Lowland Indigenous Ecuadorians march for national recognition and land rights, 1992.

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Timing
Time Period:  
April 11
1992
to
May 7
1992
Location and Goals
Country: 
Ecuador
Location City/State/Province: 
Puyo, Ecuador
Location Description: 
The march began in the small rural city of Puyo and ended in the capital city of Quito
Goals: 
"1.) The legalization of our territories

2.) The amendment of the constitution to reflect the rights of the plurinational and multicutural reality that is Ecuador today."

 

In 1992, OPIP, the Confederación de Nacionalidades Indígenas de la Amazonia Ecuatoriana (Confederation of Indigenous Nationalities and of the Ecuadorian Amazon, or CONFENIAE) and the Confederación de Nacionalidades Indígenas del Ecuador (Confederation of the Indigenous Nationalities of Ecuador, or CONAIE) organized a caminata, or march, with the explicit goals of “1.) The legalization of our territories” and “2.) The amendment of the constitution to reflect the rights of the plurinational and multicultural reality that is Ecuador today.”

The march, which began on April 11 and lasted for 13 days, spanned around 230 miles (370 km), beginning in the lowland city of Puyo, the capital of Pastaza, and ending in Quito, the capital of Ecuador. The march also took place as part of the larger 1992 Latin American Indigenous movement commemorating “500 years of Resistance” on the five hundredth anniversary of Christopher Columbus’s “discovery” of the Americas. Organizers were inspired by the tradition of their female ancestors, called Curagas, who marched to Quito centuries before to demand recognition.

Days before the march, OPIP released a statement that they were prepared for “walking through the paths of our ancestors, where according to the indigenous traditions, is found the fountain of vital cosmic energy and other forces such as the rain, clouds, winds, and lightning, which nurture life in their divinities.” On 8 April, three days before the Caminata, Brigada de la Selva (Brigade of the Jungle) militarized two roads, guarded all gas stations on the route of the caminata, and occupied Unión Base––where CONAIE headquarters is located––as well as a bilingual Indigenous school.

OPIP’s campaign began on 11 April with speeches by Indigenous leaders and a religious service in a cathedral held by Bishop Monseñor Victor Corral, head of the Indigenous ministry of the Catholic church. After these actions, about 2,000 Indigenous Ecuadorians marched out of Puyo under a banner with a painting of Inca Atahualpa, commonly remembered as the last Inca emperor. Under the image of Atahualpa read the phrase “¡Allpamanda, causaimanda, jatarishún!” (for land, for life, rise up!).

As the protestors traveled throughout various cities, they wore traditional dress and sang Indigenous songs and chants. Various Indigenous highland communities provided support by greeting protestors, giving them water, shoes, and food. Some also performed religious ceremonies and joined protestors in their march towards Quito.

In some towns and cities, officials dismissed school so children could watch the protestors. Cars honked in support, street vendors gave out free food, and occasionally even the police came to support the movement. In anticipation of their arrival in Quito, President Rodrigo Borja Cevallos, who previously rejected Indigenous movements, promised to meet with and protect the protestors.

On 23 April, the group, which had grown to 5,000 Indigenous Ecuadorians and between 1,000 and 5,000 supporters, arrived in Plaza San Blas in Quito. Marchers chose this specific plaza because it was where, in 1579, Spanish colonizers murdered Amazonian Jumandi, who led the first successful Indigenous lowland rebellion against Spanish colonial rule.

Indigenous protestors arrived with musical instruments, cornetas (hand-coiled pottery cornets), musical bows, bone and bead necklaces, lances, shoulder adornments, headdresses, and "warrior" black and red body paint. Military guards in riot gear, dogs and horses, tanks, and helicopters met the marchers and blocked access to the Presidential Palace. Meanwhile, supporters in Quito threw flowers off of balconies, and Catholic nuns gave out water to the protestors. Non-Indigenous supporters also chanted “long live the March” and “claim your rights as Ecuadorians” at the protestors.

