The struggles which continue to unfold in Ecuador have opened to international view the social forces and politics that are sharply contending throughout Latin America. See previous posts on Frontlines for more background:
Ecuador’s CONAIE and Defamation by “Journalism of the State”: Historic Organizers of Latin American Struggles Refute the Distortions Made by a US Lawyer
By Fernando León and Erin Rosa,
Special to The Narco News Bulletin, October 12, 2010
Last September 30, Latin America observed what appeared to be the third coup d’etat of the new millennium, and upon first glance many of us believed it was possible. But with the passage of time following this event, the facts have become even more confusing. Ecuadorian social movements that didn’t support President Rafael Correa ipso facto were attacked with criticisms and falsehoods from those whose vision of the left in the hemisphere doesn’t transcend the limits of the state. Within the very nature of the attempted coup, or whatever it was, the most relevant thing emerged a few days later, with the attempted attacks against historic Ecuadorian indigenous organizations that, for strong differences over its policies, don’t support the Ecuadorian government.
Leading the charge against these indigenous social movements is US lawyer Eva Golinger, a television personality for TeleSur, a channel created by the Venezuelan government that receives additional financing from other Latin American governments. Formerly with the government-supported Washington DC-based Venezuelan Information Office, Golinger has attempted in recent days to paint a portrait of historic organizations like the Federation of Indigenous Nationalities of Ecuador (CONAIE in Spanish initials) as agents of US imperialism. In separate interviews with Narco News, Latin America social fighters with decades of experience in the field of struggles in the hemisphere told this newspaper that they found such statements absurd, unfounded, and unsupported by the supposed “evidence” offered. Among them is Raquel Gutierrez, the Mexican academic and former political prisoner who was accused (along with current Bolivian vice president Álvaro García Linera) of being a member of the Tupac Katari Guerrilla Army in Bolivia. Gutiérrez says that “tying the CONAIE with imperialism is the mother of all lies.”
For his part, Oscar Olivera, a Bolivian union organizer involved in the 2000 Water War that expelled the multinational corporation Bechtel from his country, said “I would put my hands into fire for CONAIE. I’ve been with CONAIE members, with members of the Federation of Peoples of Kichwa Nationality (ECUARUNARI in Spanish initials). I think they are absolutely legitimate movements, from the grassroots, with a transforming perspective, with historic memory… they’re very legitimate.” Both, along with other Latin American social fighters and analysts, added more comments about the accusations, which are detailed below.
A Brief History of the Ecuadorian Indigenous Movement
The new millennium in Latin America has been defined by a historic period of governments with a specific character: in Venezuela, Ecuador, Bolivia, Brazil, Uruguay, Paraguay, Argentina – Nicaragua? El Salvador? – they brought an end to the traumatic decades of dictatorships in the continent. The most relevant thing is that these governments are a product of the social movements that occurred during the previous decades in these countries. However, despite the achievements, many of the movements that helped build those different governments are now seen by them as threats.
And Ecuador is no exception.
The indigenous movement in Ecuador has been one of the most articulate throughout the hemisphere, in a country where out of a population of more than 14 million more than 40 percent are estimated to be indigenous. In 1972, the first regional indigenous federation emerged in the Ecuadorian highlands. It was called ECUARUNARI – currently part of the CONAIE coalition – with a objective to fight for the legalization of indigenous lands, “education, the freedom to organize, to participate in internal and external decision making, among other things.”
