[News] Mass Indigenous Protest In Defense of Water in Ecuador

Anti-Imperialist News news at freedomarchives.org
Thu Nov 20 19:07:52 EST 2008


Mass Indigenous Protest In Defense of Water Caps 
Week of Mobilizations in Ecuador

http://upsidedownworld.org/main/content/view/1591/1/
Written by Daniel Denvir
Thursday, 20 November 2008

Over 10,000 indigenous people from hundreds of 
Ecuador’s Northern Sierra (highlands) communities 
gathered to present the native movement’s 
proposed Water Law. Protesters chanted, “Water is 
not for sale, it is to be defended,” as speakers 
excoriated President Rafael Correa’s draft Water 
Law, saying that it could lead to privatization 
and pollution by mining companies.

The protest was organized by the Confederation of 
Peoples of the Kichwa Nationality (Ecuaranari), 
the Sierra regional block of the Confederation of 
Indigenous Nationalities of Ecuador (CONAIE). 
Marches left from the North, South and West to 
converge on the Pan-American Highway, blocking 
the country’s central artery for over six hours.

The march also showed the indigenous movement’s 
capacity to mobilize large numbers of people, a 
sign that the CONAIE is recovering from past 
internal divisions and political defeats. Correa 
has regularly insulted indigenous leaders and 
anti-mining activists, claiming that they do not 
represent a real political base. But indigenous people at
Wednesday’s protest were passionate about 
defending their access to clean water.

Maria came to the march from the community of 
Santa Anita, in the Central Sierra province of 
Chimborazo: “We are here to defend the water. We 
take care of the páramos (Andean wetlands) to get 
our water. We don’t get our water for free. They 
say they’re going to take away our water, and we’re not going to let them.”

The protest came two days after thousands of 
campesinos and coastal fishers staged nation wide 
protests and road blockades against Correa’s 
draft Mining Law and support for large-scale 
shrimp farms. Activists contend that the law 
would allow companies to undertake damaging 
large-scale and open pit mining in ecologically 
sensitive areas, contaminating the water supply 
with heavy metals. Fishers demanded that Correa 
overturn Decree 1391, passed on October 15th, 
which handed thousands of marine hectares over to 
large-scale shrimp farmers. This will lead to the 
further destruction of mangrove forests, critical 
habitat for the area’s fish, crabs and conchs. 
Participants in all of this week’s marches have 
emphasized the importance of natural resources to their communities.

Five people were arrested during Monday’s 
protests, including Jorge Sarango, a former 
Constituent Assembly member from the indigenous 
party Pachakutik. While Sarango has been 
released, the other four activists remain in jail.

Ceaser Quilumbaquin came to Wednesday’s march 
with over 400 people from San Miguel del Prado, a 
community in the province of Pichincha.

”We’re fighting for our water because they want 
to privatize it. We are indigenous people and the 
majority of water comes from our páramos. Water 
is life, and the government wants to sell water 
to private entities,” said Quilumbaquin.

This week’s mobilizations are an important 
demonstration of growing social movement unity 
and independence from the government of President 
Rafael Correa. Activists say that this week’s 
mobilizations are the beginning of a larger 
movement to confront Correa’s environmental 
policies. Correa scored a huge political victory 
in September when voters overwhelmingly approved 
a new constitution, weakening the traditional 
political parties and business elites. Social 
movements, and the indigenous movement in 
particular, were instrumental in mobilizing their 
members to vote “yes”­but they have
in recent months increasingly distanced themselves from the government.

Although the Left has been in conflict with 
Correa since he took office in January 2007, 
September’s defeat of the right wing has 
emboldened social movements in taking on 
government social and environmental policies. 
Indeed, water and anti-mining activists invoke 
the new constitution’s strict environmental 
provisions in demanding local control over community territory.

Ivonne Ramos of Acción Ecologica, said, “The 
constitution prioritizes the use of water to 
ensure food sovereignty, for small livestock and 
agriculture, and for human consumption. Water for industry comes last.”

And, in an interesting move, legislators usually 
close to Correa­from the Popular Democratic 
Movement (MPD) as well as Correa’s own party, 
Alianza País (AP)­showed up to speak in support 
of the Water Law. While the MPD has become 
increasingly critical of Correa in recent weeks, 
it seems likely that AP lawmakers’ presence has 
more to do with posturing than a real political shift.

Indigenous delegates from Bolivia, Peru, 
Guatemala and Mexico addressed the crowd and, 
recounting their own struggles in defense of 
water, expressed their solidarity with Ecuador’s indigenous people.

Daniel Denvir is an independent journalist in 
Quito, Ecuador, and a 2008 recipient of the North 
American Congress on Latin America’s Samuel 
Chavkin Investigative Journalism Grant. He is the 
editor in chief of caterwaulquarterly.com.





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