarily addressed defense against national legislation that would have negatively impacted Ecuadorian Indigenous peoples. This may explain why CONAIE took a more official lead than OPIP in this particular campaign.

OPIP took more of an active role in the campaign "Ecuadorian indigenous peoples resist oil drilling in the Amazon, 1989-1994" (http://nvdatabase.swarthmore.edu/content/ecuadorian-indigenous-peoples-resist-oil-drilling-amazon-1989-1994). This campaign was more focused on stopping ARCO from going into the Pastaza region specifically.

Because this 1994 campaign led by CONAIE would have accomplished OPIP's goal (in addition to others, listed above), OPIP worked closely with CONAIE as a partner in the campaign, but did not do the national organizing and publicity on which CONAIE took charge.

Name of researcher, and date dd/mm/yyyy: 
Erica Janko 22/02/2015