Low Turnout for Ecuador Water-Law Protest; Indigenous Movement Weakened

By Saavedra, Luis Angel | NotiSur - South American Political and Economic Affairs, July 18, 2014 | Go to article overview

Low Turnout for Ecuador Water-Law Protest; Indigenous Movement Weakened


Saavedra, Luis Angel, NotiSur - South American Political and Economic Affairs


A march staged by Ecuador's indigenous movement--the second during President Rafael Correa's time in office--was so small that, instead of influencing the government, it showed the indigenous movement to be weak and fragmented.

The indigenous march protesting the water law proposed by Correa and recently approved by the Asamblea Nacional left the province of Zamora in the southern Amazonian area on June 19 and held political acts in the provincial capitals along the way. It arrived in Quito July 1. The administration, nevertheless, convinced the Asamblea Nacional to approve the Ley Organica de Recursos Hidricos on June 24, rendering useless the indigenous mobilization that, despite the small turnout, had tried to revive the Parlamento de los Pueblos where various social leaders had debated national issues in the past.

President Correa downplayed the march that had no more than 500 people when reaching El Arbolito park, a socially historical site in the north-central part of the capital. El Arbolito had been the gathering point for major indigenous protests that had helped topple three prior administrations: that of Presidents Abdala Bucaram (1996-1997) in February 1997; Jamil Mahuad (1998-2000) in January 2000; and Lucio Gutierrez (2003-2005) in April 2005.

Controversial law imposed

The water law, as this set of regulations for the use and administration of a natural resource that the Ecuadoran Constitution classifies as a human right is known, was approved by 103 of the Asamblea Nacional's 137 members despite ongoing debate since the bill was proposed in 2009 and even though it had sparked demonstrations and road closures throughout the country. Demonstrations were strongest in the city of Macas, in the central Amazonian region where Shuar professor Bosco Wisuma died during a confrontation with police (NotiSur, Oct. 23, 2009, and Jan. 27, 2012).

When indigenous people marched against the proposed law in March 2012, there was considerable participation by social movements demanding a plebiscite on the proposal.

Under pressure from indigenous people, the Asamblea Nacional decided to hold a plebiscite, but it turned out to be a farce as not all aspects of the bill were considered, particularly the articles dealing with water administration and use. The consultation only dealt with specific articles connected to the conceptual part of the law and other issues of lesser importance such as the religious and ritualistic use of water.

The plebiscite was not carried out according to principles set forth in the definition of free, prior, and informed consultation requiring the government to respect related traditional organizational systems, which in this case would be the water boards and water-user associations in indigenous and campesino communities that have been in force since before the Spanish conquest. The government created its own consulting network and passed over the national and regional leaderships that politicians knew didn't agree with their proposals.

Finally, even though the consultation occurred with sectors that shared the official view, it didn't even incorporate suggestions from these organizations--in particular, the request that the authorities administering water be made up of diverse social sectors with the creation of the Consejo Plurinacional del Agua.

Indigenous proposal ignored

Indigenous organizers of last month's march proposed five points they wanted incorporated into the law:

* Creation of a Consejo Plurinacional del Agua to administer water use and determine priorities based on the Constitution. This body would be made up of indigenous and campesino representatives as well as government delegates. The law that was approved establishes an Autoridad Unica del Agua named by the government.

* Prohibition of concessions to extractive industries such as mining and petroleum in headwaters of streams or in water-supply watersheds, a provision intended to stop mining activity in the southern highlands or in the Cordillera del Condor in southern Amazonia. …

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