Indigenous Community Center Destroyed

From Abya Yala News V.8; N.3 (Fall 1994), 20.

During the "Mobilization for Life," a major community center belonging to the Union of Cooperatives and Indigenous Communities of Cañar Province (UPCCC) was attacked and burned to the ground. The UPCCC is Cañar's regional Indigenous organization and is affiliated with CONAIE. The following are excerpts from an interview with UPCCC Secretary General Alberto Saeteros.

Why did the attack take place? Who was involved?

As you know, we participated fully in the mobilization called by CONAIE in opposition to the recently passed Agrarian Development Law. This law was not only illegal, but also threatened the interests of Indigenous people.

We cut the are off by blocking the main highways. Because we were winning in the struggle, the followers of Jaime Nebot and the PSC (Social Christian Party) decided in desperation to attack us. It wasn't just because of the mobilization, but also because of our alternative market which cut the "middleman" out of the sale of our products. We were, therefore, competing with the speculators living in the area, many of whom are Nebot supporters. Additionally, we were attacked because of long-standing racism against Indigenous people.

What happened during the attack itself?

The attack was carefully orchestrated by a relatively small group of people; the general population was not against us, nor were we against them. This small group told all sorts of lies in order to make us look bad and to justify what they did. We never attacked the markets, nor poisoned the water like they claimed.

The attack itself was very violent. They came with pistols, homemade cannons, and tear gas. One of our activists, Manuel Mesias Yupa Yupa died from a bullet wound to the head. We also had 38 injuries and a number of disappearances. Many people are still unaccounted for. The community center was sacked and burned.

What did the police and military do during the attack?

They did almost nothing to prevent or inhibit the attack. Moreover, the military shut down our radio station which made it difficult for us to communicate with the people, to tell them what was happening. Indigenous leaders have been pursued and in some cases jailed. Right now we are conducting investigations into the action of the police and military during the attack and during the mobilization as a whole.

What was damaged during the attack?

Everything. Nothing was left untouched. The damage total has exceeded 10 billion sucres ($5 million).

UPCCC has argued that the government is in part responsible for the damages, and you have demanded that the government offer compensation. Have you received any financial help from the state?

No. We haven't received a cent.

And from other sources?

A little. Some popular sectors have offered assistance both in terms of money and labor to help us rebuild. We have a couple of new machines in the carpentry center, and we should have a new FAX machine soon. But as you can see, this is a very small part of the rebuilding that needs to be done. For this reason, we are calling on our allies and sympathizers here in Ecuador and in the international community to show their solidarity by sending us financial support so that we can rebuild our office and community center. Many people here will benefit if we can rebuild.

Do you have any final comments?

This attack was motivated by a desire on our enemies part to break the will of the Indigenous leadership and the movement here in Cañar. Although our office is destroyed, our determination is not. We will continue with our struggle. In fact, we are more determined and unified than ever.