[News] Ecuadorians Protest New Water Law

Anti-Imperialist News news at freedomarchives.org
Wed Sep 30 11:22:46 EDT 2009

Ecuadorians Protest New Water Law

Written by Jennifer Moore
Wednesday, 30 September 2009

“We're crazy for water,” chanted about a thousand 
campesinos as they marched through the streets of 
downtown Cuenca in southern Ecuador on Monday. 
The march, called for by the Confederation of 
Indigenous Nationalities of Ecuador (CONAIE), was 
part of a nation-wide mobilization against a new 
water law. It included intermittent road 
blockades throughout the highlands over the 
course of the day that by all acounts were peaceful.

The protests took place amidst a heavy onslaught 
of insults and efforts to delegitimize their 
concerns, largely by President Rafael Correa. 
Correa told EFE news service that the popular 
movements are being used by the right to 
destabilize his government. He also interrupted 
national television programming over the weekend 
to urge Ecuadorians “not to let themselves be 
deceived by the same old manipulators...who benefit from chaos.”

However, despite Correa's insistence that he 
would not be forced to dialogue, by day's end the 
CONAIE had suspended protests to enter into talks 
with him. Campesino organizations in Cuenca also 
agreed to dialogue, while the Amazonian branch of 
the CONAIE reported that it remains mobilized, 
asking for its own talks with the government in 
order to address issues specific to the region.

The protests come exactly one year since 
Ecuador's 2008 political constitution was passed, 
which recognizes the right to water, rights for 
nature and which declared the country a 
plurinational state. However, indigenous and 
campesino organizations involved in the protests 
criticize the government for having digressed 
from the highly lauded constitution. The 
constitution passed in a national referendum on 
September 28, 2008 with 64 percent of the vote.

Criticisms concerning the new water law, which 
was initially scheduled for first debate in the 
National Assembly last Saturday, apply to the 
privatization of water, limits on community 
participation in water management, prioritization 
of water access for industrial users and lack of 
sanctions for water contamination, and more. In 
anticipation of this week's protests, the debate 
was postponed for several weeks.

In Cuenca, representatives of rural water systems 
from across the south-central province focused 
on  aspects of the water bill pertaining to water 
use for mining projects that are deemed a 
national priority. Some of the most advanced 
metal mining projects in the country are being 
developed within the páramo outlying the city. 
Páramo are fragile high altitude wetlands, or 
essentially a deep sponge composed of soil and 
vegetation that regulates the water supply for 
the city and rural populations involved in dairy 
farming and other agricultural activities.

Campesino groups, led by Rural Water Systems 
President Carlos Pérez, proposed that mining 
should be prohibited in the páramo, which should 
also be off limits to other intensive activities 
such as farming and motorized sports. Communities 
within the vicinity of Cuenca have for years been 
opposing large scale gold mining projects 
belonging to Canadian-financed companies such as 
Iamgold and International Minerals Corporation.

These groups were also concerned about reduced 
participation for rural water boards in water 
management under the draft law, which Pérez says, 
“are organizations that have been created at the 
community level over many years of hard work,” 
questioning the state's interest to now step in and overtake control.

Pérez is hopeful that they will have time now 
before the water law is debated for a national 
dialogue. However, he says, such dialogue will 
only be meaningful “if there is a serious 
commitment on the part of Assembly Members and 
the President, given our current lack of 
confidence in this government.” Pérez's 
organization previously got involved in talks 
over a new mining law passed in January, which 
did not substantially incorporate their 
proposals. They hope the mining law will be 
declared unconstitutional by Ecuador's 
Constitutional Court based upon an appeal they filed earlier this year.

Before yesterday the potential for dialogue did 
not seem promising. President Correa had 
repeatedly insulted indigenous organizations and 
their leaders, insisting that they “are lying” 
when they say the water law allows for 
privatization. He has cited both Article 3 of the 
law and the constitution which oppose 
commodification of the precious resource. He also 
accused leaders of the CONAIE and the highland 
indigenous organization ECUARUNARI of being part 
of a privileged class. Both groups rejected his 
insults and cite them as part of their rationale for Monday's protests.

Assembly Member Lourdes Tibán from the indigenous 
Pachakutik movement also wrote an open letter to 
Correa on Monday, saying, “Enough of your insults 
Mr. President.” She criticized him for using the 
term “golden ponchos” against indigenous movement 
leaders, which she says was coined by the 
right-wing oligarchy more than 10 years ago, 
around the time that the indigenous movement was 
growing in political influence and participated 
in the overthrow of two governments.

She further observed that Correa has not made 
such accusations against indigenous members who 
are supportive of his political movement, despite 
personal achievements that have brought them a 
long way out of poverty and marginalization, 
including past employment with the Interamerican 
Development Bank in one case. The difference, she says, is political:
“You are very mistaken to think that the 
indigenous person who is servile is good, while 
the indigenous person who is critical of your 
government is part of the elite and a golden 
poncho," said Tibán. "If this is what you think, 
it is a very poor definition and an unacceptable perspective.”

She also did not hesitate to recall a recent 
scandal over President Correa's brother who was 
revealed to have obtained tens of millions of 
dollars in public contracts over the last couple 
of years, and says his insults deserve to be tried in court.

Finally, Pérez publicly denied that his 
organization has any interest “in causing 
upheaval in the country” or in “overthrowing any 
government.” However, he indicated that they are 
serious about their demands and calls Monday's 
march “just a warm up” for further actions which 
could escalate depending on how talks progress.

“If [the President] continues with his 
high-handed attitude and insults,” he concludes, 
“we know that he who sows wind, reaps tempests.”

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