By November of 1986 a congress of the National Coordinating Council of the Indigenous Nationalities (CONACNIE in Spanish initials) of Ecuador agreed to form the CONAIE, an organization made up of more than 30 peoples and nationalities from Ecuador. Among their objectives are:
- Bring together the indigenous people and nationalities in the country
- Fight for the defense of indigenous lands and natural resources
- Strengthen bilingual intercultural education
- Struggle against colonialism and new colonialism (multinational corporations in indigenous communities)
- Encourage community self-legislation and develop comprehensive communitarianism
- Strengthen identity and forms of social organization
- Promote the exercise of the Collective Rights of Peoples and Indigenous Nationalities of Ecuador, recognized in the Constitution of the Republic
- Build an intercultural society and promote participation through the establishment of participatory democracy, for the purposes of achieving the decentralization of power and economic resources, solidarity, and equity
- Achieve equality and justice for indigenous peoples and nationalities, and society in general
- Build and maintain international relations between indigenous nations of the Abya-Yala continent, to further the cause by increasing communication between indigenous peoples and other social sectors committed to the cause possible
What the CONAIE considers to be the first great uprising of the federation happened between late May and early June in 1990, when the group took action “to defend and vindicate their rights to land, justice and freedom.”
These constant mobilizations for basic indigenous rights have succeeded in toppling governments that attack the basic principles the CONAIE has struggled for since its founding. In 1998 the movement won the dismissal of President Abdala Bucaram from office. Two years later, the social movements abruptly ended the government of President Jamil Mahuad. With a strategic alliance the CONAIE decided to support Lucio Guitérrez in the presidential elections of 2002. Guitérrez’s main contender was tycoon Álvaro Noboa, who accused Guitérrez of “being a populist radical like Hugo Chávez,” according to BBC News. Gutiérrez won with 54 percent of the vote. Later, due to a shift to the right with the Gutierrez government, the CONAIE definitively broke ties with Gutiérrez in August 2003. Once again, as an oppositional force, social movements composed largely of CONAIE indigenous groups successfully ousted Gutiérrez in 2005.
With the experience of having supported the Gutiérrez government, the CONAIE is in a period that Uruguayan journalist and analyst Raúl Zibechi calls its “reconstruction.” In 2005 “the direction of the CONAIE returned to the grassroots communities…and disappeared from the Ecuadorian political landscape because its direction had returned to the basics. This publicized disappearance allowed it to reconstruct itself from below.”
The Offensive by “Journalism of the State” vs. the Indigenous
One of the most powerful weapons from the governments and some media outlets that brand themselves as “progressive” – because as the scholar Adolfo Gilly has said, with his vast experience in the struggles from below, one must first believe in progress in order to call oneself a progressive – is the attempt to discredit social movements that do not align entirely with their agendas. This situation has increased considerably in the last week. In response to the September 30 uprising by Ecuadorian police, the CONAIE issued a statement at a press conference, where members said they didn’t support the coup or President Correa. In an interview with this newspaper, Zibechi said the CONAIE position is logical: “The CONAIE is made up of 5,000 communities that have many internal contradictions, but I would consider their statement to be fair. They’re against any coup, and that is clear, but they don’t want Correa, who represses them, imprisons them, and has accused them of being terrorists.”
However, after the CONAIE statement, the defenders of “democracy from above” began their offensive.
A day after the reported coup attempt in Ecuador, Golinger made a felony acusation that CONAIE had at its “disposal” funds from the National Endowment for Democracy (NED), a nonprofit that receives money from the US government through the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) and the State Department:
Organizations in Ecuador such as Citizen Participation and Pro-Justice, as well as members and sectors of CODEMPE, Pachakutik, CONAIE, the Indigenous Enterprise Corporation of Ecuador and Qellkaj Foundation, have had USAID and NED funds at their disposal.
Golinger’s accusations attempted to claim that CONAIE has somehow been co-opted by US interests. Directly accusing an organization like CONAIE with something like this is not something to be taken lightly or at face value. The “evidence” that Golinger bases this on is in a document obtained by the US Freedom of Information Act that should be read carefully, since it can be presumed that Golinger did not do so.
