People Power Prevails

Just one year after a loose-knit coalition of indigenous groups combined with rebellious military officers to bring down the government of President Jamil Mahuad, his successor’s attempt to implement unpopular fuel and transport price increases at the start of 2001 produced a familiar showdown between Indian “people power” and Ecuadoran authorities.

President Gustavo Noboa’s negotiated resolution of the two-week confrontation in early February has placated indigenous protesters with a partial rollback of the rate hikes, coupled with fresh commitments of development assistance to impoverished Andean and Amazonian Indian communities. But Quito’s conservative El Comercio (Feb. 8) questioned whether either side is prepared to end this destructive cycle of confrontation.

“The nation breathes a sigh of relief, and the community hopes that the accord between the government and the indigenous sector will be…the beginning of a new and, insofar as possible, enduring phase in the normalization of national life,” the El Comercio editorial observed. After stormy road blockades, widespread internal commerce disruptions, a university occupation, and several violent exchanges between protesters and security forces, “the logical yearning is that the accord…will avert more outbreaks of conflict.”

The anti-government quarterly magazine Espacios of Quito (February-April) cast the recurring conflict between Ecuador’s indigenous movement and the central government within the broader context of grassroots resistance to the forces of globalization, epitomized by “neoliberal” economic and fiscal policies implemented under terms of a $300 million standby loan awarded last year by the International Monetary Fund.

“The Indians and all the poor of the nation,…and an infinite number of solidarity groups in the countryside and the city, are protesting directly, collaborating in a thousand and one ways to support the struggle,” Espacios affirmed. “They are showing the world once more that not all is lost, that there still exists, despite the smothering and alienating power of globalization, this small piece of land called Ecuador that possesses along with oil a reserve of dignity.”

Columnist Roberto Salas Guzmán, writing in El Comercio (Feb. 15), contended that the Ecuadoran people can no longer afford to look to their government or the IMF for their economic salvation. “The key is in our hands,” he said. “The repatriation of and new investments without delay by Ecuadorans themselves is imperative. Foreign markets, internal restructuring, small advances toward stability give new space for opportunities that must be seized in a proactive manner by businesses that truly believe in their country, despite all that has happened.”