You may have heard about the recent tensions in Ecuador. I was tuned in mostly through social media and talking with friends. The president, Lenin Moreno, had accepted conditions of austerity for a loan agreement with the IMF. Among those conditions, the administration decided to eliminate the nation-wide fuel subsidy that had been in place since the 70's, as well as loosen the openness for foreign investment into Ecuadorian natural resources.
Immediately, the transportation industry in the entire country went on strike, and the country began to shut down as gas prices rose by 25 - 100%. After the initial surge in the first days, the indigenous peoples took more of the lead. They rallied throughout the mountain areas, limiting passage and essentially keeping much of the country shut down. A large contingent also gathered in the capital, Quito, near the government center, to protest. There were likely a few extreme actors in the protests, but they really were, from the account I received, largely peaceful and fervent. But there was an aggressive reaction by the police, and the situation quickly began to escalate. In all, 8 people died and many more were injured. In response, more and more indigenous from the mountains and the Amazon began to converge on Quito. The president and government function then moved from Quito in the mountains to Guayaquil, the large city on the coast. He was adamant that the new law wouldn't change, and the protesters in Quito were adamant that he had to leave office. Ten days after it all began, with little food in stores and schools, businesses, etc all shut down (in Chontal, some foods were no longer available and some families were cooking with firewood), it seemed like things were coming to a head, were going to explode.
Then, there was a meeting between the presidential cabinet, the indigenous leaders (an organization called CONAIE), and the UN ambassador. All eyes in the country were on this televised meeting where each had the chance to dialogue and express themselves. Incredibly, an agreement on a framework for a new economic policy came out within a day. It was a huge surprise. Part of the agreement was that the fuel subsidies would not be eliminated, the protests would stop, and all the parties would continue to collaborate on a new replacement law.
The whole country celebrated of course. The protests have stopped, and things are now returning to normal operation.
And the indigenous are the heroes throughout the country.
The indigenous peoples are at the very bottom of the social ladder in Ecuador, maybe even more so than the Afro-Ecuadorians, descendants of the African slaves. Since the coming of the Spanish in the 16th century, the indigenous peoples had been essentially indentured servants on their own lands and constantly oppressed by racial insults and stereotypes. The bishop Leonidis Proaño, "Bishop of the Indigenous" and candidate for the Nobel Peace Prize, led the effort in the 50's - 70's for the political and economic and human rights of the indigenous peoples in Ecuador. Before him, the people were largely servants on the lands of huge 'haciendas', or plantations. I remember my host in Alao explaining to me how they had to work a certain number of days of the week for the owner of the hacienda, and then what little remained they could work on their own. So, since the 70's, the indigenous peoples have had more basic rights, and the haciendas were broken up and transferred to the indigenous.
It is well known that the indigenous are the most organized people in the country. In a moving gesture, the president of CONAIE, Jaime Vargas, publicly called a huge 'minga' (a community work effort) to clean up the area of Quito where the protests were. The indigenous stayed and worked side by side with the Quiteños, to all together, voluntarily clean up after the protests.
So, in the aftermath, there was a profound expression of gratitude throughout social media toward the indigenous, including talk of electing Jaime Vargas as the next president! But the whole event was so profound that I think it will change Ecuadorian politics going forward. The only thing I can think of that comes close to capturing the sentiment is a part of the ending of the movie Lord of the Rings. Everyone bows to the Hobbits, the agrarian people who saved the day. It really was, in spirit, a lot like this:
I kept abreast mostly through social media and contact with friends there. Being a foreigner and also at a distance, I didn't want to meddle, but wanted to share some words of solidarity and support from afar. Here is the translation of what I shared on Facebook. I'll share more about the actual situation, and how Barriers to Bridges can fit in the landscape, another day.
To the Ecuadorians, please allow me, a foreigner at a distance, to congratulate you for succeeding in resisting - at least for a step - the pressures to accept the conditions of a global economic system that, as far as I see, while offering one hand to peoples in trouble, with the other hand rob them of their resources, land, heritage, and identity - their past and future. Especially, I admire the indigenous people, who in their selves and their cultures, seem to me icons of the roots of humanity, and truly brothers and sisters of every person. In their dedication and sacrifice (including deaths!), I heard the 'No' of God Himself, who is the Root of everyone and everything. I see that the step accomplished isn't just for the indigenous, or just Ecuadorians, but truly for the whole world. That's how God is.
I see that the government and police and military are also Ecuadorians, and God is also their Father. My desire for you all is that hopefully there might be a path of agreement, peaceful but firm in values.
My hope is that Ecuador might have its own liberty y be owner of its own land, its past, present, and future, that it might blossom with its treasures that it already has. And that it might be a beacon for change in the world. Since the first time I arrived there, I have always thought, "The world needs you, Ecuador." I have confidence in you.
Thank you listening to my words. I continue to pray for you, and please pray for me!
A los Ecuatorianos, permitenme por favor, un extranjero de distancia, a felicitarles por lograr resistir - por un paso por lo menos - las presiones de aceptar las condiciones de un sistema economica global, que, por lo que veo yo, mientras ofrecer una mano a la gente en problemas, con la otra saca la bolsa de recursos, tierra, patrimonia, y identidad - su pasado y futuro. Especialmente, admiro a la gente indígena, que en sus seres y culturas, me parecen iconos de las raises humanas, y verdaderos hermanos y hermanas de todas personas. Por su dedicación y sacrificios (incluso muertes!), escuché el 'No' de Dios mismo, el Rais de todos y todo. Veo que el paso logrado no es solo para los indígenas, ni los Ecuatorianos, sino por todo el mundo entero de verdad. Así es Dios.
Veo que los gobernantes y policias y militares tambien son Ecuatorianos, y Dios es tambien Papi de ellos. Mi deseo para ustedes es ojalá haya un camino de acuerdos, pacifico pero firme en los valores.
Mi esperanza es que Ecuador tenga su propia libertad y sea dueño de su propia tierra, su pasado, presente, y futuro, que florezca con sus tesoros que ya tiene. Y que sea un faro para un cambio en el mundo. Les digo lo que he pensado desde la primera vez que llegue alla: El mundo te necesita, Ecuador. Confio en los Ecuatorianos.
Gracias por escuchar mi palabras. Sigo rezando por ustedes, y por favor recen por mi.