First, a brief digression to explain the relationship between the political party Pachakutik and the CONAIE:
In 1995, the Pachakutik Plurinational Unity Movement – New Country (MUPP-NP in Spanish initials) was created, and is according to its website a “multi-ethnic and democratic political movement, with organizational autonomy and deep relations within nationalities and social movements, that is open to participation culminating in social change.” The MUPP-NP is composed of distinct social organizations and sectors from Ecuadorian society. The CONAIE is one of the groups that make up the MUPP-NP.
Now to return to what Golinger published, she also said that:
This document is very clear that Pachakutik and RED (both the political arms at the time of CONAIE) were receiving training and funding from [nonprofit National Democratic Institute]/NED in Ecuador at least since 2005-2006
According to Golinger, because the NED gave a grant to NDI to carry out electoral seminars in Ecuador, Pachakutik is supposedly a puppet to US interests. Before addressing the document, let’s note that Golinger says it was “at least since 2005-2006” that these organizations received financing from NDI/NED. Or is it that from 2005-2006 that they received the supposed funding?
Looking at the document it says that:
The master trainers have provided training for political parties in the following countries: Ecuador -Pachakutik, Ethical and Democratic Network…
Throughout the entire document, that is the only mention of Pachakutik, without any mention at all of the CONAIE.
Now here are some key points after analyzing Golinger’s document:
The document never mentions any group that is directly receiving money, not the Pachakutik or the CONAIE.
- The only financing for Ecuador the document refers to is in the budget for April 1, 2005 – March 31, 2006, which lists travel costs for two “trainers” to go to Quito from Washington DC and back, for a “training seminar.” The total cost was $1,700 US dollars, or $850 per trainer.
- The project referred to in the document – the Political Leadership Program – never explains what the training is about. What it does say is that in the “training” there were participants from many countries, including “Bolivia, Brazil, Colombia, The Dominican Republic, Guatemala, Mexico, Paraguay, Peru and Venezuela.”
- Golinger uses the phrase “at the time,” which means that she knows that the Pachakutik and CONAIE had a falling out. However, for her this proves something, although it’s not known what exactly.
- Golinger uses the phrase “at least since,” implying that financing and training have continued on, without offering any evidence for such a claim. For her, everyone is guilty. It’s not understood why, but they all are.
Contrary to what Golinger claims, as has been said, in the document there is no proof that the Pachakutik or the CONAIE were given any funds at all. Still, on October 8, in response to a reader comment on her blog that noted the supposed financing took place before the Presidential Correa’s term, Golinger said:
These are documents obtained under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) and it’s really difficult to get US agencies to release documents from today. We’re on it, but it takes time. What these documents show is a pattern of funding to these groups.
It’s unknown what documents she is referring to, because according to a correct reading of the document she used as evidence there is no “pattern of funding.” She continues:
And if they received funding/training/advice before, the most likely conclusion is that they still do today
At first, according to Golinger’s own words, the “funding/training/advice”since 2005-2006 had been a fact, but now it appears not. The phrase “most likely conclusion” is to say that her “evidence” is based on assumptions. She continues:
Plus, that was the time Correa was elected and NED/NDI funded folks from Pachakutik/RED ran against him in 2006 and 2009.
This point is key, because along with repeating that NED/NDI funded the Pachakutik/RED, she claims that they competed against Correa in the election of 2006 and 2009. But in the elections of 2006, Pachakutik decided to support Correa. Perhaps Golinger forgot, or maybe she preferred not to remember. Zibechi says:
For the elections of 2006 a vast political and social movement was created to support Correa as a candidate. It was comprised of Pachakutik, the Popular Democratic Movement, and the the Socialist and Democratic Left Party. But in all, it was made up of more than 200 social groups.
So according to what Golinger says, a party that joined a country-wide alliance to bring Correa to power received “funding/training/advice” from the NDI/NED. Golinger continues:
Also other docs from the State Dept evidence CONAIE’s dislike of Correa, which opened the door to “alliances” against Correa later formed which were “aided” and “urged” by US agencies… This type of funding/aid/advice is very complex and effective because it enables US agencies to infiltrate groups of all spectrums. (sic) I am not alleging all of these groups and their members are US agents or receive US funding, but the evidence is quite clear that certain factions within them have close relations w/US agencies and receive their funding. And, they share a common agenda, against President Rafael Correa. That is undeniable.
