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Alexander Shinkarenko

PhD in Political Science, Research Fellow at the Center for Political Studies, RAS Institute of Latin America

Mass protests which began on August 13, 2015 against the policies of President Rafael Correa swept across different regions of Ecuador. Those who disagree with the current government took to the streets of the country’s cities and towns enraged with the government’s attempts to change the Constitution. The enactment of amendments would grant the incumbent leader the authority to run for the presidency for the fourth time in 2017.

Mass protests which began on August 13, 2015 against the policies of President Rafael Correa swept across different regions of Ecuador. Those who disagree with the current government took to the streets of the country’s cities and towns enraged with the government’s attempts to change the Constitution. The enactment of amendments would grant the incumbent leader the authority to run for the presidency for the fourth time in 2017. The protesters included among others representatives of the indigenous community which traditionally has been in opposition to the current political regime.

It is noteworthy that the Confederation of Indigenous Nationalities of Ecuador (CONAIE) used to be an ally of the current leader of the country during his first term in 2007. The Constituent Assembly in Montecristi became a stumbling block when the interests of Indian ethnic groups clashed with those of the government. A few months after the adoption of the new Constitution on July 24, 2008, indigenous activists again began to organize mass demonstrations against the new law on mining. Their leaders openly declared that they were ready to stage a large-scale revolt similar to the protests of the 1990s.

The active participation of the indigenous community in the general national strike that began on August 13, 2015 testified to its readiness for mass protests. Moreover, representatives of the Workers' United Front (FUT) – the largest trade union organization in Ecuador – took part in the strike.

According to CONAIE, the leader of the country has failed to fulfill his promises to change the structure of the state. After his eight years in power, wealth is still concentrated in the hands of a narrow group of people. “Our criticism of the current government is just, as state policy is on the side of big corporations, while ordinary citizens barely get a tiny peace of the oil pie,” states the manifesto issued by the organization.

The protesters included among others representatives of the indigenous community which traditionally has been in opposition to the current political regime.

During the civil unrest, protesters blocked roads and staged street protests, which involved not only trade unionists and representatives of indigenous ethnic groups, but students, doctors, public organizations, as well as supporters of left-wing parties.

Thus, on the eve of the national strike, groups of Indians blocked a number of transport arteries of the country. In particular, the protesters blocked the Pan-American highway which connects Ecuador’s north with the south. Barricades appeared made of stones, logs and barbed wire on different roads of the central provinces of Pichincha, Cotopaxi, Tungurahua, Bolivar as well as in Azuay in the south-west of the country. The attempts to block roads were registered in Morona Santiago and Zamora Chinchipe of the Ecuadorian Amazon.

According to Rafael Correa, the current social activity of trade unions and the indigenous population of Ecuador plays into the hands of the right-wing parties of the country, which he had previously accused of trying to destabilize the situation. However, participants in the recent social unrest stated otherwise. “We do not want to destabilize the government, we want to be heard and understood," said representative of Cayambi Indians Augustin Kachipuembo in an interview with Ecuavisa television channel. CONAIE’s President Jorge Herrera repeatedly reiterated the same statement, adding that his supporters would not rise to all kinds of provocations and random violence.

The active participation of the indigenous community in the general national strike that began on August 13, 2015 testified to its readiness for mass protests.

However, street protests in the capital of the country Quito on August 14, 2015 did result in clashes with police. In turn, the latter used tear gas to disperse the participants of the general strike. At the same time, CONAIE representatives reported the arrest of Carlos Perez, leader of Confederation’s structure EKUARUNARI, as well as its other supporters.

In addition, at least eight policemen were injured during riots in the eastern province of Morona Santiago. The incident occurred when about 150 people armed with spears attacked law enforcement officers guarding the building of the regional department of education. Representatives of Ecuadorian indigenous ethnic groups expressed their disagreement with the policy of the authorities by laying siege to office buildings in the region and demanding the governor’s resignation.

Meanwhile, environmental problems have exacerbated the situation, as Ecuador's President Rafael Correa declared a state of emergency in the capital Quito and in the central provinces of Cotopaxi and Napo, following increased activity in the Cotopaxi volcano.

According to CONAIE, the leader of the country has failed to fulfill his promises to change the structure of the state. After his eight years in power, wealth is still concentrated in the hands of a narrow group of people.

After a national strike ended in clashes with the police and in the detention of protesters, the head of state Rafael Correa said that all the protestors’ attempts had failed, and democracy in Ecuador had again won a victory. Rafael Correa emphasized once again that the unrest in mid-August appeared to have been instigated by certain political circles interested in discrediting the progressive governments of Latin America.

However, the last group of indigenous activists which had stayed in Quito’s downtown for 10 days after the events only left the capital on August 24, 2015. Its members and their leaders assured that the indigenous population’s protests would resume within the next few days.

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