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“The government intends to impose violence to supposedly defend democracy”: interview with Leonidas Iza, leader of the indigenous movement

Iza haranguing indigenous people from the province of Cotopaxi in October of last year.  (GETTY IMAGES)

Protests against the government of the president Ecuadorian Guillermo Lasso does not stop and the leader of the Confederation of Indigenous Nationalities of Ecuador (CONAIE), Leonidas Iza, does not rule out an even more complex scenario.

In a dialogue with BBC Mundo from Quito, Iza denied the government’s accusations that the indigenous leadership wants to remove the president from the Carondelet Palace and that the protests have something to do with the authorities’ fight against drug trafficking.

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Iza assured that the mobilization seeks answers to the 10 points raised by CONAIE, among which are freezing fuel prices, a debt moratorium in the financial system and not exploiting mining in indigenous territories.

But the most visible leader of the national strike anticipated that the absence of responses from the government could make the situation -already difficult due to the violence in the streets and a growing shortage- definitively get out of control.

Iza haranguing indigenous people from the province of Cotopaxi in October of last year. (GETTY IMAGES)

What summary do you make of these eleven days of protests that began on June 13?

At least the national government has had to listen to us, which has not happened throughout the year that we have been talking.

But a few days ago, President Lasso said that the objective of the protest was to remove him from power. Is there that intention behind the protest?

We want to tell the world that we never set out to do that. That is an own construction of the national government to not give answers to the demands.

We have stayed in the territory for eight days and these last three we have come to Quito, and from the first day it was said that our demands are the 10 points and those 10 points should not be confused with a political act of destabilization.

Nor that they intend to position that we want to throw out the national government.

Therefore, if that does not happen (the fulfillment of the demands), it will be the weight of the national government that leads to any other political moment. But at this moment, the indigenous movement and the popular sectors have maintained that we must get an answer out of the 10 points.

So you don’t rule out that if the government doesn’t listen to your demands, this could give rise to an even more complex political scenario?

One of the protesters in Quito shows the front page of a university communist newspaper.  (GETTY IMAGES)
One of the protesters in Quito shows the front page of a university communist newspaper. (GETTY IMAGES)

It can give rise to a more complex political scenario that is practically uncontrolled.

Right now we have control over our organizational structures, but there is also a reaction from the population, from society.

In that sense, we have always said – taking care of what we come to the city for – that we need the answer to the 10 points and that is our agenda.

The national government, meanwhile, is making external assessments or setting scenarios that do not exist and that we have not proposed; because, practically, it intends to impose violence to supposedly defend democracy.

But in these days there have been acts of violence on both sides and although you have called for non-violence, this has not prevented the incidents. An Ecuadorian analyst, Pedro Donoso, said a few hours ago that neither the president controls the state, nor does Conaie control the protests. Have the protests gotten out of hand?

Protesters in Ecuador. (GETTY IMAGES)

They haven’t gotten out of hand. Yesterday it was demonstrated, with the massive peaceful march.

And at that moment, a group of citizens, of unknown identity, went and promoted actions against the Prosecutor’s Office. We cannot take responsibility for that, it has not been during the march but later.

It seems that there is planning by the government itself and we cannot take charge of something that the national government has been able to control.

While you have talked about infiltrators in the marches, the Minister of Defense said that the other day that the social protest is taking place in the context of a fight against drug trafficking and a wave of insecurity in the country, and hinted that there is a relationship between both events.

They are rude words, irresponsible words and what it has provoked in us is more indignation.

As long as they continue to think like this, the president or the state authorities will never solve this mobilization.

We would never accept a single penny from drug trafficking or from the mafias that are operating there.

I ask the authorities, how many of those who are linked to the administrative management of the State are linked to drug trafficking?

Some protesters at their entrance to the capital. (GETTY IMAGES)

We say that we would never accept a penny from any political actor, worse from drug trafficking; This fight is sustained with the solidarity of the people, of the countryside, of all of us who are feeling poverty and inequality in this country.

They are the ones who need to make visible the control of the mafias in the State itself, within the institutions, and the government has not had the capacity to control at least that much.

We flatly reject such pretensions to delegitimize our struggle.

The other day Nina Walinga, a well-known international activist within the Ecuadorian indigenous movement, called on you and the president to behave like adults and resolve this situation. I ask you if there is a conflict -even personal- between the president of the nation and the president of CONAIE that has kidnapped a large part of Ecuadorian society in the middle.

Absolutely, I have no personal issue against the President of the Republic.

What I have had is insults, harassment, criminalization, persecution, illegal detention by the President of the Republic.

We have never tried to position the attitude -in this case- of my person, no. Here is a problem installed.

Protesters in Ecuador. (GETTY IMAGES)

That there are comrades who suddenly do not agree with collective decisions is respectable, but here is a decision of all the organizational structures of the indigenous movement on the 10 demands.

That is what we stand for and that is what we are going to continue to stand for.

Therefore, for those who say that we have had a childish or children’s attitude, despite the insults and everything that the President of the Republic has told me, let them know that we have delivered the first proposal on June 11 of the year Last year, on October 4, we went to the dialogue table on the same proposal, and on November 10 as well. Answers?

So it’s not a childish attitude on our part. It is worse that the President of the Republic has used these spaces for dialogue solely and exclusively for his own benefit.

There has been maturity on our part.

President Lasso has provided answers to these ten points raised by CONAIE. He spoke, for example, of the declaration of an emergency in the health sector, of price controls or of not raising fuel prices. How do you analyze these responses from the president to his demands?

President Guillermo Lasso. (GETTY IMAGES)

We have welcomed these decrees, decrees that do not solve much, but they will bring benefits to very particular issues.

What we have said is that we need to advance on the most urgent issues: the fuel issue, the financial system issue, the mining issue. These are the issues that have escalated poverty the most in this country.

We have even said with absolute clarity that fuel increases cannot return to zero, that we assume 60% of the increase, but that the Ecuadorian State assumes 40%.

We are not going to extremes, but also assuming a part, but they cannot carry all the weight to the poorest, that is the point.

Therefore, once the fuel price freeze is guaranteed at this price, let us immediately call on other sectors to plan a policy of targeting subsidies.

On our part there has been absolute openness on the issues that we have said, at this time, that are urgent.

Beyond the conflict between CONAIE and the government, there is a large sector of Ecuadorian society concerned about violence, at the first signs of shortages, what do you say to that Ecuadorian society that is not necessarily marching in protests?

We get it and our families are still suffering.

Leonidas Isa. (GETTY IMAGES)

Fights always bring pain, they bring tragedies: we have comrades killed, directly shot in the head,

To the citizens, who are in the city, we understand that food is running out, that is why we have asked the President of the Republic that there should be much faster processes, and with that no Ecuadorian would be affected.

We have always said that the supplies, the gas, must be guaranteed, but it is also getting out of control, because many times the bases that are there protesting have no organization; therefore we need that the compañeros and compañeras in the territories know what minimum conditions must be guaranteed.

Really, with all that it has meant to sustain (the fight) with deaths, wounded, comrades who have lost their sight, at this moment it is already in the hands of the President of the Republic.

Therefore, I want to ask the citizens that we can do esprit de corps. This is not a fight of mechanical (beings), nor of robots, it is a fight of human beings.

This fight is to be able to guarantee minimum conditions as human beings.

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