/* Written 3:40 PM Nov 4, 1996 by igc:newsdesk in ax:ips.english */
/* ---------- "ECUADOR: Ministry Fractures Indigen" ---------- */
Copyright 1996 InterPress Service, all rights reserved.
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*** 01-Nov-96 ***

Title: ECUADOR: Ministry Fractures Indigenous Movement

By Mario Gonzalez

QUITO, Nov 1 (IPS) - Rather than being welcomed by those it was designed to help, Ecuador's ministry for indigenous matters is being denounced in some quarters as a tactic to ''divide and rule''.

Created by the administration of Abdala Bucaram, the Ethnic- Cultural Ministry is seen by some as challenging the influence of the indigenous movement which recently burst onto the national political scene through a political movement called New Country Pachakutik.

The fourth largest electoral force in the South American country, the Pachakutik is also the largest political opposition bloc in parliament.

In general elections last May, Pachakutik obtained eight of the 82 seats available in Congress and 71 local and sectional posts in what was the indigenous movement's first venture into local politics.

Setting up the Ministry marked the fulfilment of Bucaram's campaign promise. Two indigenous leaders from the Amazonian region -- Rafael Pandam, representative for Pachakutik, and Valerio Grefa, secretary general of the Coordinating Committee for Indigenous Organizations of the Amazon Basin (COICA) -- had pressed for this.

Reports here say both are in line to be appointed to ministerial positions. ''The Ministry is a creation of our organized movement,'' said government spokesman Miguel Salem, who belongs to the Shuar indigenous group.

''It is part of the government structure and on that basis we will be able to define policies to address our problems concerning health, education, housing, development programs, and so on'' he added.

However the Confederation of Indigenous Nations of Ecuador (CONAIE), the largest ethnic organization in the country, rejected the proposal for creation of the ministry which it defines as ''political booty'' to be used by Bucaram to consolidate his popularity.

Close to 40 percent of the 11.5 million Ecuadorans belong to one of the 10 indigenous ethnic groups. The CONAIE brings together nine organizations that represent all these groups. Both Pandam and Grefa are members and have even formed part of its directorate.

''Once again, we are going back to decisions made without consultation,'' said Miguel Cabascango, president of CONIAE. ''Once again, indigenous leaders are offered government posts in exchange for support and submission,'' he insisted.

For Cabascango, ''the Ministry will be another bureaucratic institution that will absorb resources that should reach all the indigenous organizations.''

Luis Macas, leader of the indigenous bloc in Parliament, thinks that the initiative to create a new ministry is contradictory. ''They tell us that there is no budget to meet our demands and then they create new public offices that supposedly don't even have a budget to set up telephone lines. It is absurd,'' he said.

Instead of a ministry, the CONIAE proposed the creation of a National Council for Planning and Development of Indigenous Peoples. The Council ''would be an autonomous entity, independent, with its own economic resources and technical in nature,'' said Nina Pacari, a CONIAE leader.

''The reality of our communities has nothing to do with a ministry; we need an integral approach to our problems and our solutions,'' she said.

The proposal has the support of the Committee of the Decade, made up of seven indigenous, peasant, and Afro-Ecuadoran organizations. At first, the government accepted that initiative and called for the formation of a high-level Committee for a discussion.

The Committee was to be formed by representatives of the three branches of government -- the Catholic Church, the Armed Forces and the indigenous leadership. However, when the Committee was having its second meeting, Bucaram announced his decision to set up a ministry.

''At least we hope that the appointment of the Minister will be consulted with all the communities of indigenous peoples, Blacks and peasants,'' said Felipe Cuich, leader of the Committee of the Decade.

''If that doesn't happen, and if the president insists on forgetting his electoral promises, we will be forced to conduct uprisings at the national level,'' he warned. According to Pacari, ''Grefa and Pandam are ignoring CONIAE's resolution, which opposes the creation of the Ministry,'' and are therefore ''following their own personal interests.''

''We cannot consider the indigenous sector as a homogeneous movement,'' because ''each community is different and has adopted different forms of struggle, resistance and political participation,'' said Rodrigo de la Cruz, a technical advisor to COICA.

''What we can say is that we indigenous peoples have problems in common and our struggle is headed towards solutions to those problems,'' concluded de la Cruz. (ENDS/IPS/EA/96)

Origin: Amsterdam/ECUADOR/

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