As Ecuador prepares for a second and final round of presidential elections in April, Indigenous leaders of a historically progressive organization have tacitly sided with the right-wing candidate that has promised to rollback many of the social and economic gains of the past decade that have benefited the country’s poor and Indigenous communities.
Jorge Herrera, leader of the Confederation of Indigenous Nationalities of Ecuador, known as Conaie, spoke out against Correa Thursday, presenting a seemingly united front among the more than 1 million Indigenous Ecuadoreans.
“There has to be a conclusive decision. The decision is against 'Correismo,’” he said in an interview with El Universo published Thursday, adding that Conaie is also "not going to allow" blank or spoiled ballots in the second round.
In a press conference Wednesday, Herrera stated that Conaie will announce in 15 days which candidate it will be supporting in the April 2 runoff vote. But he added that Conaie will not endorse governing party candidate and former vice president, Lenin Moreno — meaning the Indigenous movement will vote for the only other option for president, conservative candidate and former banker Guillermo Lasso of the CREO party.
The statement comes after Carlos Perez Guartambel, president of the Indigenous movement Ecuarunari, one of the three regional federations that make up Conaie, addressed Lasso's supporters in a demonstration days after the first round of the presidential election, stating support for the conservative politician.
"A banker is preferable to a dictatorship that has dispossessed us of our territories, that has declared a state of exception, that has locked us up in jail," said Perez.
Last year, at a protest against a luxury goods tax, Perez told Reuters that Ecuador was on the brink of "becoming a dictatorship" and spoke out against the Correa government's progressive tax plans. In the months that followed, Conaie seized on anti-Correa momentum harnessed in a series of protests — led in part by Lasso's running mate Andres Paez — against government plans to tax capital gains and inheritances of the country's richest 2 percent. Conaie launched an "Indigenous Uprising" that attracted the support of Lasso, Paez and other right-wing figures, while failing to garner the popular grassroots backing the organization historically boasted.
Despite a history as a powerful political actor with a strong capacity to mobilize that even helped bring down presidents with street protests as recently as the early 2000s, Conaie has seen divisions in recent years between its leaders and the grassroots of the organization.
Conaie — together with its electoral affiliate Pachakutik — was actually part of the broad-based progressive movement that helped bring the Correa government to power in 2006. But growing rifts led to a breakdown in the relationship in the first years of the administration and Conaie shifted alliances largely to the right-wing opposition.
In the first round of the presidential election, Conaie supported former military man Paco Mancayo. As Moreno and Lasso face off in the second round, Herrera's hints all point to the fact that Conaie will endorse the conservative candidate.
Lasso, who lost to Correa in the 2013 election, has championed a neoliberal platform that calls for slashing and eliminating taxes, privatizing health care and creating 1 million jobs with a private sector focus, among other free-market economy proposals.
The former banker would bring a U-turn to Ecuador. During Correa’s 10 years in office, the country has cut extreme poverty nearly in half, increased health and education funding and made strides in improving Indigenous participation in politics and public institutions, in what has been called the “Citizens' Revolution.”
Conaie's leadership, which has been criticized for betraying the class interests of its grassroots membership, represents just one facet of the opinions of Ecuador’s Indigenous people, who make up about 7 percent of the country’s population. Unlike the mainstream international media portrayal of Ecuador’s Indigenous communities as leading a united “resistance” against Correa, Indigenous groups in the country are actually split around the question of which candidate to support in the election, with many other Indigenous leaders vocally supporting Correa's party Alianza Pais.
Still, the issue of oil extraction has remained contentious among Indigenous communities during Correa’s presidency, becoming the main issue that is dividing them in the lead up to the April runoff election. Yet, many recognize the advances of the past decade to increase the quality of life and public participation of Indigenous communities.
Carlos Viteri Gualinga, leader of the Sarayaku community from the Shuar nationality in the Amazon, supports the Citizens’ Revolution, despite some disagreements around the issue of oil extraction.
“There are sectors that argue that Ecuador should stop extractivism. I share that idea, I don’t like mining, I don’t like oil,” Viteri told teleSUR in an interview before the first round of elections. “But I like even less that our children still have nutrition problems, I like even less that our elders still don’t have the right protection from the state, I like even less that in the territories of my communities and nationalities there is still a lack of basic services."
Correa has improved these conditions for Indigenous communities, which is why Viteri says he supports Correa and his party Alianza Pais.
On April 2, Ecuador will choose between Lenin Moreno — Alianza Pais candidate and former vice president for Correa — and Guillermo Lasso — right-wing candidate and former banker — as the next president of Ecuador.