Ecuadorian President Sixto Duran-Ballen declared a state of emergency on June 21, and asked the military to clear roads and public places of Indigenous protesters. Members of the Confederation of Indigenous Nationalities of Ecuador (CONAIE) and other Indian organizations are blockading roads and demonstrating to protest government approval of the Agricultural Development Law. The government ignored a series of calls by CONAIE and popular organizations for national consultations on agrarian reforms, and instead swiftly approved the sweeping agricultural development legislation on June 13. President Duran-Ballen claims the new law will modernize the country's agricultural sector. Indigenous organizations called the law unconstitutional, stating that it will destroy their agricultural economy, threaten Indigenous systems of land tenure, and drive thousands to immigrate to city slums in search of work.
CONAIE organized a massive "Mobilization for Life" to demand the law be repealed. The mobilization has nearly paralyzed nine of 21 Ecuadorian provinces.
This is the fourth nation-wide mobilization led by CONAIE since the first Indian uprising in 1990. In a gesture both symbolic and concrete, CONAIE has stalled the flow of agricultural goods to the cities. President Duran-Ballen stated that three year sentences would be given to those protestors who disobeyed the state of emergency. CONAIE responded stating that "The decision of our grassroots is to remain where they are until the law is repealed. If all the dimensions of the conflict are taken into account, the imposition of a state of emergency is a virtual declaration of war against the Indigenous people and the majority of the country."
The deaths of three Indigenous protestors have been confirmed. The number of those injured and detained is unknown. A radio station in Latacunga belonging to the Catholic Church was invaded and destroyed by security forces, and one of the staff detained. Protestors have been harrassed and threatened for the last two weeks, and tensions are extremely high.
On June 20, after two weeks of protest, the government invited Indigenous organizations to negotiations , but broke off talks the next day, and declared the state of emergency. Indigenous organizations demanded that the law be revoked before negotiating the shape of new agricultural legislation. The government would agree only to modifying the new law.
CONAIE and the environmental group Accion Ecologica point out that the new law promotes privatization of communal properties, fails to recognize Indigenous systems and concepts of land tenure as legitimate, and will promote agro-industry and livestock grazing at the expense of small farmers who now account for 75% of the country's agricultural production.
Please send letters urging the Ecuadorian government to negotiate a peaceful solution to the problem and to immediately halt repression directed against CONAIE and other Indigenous groups. Mention that the Agricultural Development Law's constitutionality is questionable, and should be judged by the country's supreme court.
Sixto Duran Ballen, Presidente del Ecuador, Palacio Presidencial. Carcia Moreno, 1043, Quito-Ecuador Fax: (593-2) 580 735
with copies to: Luis Macas, Presidente CONAIE, Av. Granados 2553, Casilla 17-17-1235, Quito-Ecuador Fax: (593-2) 4422