Rage Against the Decree: the Role of Indigenous and Marginalized Ecuadorians in Revoking Decree 883

Rage Against the Decree: the Role of Indigenous and Marginalized Ecuadorians in Revoking Decree 883

On October 20th, Ecuadorian President Lenín Moreno met with local Indigenous leaders to revoke Decree 883 in an effort to terminate the intensifying and sweeping civilian protests against his government. The agreement signed that day aimed to negate the implementation of austerity measures, declaring Ecuador once again a “country of peace”. The measures, which included subsidy cuts, were an important requirement of the International Monetary Fund’s Decree 883: a set of demands given to Ecuador in exchange for a loan of $4.2 billion USD. And although Moreno claims that he accepted the decree with the intention of reducing Ecuador’s overwhelming amount of debt and stabilizing its economy, he failed to take into account the reality of such demands. 

Within its short existence, the decree, particularly through its elimination of gasoline subsidies, has already disproportionately impacted marginalized Ecuadorians, including Indigenous communities, lower-class workers and the rural poor. The protests, which began as peaceful street demonstrations, quickly became bloody as tensions rose and needs became more dire: notably, the oil fields and pipelines of Petroamazonas and the Trans-Ecuadorian pipeline were forced to close down after protestors stormed the facilities. Furthermore, President Moreno’s bureau was forced to evacuate from the capital city of Quito to the more rural Guayaquil to avoid tear gas, rioting, and violence in the streets, which has thus far resulted in seven deaths and more than 1000 injuries.

History of the International Monetary Fund in Ecuador

The history of the International Monetary Fund in Latin America is extensive and deep, and Ecuador is not an exception. Following the Latin American wave of democratization and neoliberalization in the 1980s, Ecuador accepted aid from both the IMF and the World Bank based on binding conditionalities, which rendered the country both politically and economically tied down to both institutions by its astounding amount of debt. In addition to former President Correa’s corrupt use of funds, the Ecuadorian economy was deeply affected by the critical price drops in its main export, oil, in the 2000s, which forced the country to adopt the USD as its local currency. Such catastrophic events disproportionately impacted the rural poor and Indigenous communities in particular over the city-dwelling, white or mestizo Ecuadorians. The Correa government’s incessant obsession with neoliberalism, free trade, open borders and economic growth as an indicator of development negatively affected the livelihoods of such groups, inspiring the creation and strengthening of civil society, such as CONAIE, to voice the opinions of the marginalized.  

History of Indigenous Participation in Ecuadorian Politics

During the military rule from 1972 to 1979, Indigenous issues “barely appeared in the discourse of the regimes”, resulting in a lack of public discussion and political participation about and by Indigenous peoples on a governmental level. In addition to a lack of political representation, other factors have contributed to Indigenous peoples’ difficulty in accessing social services, traveling to the city, and escaping the vicious poverty cycle, including the lack of proper transportation and the weakness of infrastructure. Scholars have called this phenomenon ‘social exclusion’, as it affects the lives of the rural poor and especially Indigenous peoples multidimensionally. The economy of rural areas is still heavily reliant on “small-scale farming, obsolete technologies, [and] insufficient irrigation systems”, which help perpetuate the continuous cycle of poverty for Indigenous communities and rural workers, who largely live in such rural economies. 

The Confederation of Indigenous Nationalities of Ecuador (CONAIE) was founded in 1986 and is argued to be one of the country’s most “important indicator[s] of political and social progress”. The group, which provides a platform for communication and expression from marginalized Indigenous communities in Ecuador, has been the model for implementing political change via peaceful methods such as “street protests, constitutional reforms and electoral politics”. CONAIE aims to replace the concept of social exclusion by including more Indigenous voices at a governmental level, and became an important platform for many Indigenous people in 1986, played a major role in the 1996 presidential elections, and facilitated the revocation of Decree 883 on October 20th. 

Indigenous people have been integral actors in the reformation of government and policy change in Ecuadorian history: from the roots of Indigenous civil society activism, la Revolución Ciudadana, to the culminated victory of rejecting the IMF-backed Decree 883 in a matter of 11 days of protest. The 14 Indigenous nations (Tsáchila, Chachi, Epera, Awa, Quichua, Shuar, Achuar, Shiwiar, Cofán, Siona, Secoya, Zápara, Andoa and Waorani) have been vocal activists for reforming policies to tackle environmental rights, preserving Indigenous culture, and protecting middle and lower-class workers’ rights – especially vis-à-vis the influx of neoliberal policies in Latin America and Ecuador in the 1980s. 

The Impact of Indigenous Contribution on New Policies

The political input of Indigenous communities has culminated in the creation of the ‘Buen Vivir’ policy, which stems from the Indigenous belief of ‘Sumak Kawsay’: a direct rebellion against Western definitions of development and social hierarchy. Buen Vivir presents a new bottom-up approach to governance and economic development derived from concepts in Sumak Kawsay, such as “living in a community, collective rights and rights of nature”, wherein Ecuadorian political and economic policies were built. This political integration of Indigenous beliefs in Ecuador’s modern legislature represents a form of upholding dignity, prioritizing the integration of Indigenous peoples into Ecuadorian society and acknowledging the importance of Indigenous culture and voices in Ecuadorian politics – a massive change in attitude compared to 50 years ago.

By acknowledging the history and effects of such policies, it can be argued that it is all but natural and obvious that the IMF’s neoliberal approach to achieving economic growth in Ecuador, which affected Indigenous, poor and rural workers disproportionately, was vehemently opposed and ultimately rejected by the power of the people.

Edited by Shannon Benson

Featured image by Voz de América in the Public Domain.

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