Indigenous people protest over a fuel price hike ordered by the government to secure an IMF loan in Quito, Ecuador, on October 10 2019. Picture: AFP/MARTIN BERNETTI
Indigenous people protest over a fuel price hike ordered by the government to secure an IMF loan in Quito, Ecuador, on October 10 2019. Picture: AFP/MARTIN BERNETTI

Quito — Ecuador’s indigenous protests have convulsed the country as they seek to force President Lenin Moreno to reverse a decision to scrap long-standing fuel subsidies to meet an IMF loan requirement.

Who are they?

Ecuador’s indigenous population is made up of 13 groups, comprising 25% of the country’s 17.3-million people.

Mostly situated in the Andes or the Amazon rainforest region, they have become increasingly influential in the country’s politics since 1990.

An indigenous Shuar woman, Diana Atamaint, is president of the National Electoral Council.

However, many indigenous communities still lack basic services, with villages without electricity or drinking water.

Half of all indigenous children under the age of four suffer chronic malnutrition, according to ministry of health statistics.

“The indigenous world has historically been segregated, a response to the racism that they experience on a daily basis,” according to professor Pablo Romero, a specialist at Quito's Salesian University. “They only trust their peers.”

Most groups adhere to the powerful Confederation of Indigenous Nationalities  (CONAIE), which in 1990 organised the first tribal protests in Quito.

That resulted in indigenous communities being ceded 2.3-million hectares of ancestral land by the government.

CONAIE, which groups the Ecuarunari peoples of the Andes and the Confeniae indigenous from the Amazon, concentrates it political muscle in the left wing Pachakutik party, set up in 1995.

The party holds five of the 137 seats in the legislature, though in the past it has held up to 10% of the seats.

It allied with unions and other political groupings to overthrow three presidents, Abdala Bucaram in 1997, Jamil Mahuad in 2000 and Lucio Gutierrez in 2005.

How the hikes hurt them

Indigenous people make up 68% of Ecuador’s poor. Moreno's reforms mean scrapping $1.3bn a year in fuel subsidies.

This has increased costs for indigenous communities transporting their agricultural produce to market, with a US gallon of diesel more than doubling in price from $1.03 to $2.30 and petrol rising from $1.85 to $2.40.

Rural public transport costs will increase 30%, a hardship for traditionally large indigenous families.

“In the indigenous worldview, it is normal to have many children. They are their own future workforce. It’s an economic issue as well as one of survival,” said Romero.

What do they want?

CONAIE wants the government to do a U-turn and restore the subsidies, which Moreno says have been in place for 40 years and have cost the state about $60bn.

It says it has mobilised 20,000 rural indigenous people to protest in Quito. The police dispute that, saying the figure is closer to 10,000.

“We are in Quito to reject a capitalist economic model that goes against different strata of the economy,” said Jorge Herrera, a former CONAIE chief.

Another prominent leader, Salvador Quishpe, said the indigenous protesters had no other motive “much less in overturning governments.”

Moreno says scrapping subsidies will mean an extra $1.4bn to be allocated to the poorest. But there is little trust among indigenous communities they will see it, according to Romero.

“They don’t trust someone who takes unpopular measures and represses them harshly in the streets.”

AFP