Interview. 'Fifteen percent of the national territory—70% of which is concentrated in our area—continues to be afflicted by extractive policies.'

Ecuadorian organizer Leonidas Iza: ‘The government is under blackmail by the IMF’

After a year of mass protests by the Latin American peoples, an attempt is being made to take stock of everything, leading to proposals for the resolution of the crisis on the most unequal continent on the planet. The indigenous movements still play an important role, because of the strong organizational and struggle capacity that is conditioning the regional political agenda.

The powerful criticisms raised at the end of 2019 against the neoliberal prescriptions imposed by the International Monetary Fund (IMF) are still valid, and may become current again as the economic crisis deepens. We talked about this with Leonidas Iza, leader of the indigenous movement in Ecuador, who in October 2019 led thousands of Ecuadorians against the anti-people economic policies of the Moreno government.

The first ones to rebel were the indigenous movements of Ecuador. Why?

The October 2019 uprising in Ecuador didn’t have as its sole cause the enactment of Decree 883 [the elimination of fuel subsidies], but also the application of neoliberal economic policies since 2018. The flexibilization and precarization of labor, the privatization of public enterprises, the reduction of current spending on health and education, the abandonment of the bilingual education project had all led to the end of the dialogue with the government. The return of the neoliberal paradigm to the continent caused a strong economic crisis that pushed the people of Haiti, Chile and Colombia to rise up.

After 12 days of struggle, the decree was withdrawn after negotiations. But there were 11 other demands: why did the dialogue stop?

The government is under blackmail by the IMF. If it had actually negotiated, it would not have had access to the economic resources granted by the multilateral bodies that have conditioned the political agenda and which control the economy. However, we are also aware of our mistakes in the post-dialogue phase. In the meantime, the government has continued to apply the strategy of divide and conquer, polarizing the discourse and persecuting those categorized as “violent.” In addition, essentially the same Decree 883 was re-submitted in another form in March 2020 with the system of price tiers. With the 5% monthly increase, this would eliminate 100% of subsidies in a year and a half.

What now?

We must move on to the proposal phase. First of all, we must tackle the problem of extractivism. Fifteen percent of the national territory—70% of which is concentrated in our area—continues to be afflicted by extractive policies. Other issues, such as community transport, the recognition of bilingual education, the change of the productive matrix and justice for the indigenous also need to be re-examined. We will continue to fight for an organic understanding and solution.

In February 2021, a new president and new Parliament will be elected. What is happening at the moment?

The current establishment has low popular legitimacy, and it favors the candidate of the right [Guillermo Lasso], who would continue the model of neoliberal development. For this very reason, it is using the media (its allies) to create a permanent smokescreen, with cases of corruption and judicial scandals that try to hide the deep economic crisis that the country is going through. In our Constitution, in effect since 2008, three forms of democracy are recognized: representative, direct and communitary. But these are there only formally, in my opinion. We, as a mass organization, have an important task: to increase popular participation and criticize the partyocracy system that is weakening democracy.

People expected that you would run in these elections, but your candidate is Yaku Pérez. What happened?

Personally, I had stated publicly that I would not be a candidate in any area. Regarding Yaku Pérez’s candidacy, from the very beginning, I expressed my opposition to the way in which Pachakutik determined the party’s presidential ticket. Some fellow leaders have condoned the individual participation of the affiliates and have not respected the collective process, as established by the Statute of the Confederation of Indigenous Nationalities of Ecuador (CONAIE). Some candidacies have been rejected due to individual aspirations, and if community democracy is recognized in the Magna Carta, we should be the ones to apply it first.

From September 18 to 30, you were on tour in the United States, presenting your book Estallido: la rebellión de octubre en Ecuador. How did it go?

The main objective of my visit was to create the conditions of unity for the fight against racism, fascism and exploitation. The independence of the United States, since 1776, also played out around the struggles for the liberation of slaves. This is why we have held a series of meetings with our Afro-descendant brothers engaged in the fight against racism today. We hope to be able to present the book in Europe as well, to develop the unified processes of struggle against the expansion of a world order based on fascist ideology.

During your tour in the U.S., some political maneuvers took place: the visit of Yaku Pérez to your region, the candidacy of his right hand man, Peter Calo, to the Parliament, and the candidacy of Jaime Vargas, which still hangs in the balance. How do you interpret these moves?

Pérez’s trip points to a lack of respect for collective processes, and this is very painful for everyone. On October 2, Jaime Vargas was elected as a candidate by the collective participants representing the indigenous peoples, but the Pachakutik leaders did not heed the decision. However, we have said that we will support the political program of the indigenous movement in Ecuador.

The polls are putting Andrés Arauz [candidate of the Unión por la Esperanza – Unes] in first place, and Lasso in second place. In the event of a runoff, what will the indigenous movement do?

In a likely runoff between the left-wing candidate Arauz and Lasso, my collective will certainly not support the latter. We cannot compromise our political project and subject it to any other force.

Meanwhile, in Bolivia, MAS has won the presidential elections. What will be Arce’s greatest challenge?

The Bolivian people have shown great courage. They have not been intimidated by the racist and denigrating policies of the right-wing government. The indigenous movements in Bolivia have been able to raise the conflict to the political level and shape the program of Arce, the new president. The majority said “no more” to the neoliberal model of development. However, it is necessary to be critical and learn from past mistakes: the Arce-Choquehuanca ticket won thanks to the support of social organizations and indigenous movements, so the political action of the government will have to take place on the basis of these alliances. In the past, we have criticized the developmentist model that attacked the territories of indigenous nationalities in Bolivia. A balance is necessary between development and a vision of the original peoples. The negative consequences of economic policies centered on extractivism must be re-discussed. Latin American progressivism still enjoys popular support, which represents resistance to the 30-year-old prescriptions of the IMF that created the crises in which we find ourselves today. We must work throughout the continent to ensure that there is a unity of the left against neoliberalism.

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