Which State Department documents? Well, they’re not necessary since for nearly everyone it has been clear for some time that the CONAIE has had a “dislike” of Correa, because no other administration has threatened the principles and actions of the CONAIE and indigenous communities as much as this one, and worse, still, calling itself “progressive.” And what is Golinger talking about with an “alliance” against Correa? Is she referring to the indigenous communities fighting for their rights to land and natural resources, which are being taken by the multinational corporations that Correa has welcomed into the country? Golinger has accused them of receiving aid from a US agency, and the worst thing is that she doesn’t prove it. But to finish, Golinger comments that “I am not alleging all of these groups and their members are US agents or receive US funding.” Is that right? So then what is the point of an attack without sound evidence to back it up?
On the accusations against the CONAIE, Raquel Gutiérrez told this newspaper that “the CONAIE is engrained in the imaginations of rural and urban Ecuadorian citizens as a trusted ally that is capable of organizing masses of people, which is saying a lot.” When pointing out the absurdity of the accusations she says “Don’t be ridiculous! The real enemies of the goals of USAID are these people.”
Democracy From Above
Amid the backdrop of what happened on Sept. 30, what can be seen in Ecuador is a perfect example of the attempts by the government and some media outlets to discredit social movements that have not been fully subordinated by these “progressives.” And with the lack of support by CONAIE for Correa right now, it also serves to uncover the policies that some governments on the continent adopt towards social movements.
Ecuador is not the only place where this happens. Throughout the entire continent social movements have two options: being co-opted by the government, or being physically and regularly attacked. Using words like “disloyal,” “dangerous” and “imperialist agents,” those who divest themselves from the history of previouhttp://www.narconews.com/staff/articles.php3?ArticleID=4232s struggles and work to discredit anyone who stands against the official electoral left are trying to eliminate the memory of the people’s struggle.
When faced with grassroots opposition to its policies, the typical fashion is the accuse dissenters of being “imperialist agents.” Last July Bolivia’s president Evo Morales tried to discredit the mobilizations of indigenous groups who were affected by oil extraction in the Amazon, saying that:
Like the right they can’t find arguments to oppose the process of change, and they now are turning to some campesino and indigenous leaders, who are paid by some NGOs (Non-governmental organizations).
This dismissing of legitimate demands from indigenous communities is something that’s very common with these “progressive” governments, and they are using Cold War tactics to attack the same movements that first brought them to where they are now. Last June, Telesur reported that Correa “denounced conspiracy plants against his government that are coming from NGOs in the country to persuade the indigenous to form extremist groups and prevent the use of natural resources for the benefit of communities.” Correa, who studied in the United States and got a doctorate from the University of Illinois said that “these gringos, who are taking form in NGO groups… These are people that already have their stomachs full.”
Many times these “progressive” governments have been more dangerous for social movements than the governments that came before. The governments, using state-controlled media as a weapon, are attempting to disable the movements so the state can have complete control over the popular struggles. These “progressive” governments have been more intelligent in this sense than governments on the right, and they have already approached communities that before were threatened with bullets, although that not to say that the “progressives” don’t also use those methods when necessary.
Raquel Gutiérrez comments that, “When a government is able to consolidate, in this case like the progressive governments, it’s going to try to reinstall and restore a society where you must ask it for things. You’re put in the position of asking the government to do something, not telling it what to do.” And this situation has been constant throughout the continent. From above they turn to those below to give concessions, or to punish, but not to uphold the principles of the movements that got them there.