President Borja allowed 100 of the movement leaders to meet with him in the Presidential Palace. In a moving speech to the Borja administration, Luis Macas Ambuludí, Quichua politician, said, “we come in the name of life... We want to be the owners of our territory, the guardians of the Amazon, and those responsible for our destiny.” Immediately after this meeting, President Borja announced he would give Indigenous communities the title deeds to rainforest lands. However, the Indigenous organizers knew from experience that the Ecuadorian government often did not fulfill its promises to Indigenous communities, so they decided they would not leave Quito without a written deed.

They decided to occupy El Ejido, a central park in Quito, declaring it a transient “corner of the Amazon” until they got their deeds. Lowland Indigenous peoples stayed in the park for three weeks while Ecuadorian politicians and Indigenous leaders met to debate the terms.

On 7 May, the Instituto Ecuatoriano de Reforma Agraria y Colonización (Ecuadorian Institute of Agricultural Reform and Colonization, or IERAC) granted an Indigenous communal title to 1,115,175 hectares of land. This represented around 55% of the land OPIP originally requested. The land deed was communal instead of abiding by territorial divisions defined by the Quichua, Shiwiar, and Achuar communities.

In addition to this land deed, the government decided to create a 40-kilometer piece of land to be under the control of the military. Borja’s administration extended the boundary of the nearby Yasuni National Park, further impinging on Indigenous territory. The demand for constitutional reform was never met.

Despite only about ⅓ of the total demands being met, this march is highly regarded as one of the most successful Indigenous movements in Ecuadorian history, partially because previous demands for land rights had been completely unmet. Additionally, the widespread support for and growth of the march throughout Ecuadorian society represented support for Indigenous rights that had not been seen in previous movements.

Research Notes
Sources: 
Bainbridge, Emma. n.d. “The Emergence of CONAIE.” Indigenous Mobilization in Ecuador. Retrieved April 1, 2019 (https://web.archive.org/web/20181114225224/https://library.brown.edu/create/modernlatinamerica/chapters/chapter-6-the-andes/moments-in-andean-history/indigenous-mobilization-in-ecuador/).

Becker, Marc and Peter N. Stearns. 2008. “Ecuador, Indigenous Uprisings In.” Oxford Encyclopedia of the Modern World: (e-Reference Edition). Retrieved May 17, 2019 (https://web.archive.org/web/20190517024444/https://www.yachana.org/research/oxford_uprisings.html).

OPIP. n.d. “OPIP Press Releases, Translated.” Native Web. Retrieved May 17, 2019 (https://web.archive.org/web/20190517024557/http://abyayala.nativeweb.org/ecuador/amazon/apr92/apr92_1.html).

Ramirez, Odessa. 1992. “1992 — The Year Of Indigenous Peoples.” Social Justice/Global Options 19(2):56–62. Retrieved May 17, 2019 (https://web.archive.org/web/20190517024739/https://www.jstor.org/stable/29766674).

Sawyer, Suzana. 1997. “The 1992 Indian Mobilization in Lowland Ecuador.” Latin American Perspectives 24(3):65–82. Retrieved May 17, 2019 (https://web.archive.org/web/20190517024916/https://www.jstor.org/stable/pdf/2634098.pdf).

Whitten, Norman and Diego Quiroga. n.d. “Brief on the Protest March from Amazonian Ecuador to the Capital City of Quito, 11 April - 23 April, 1992, plus Information on the Quito Activities).” Native Web. Retrieved May 15, 2019 (https://web.archive.org/web/20190517024557/http://abyayala.nativeweb.org/ecuador/amazon/apr92/apr92_1.html).

Whitten, Norman E., Dorothea Scott Whitten, and Alfonso Chango. 1997. “Return of the Yumbo: the Indigenous Caminata from Amazonia to Andean Quito.” American Ethnologist 24(2):355–91.

Name of researcher, and date dd/mm/yyyy: 
Olivia Robbins, 16/05/2019