President of CONAIE runs for Congress

by Marc Becker

(Published in revised form in NACLA: Report on the Americas 29:6 (May/June 1996), 45-46.

On January 31, Luis Macas, president of the Confederación Nacional de Indígenas de Ecuador (CONAIE), a national federation representing Ecuador's ten Indigenous groups, announced that he would run for the office of national deputy in the National Congress in elections to be held in May.

Macas is running as an independent candidate on the Movimiento Unidad Plurinacional Pachakutik-Nuevo País ticket, a coalition of popular organizations including CONAIE, the Coordinadora de Movimientos Sociales, as well as left-of-center and leftist political parties. This is the first time that an Indigenous leader in Ecuador has run for a national office.

When Pachakutik formally enlisted its candidates in the Supreme Electoral Tribunal on February 15, Macas declared first in Quichua and then in Spanish that it was time that Indigenous, Black, Mestizo, and White people came together to create a new country.

Pachakutik, which is fielding local and provincial candidates in most of the country, represents a new alliance between Indigenous and popular sectors. It opposes the neo-liberal economic policies of the current conservative government and favors profound changes in society which would create a more inclusive and participatory democracy. Its leaders speak of four revolutions: ethical, socio-economical, educational, and ecological.

Pachakutik emerged last year out of the efforts of Indigenous organizations in the Ecuadorian Amazon. Pachakutik is a Quichua word which signifies change, rebirth, transformation, and the coming of a new era. Initially, CONAIE opposed alliances with political parties or directly supporting a presidential candidate and instead encouraged its affiliate organizations to work independently on local campaigns. Grassroots pressure, however, pushed national leaders to rethink their positions on electoral politics.

Macas' decision to run for office is a reversal of his previous position. Despite the fact that several political parties approached Macas about appearing as a vice-presidential candidate on their ticket, last fall he announced that his role was as leader of Ecuador's Indigenous peoples and not as a politician.

CONAIE had also passed a resolution forbidding its leaders from holding political office. The organization's board of directors, however, agreed to support Macas' campaign. José María Cabascango, CONAIE's director of promotion and organization, is serving as Macas' campaign manager. If elected, Macas will step down as CONAIE's president.

Although running their own slate of local candidates, the Izquierda Democratica, Partido Socialista-Frente Amplio, and the Communist Party (which is not organized as a legal political party) have announced their support for Freddy Ehlers, Pachakutik's presidential candidate. Ehlers, a popular TV journalist, has no previous political experience. Many people consider his role as a political "outsider" to his advantage. Upon entering the race, he immediately leapt to second place in the crowded presidential race of nine candidates. Macas is likely to win a National Deputy post in the May 19th elections, but Ehlers and Jaime Nebot, the candidate for the conservative Social Christian Party (PSC) who is in first place in the polls, will probably face off in a second round on July 7 for the presidency.