But with respect to the accusations, who has the right to criminalize a social movement for not surrendering to the kindness the electoral democracy grants them? If the objective is the conquest of power and they succeeded electorally, and good for them, but that is not the sole or primary objective of many movements and communities in the continent that reject the government and are looking for a real transformation of a hierarchical structure. Much of the electoral left appears to have no memory, and has finally given in to the excesses that power gives.
In Ecuador, the viewpoints on the events that happened on September 30 and the lack of support that the CONAIE gave to the Correa government have been very simple. What’s overlooked is the very extensive and recent history of conflict between both sides.
The Kindness of “Progressive” Democracy
Correa’s coming to power opened the doors for an apparent “consensus” from the left for essentially the same neoliberal economic model as before, with this time it being qualified as a “progressive development.”
Reforms to laws regarding exploitation of natural resources, the Mining Act and the Freshwater Resources Act, were approved with the support of the same Correa administration – and its allies in from Washington to Caracas – who now accuse indigenous peoples of being “gringos” or “imperialist agents” in the communities that oppose those projects.
With the Mining Act and the Freshwater Resources Act alone there are many cases where the armed forces of Correa’s “progressive” government and his “citizen revolution” have repressed and murdered those in indigenous communities who are resisting multinational corporations into their lands. And with these reforms the Correa government has approved, it never considered the indigenous communities for their approval or rejection of them.
In January 2009 the Mining Act was approved without consulting the indigenous peoples of Ecuador, in violation with agreements with the United Nations International Labour Organization. The law allowed for the exploitation of mineral resources by foreign companies without consulting the communities that would be affected, among other things.
With the repression in Dayuma in December 2007, or the repression in Quito in May 2010 over the Freshwater Resources act, the message from Correa’s government was clear: if you’re not with the “progressives” you’ll suffer the consequences. It’s a very well known formula in Latin America.
These state media outlets and journalists defend the Correa government tooth and nail, never reporting on these events. Where is the leftist vanguard when Correa represses the campesinos and indigenous who opposed the Mining Act, the Freshwater Resources Act, or the oil exploitation of the Amazon? For Zibechi, “Correa is opening up water and land to the multinationals, but that part of the left doesn’t want to see it, or can’t see it because the only thing matters to them is that their friends stay in power. That is terrible.”
While focused on the circus above, that part of the left is forgetting that history is made by the people, not the governments. There has never been a criticism at all from these media outlets and “journalists” against these governments, and there never will be. And although it’s obvious, they don’t question why these governments keep a hierarchical and exploitative structure intact under the nickname “progressivism.” In one fell swoop they want to erase the long struggle waged by CONAIE these more than twenty years. Mercedes Osuna, an experienced Mexican organizer in Chiapas, says the “accusations are bullshit.” Osuna comments that, “we met compas from CONAIE when they invited us to a meeting in 2008, and since then we have followed their struggle from Chiapas.” From her experience and relationship with the CONAIE, for Osuna, “these accusations are baseless and full of rumors”
As much as the “progressive” state journalists would like to believe it, the Correa government is not and has never been a threat to imperialist and nationless corporations. During his term multinational corporations haven’t had any problems with coming into the country and taking resources. Infrastructure projects controlled by the World Bank and the Inter-American Development Bank for the Initiative for the Integration of the Regional Infrastructure of South America (IIRSA in Spanish initials) – which, much like the Puebla-Panama Plan – have arrived in the south and are doing business with the approval of Correa and all the other “progressive” governments.
All of this leads people to think that the rhetoric used by many leftist governments is very effective at applying an economic policy that continues to bleed the continent. Who is going to oppose a government if in the end you will be discredited and accused of being an imperialist for not following the policies of these neo-progressives?
Ecuadorian indigenous leader Blanca Chancoso with Oscar Olivera.
