Protests challenge Ecuador indigenous summit

It was all smiles inside the summit

Saturday, 26 June 2010

Left-wing Latin American leaders have signed a declaration to promote indigenous rights.

The presidents of Ecuador, Venezuela and Bolivia signed the document at a summit in Ecuador.

Cuba, Nicaragua and Dominica were also represented.

Outside the venue, Ecuador’s main indigenous organisation protested, saying it had not been consulted.

The “Declaration of Otavalo” is the latest initiative of the Bolivarian Alliance for the Americas (Alba), a left-wing grouping founded by President Hugo Chavez of Venezuela.

It promises to build societies that respect the rights of Latin America’s indigenous people, as well as those of African descent.

It also pledges to protect the “Mother Earth” with development that respects the environment.

“We have to get rid of capitalism and protect the earth, protect nature” said Bolivian president Evo Morales, who is an indigenous Aymara.

But Ecuador's indigenous leaders felt excluded.

Indigenous unity?

President Rafael Correa of Ecuador said the main challenge was to pull indigenous people out of centuries of poverty and exploitation.

But outside the venue, representatives of Ecuador’s main indigenous confederation, Conaie, staged an angry protest, saying their views were not being represented.

Indigenous leaders tried to get into the summit to hand a written statement to Mr Morales, but were held back by police.

Conaie – the Confederation of Indigenous Nationalities of Ecuador – was one of Rafael Correa’s main allies when he won the presidency in 2006, and again in elections last year.

Together with other indigenous organisations, it represents around 40% of Ecuador’s population.

But they have since fallen out over mining and oil development, as well as water rights.

Conaie has accused Mr Correa of betraying them by approving a mining law that could see foreign companies open huge new mines on their ancestral territories.

They also want him to give indigenous communities in the Andes mountains and Amazon rainforest more powers to manage their own affairs, something Evo Morales has done in Bolivia with the creation of a “plurinational state”.

President Correa has accused Conaie of “separatism” and playing into the hands of the political right and says it has been manipulated by foreign non-governmental organisations.

The summit ended with calls for indigenous unity from all three presidents.

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