Photo DR 2005 Courtesy of Oscar Olivera
For Oscar Olivera, the accusations against the CONAIE are implausible. “I wouldn’t even dare to think that the CONAIE has agreements with USAID and others. It’s a way of understating and downgrading a legitimate and grassroots movement.” In a conversation with Narco news, Olivera makes a personal observation about the accusations, “I think that basically these media outlets, they’re only playing a game with these governments that have settled on this development mode, a strict capitalist model. The only objective is to have resources further alleviating the true needs of the population and they don’t question the progress that should be in the government, with a new model of development apart from what Pachamama has given us.” Olivera has a long history with autonomous movements in his country and knows what he’s talking about, saying finally that “to discredit the CONAIE is to discredit all of the struggles of our indigenous brothers, for not only the last 20 years with the CONAIE, but with the last 500 years or more that they have fought against this model with an absolutely mercantilist conception of life.”
As has been said, many of these governments are a product of the long struggle that the movements have created from below. However, it’s interesting that said movements have seen more threats from the progressive governments that are in power. For Raquel Gutiérrez, “the thing that they must prevent from the point of view of capital is the return of mobilizations. While these governments manage to maintain enough of a flow through a controlled channel, the disorder that was generated in previous years, during the years of struggles, those governments agree that the multinationals are over there, but it’s not agreed that they make moves or ask clear questions against the these corporations that are protecting US military and political power.”
In the case of Ecuador, members of the CONAIE have a long history of struggle in their communities against exploitation, and supposedly the “progressive” Correa government should have ensured the interests of its citizens, but to the contrary, it exploits them under the progressive flag that legitimizes the “true left” in any situation.
For these governments and their reporters, the struggles from below don’t have a place in state “progressivism” Or what are they proposing, that a struggle has only one path, to compete with the right at the polls and discredit the movements that don’t do things their way? Which is more authentic? He who looks for an electoral outlet from above, or he who works every day to build something autonomous from below?
And so, the parts have fallen into place. The official version is of a Correa rescued by the now heroic Ecuadorian Army: and that institution is now the beneficiary of the spectacle of September 30. What happened in Dayuma in December is still forgotten:
“The strike was brutally repressed, the military surely came to clear the way based on how they acted”, said Rosa Alvarado. “The came armed as if they came to fight with someone and they attacked with tear gas, not caring if there were children, pregnant women or elderly people.”
These governments and state journalists have made a long of list of unfounded accusations, forgetting that in many cases the same governments they champion directly receive aid for projects from entities like the USAID.
Last July, Andrés Solís, who was Minister of Hydrocarbons in Evo Morales’ government, asked the Bolivian president and vice-president Álvaro García Linera, “Why, despite these value judgments, have you allowed USAID, the World Bank and European NGOS to design the existing multinational state. In 2004 USAID financed the coordinating unit for the Constitutional Assembly.”
It’s an interesting question when considering the accusations coming from these governments and their journalists against the social movements. And it’s no surprise that as a result of the 2006 Constitutional Assembly in Bolivia, only political parties and legally constituted organizations were allowed to participate. The organizations and social movements didn’t participate and remained relegated to the side, even though they were the main promoters of the assembly.
Or why are there no questions about how the US government has financially backed the “heroic” Ecuadorian military? According to the US Embassy website in Ecuador, the United States sent a total of $50 million in 2009, which went to:
- International Military Education and Training
- The Counter Terrorism Fellowship Program
- Foreign Military Financing (FMF)
- Counter narcotics efforts
The problem is that now the Ecuadorian military is known as the defender of of Ecuadorian democracy, so the attention is diverted to”imperialist” social movements instead. What would have happened if the “coup” had total support from the Armed Forces in Ecuador?
In conclusion, the issue here is that authentic journalism, unlike journalism of the state, is not produced from an office in Caracas or Washington, but instead comes from constantly walking alongside the social movements that are making a difference, rather than those up above. And so it takes more than an unconditional defense of these “progressive” Latin American states to describe the reality that is happening in this hemisphere.
As the CONAIE and other symbols of Latin American struggles know all too well: the revolution is not imposed from above. The true revolution is built from below.