In October 2019, an Indigenous and popular uprising broke out in Ecuador in response to a package of neoliberal measures imposed by the International Monetary Fund. After twelve days and eleven deaths, they succeeded in forcing the government to cancel the measures and to grant a subsidy to offset the price of fuel. Now, at the end of June 2022, a new general strike is entering its third week in Ecuador, accompanied by new occupations, demonstrations, and clashes. Once again, the strike is led by the Indigenous movement, facing off once more against the policies of the IMF and increasing fuel prices. During the 2019 revolt, we interviewed a comrade in the Primera Linea [the front lines] in Quito to learn about the dynamics of the revolt in the Ecuadorian capital and the self-management and popular power practices of the “Quito Commune.” Two and a half years later, we reached out to him again.
What does it mean that people in Ecuador have to fight this whole battle all over again so soon after a historic victory? Will the momentum spread throughout Latin America again? Read on.
For perspective on what a modern-day general strike might look like in the United States, start here.
What has happened over the last two and a half years in Ecuador so that, after a pandemic and both parliamentary and presidential elections, everything has returned to this point again?
After the popular insurrection of 2019, [then-president] Lenin Moreno began to raise the price of fuel again gradually—in short, the partial victory of 2019 was annulled and we returned to the starting point. Then the current president, Guillermo Lasso, intensified this, sending fuel prices sky high, which has caused a spike in the prices of basic necessities.
Moreno managed to complete his term, along with his ministers. Along with the high command of the police and the army, they have gone unpunished for the crimes they committed during the October days.
The elections took place in 2021. The candidate of the Indigenous movement was Yaku Pérez, who managed to capitalize on the discontent of October—but that was not enough to make it to the general election and challenge Andres Arauz, the Correist candidate. [Brought to power by the “pink tide” that established left governments throughout Latin America, Rafael Correa served as president of Ecuador from 2007 to 2017; today, accused of corruption, he lives in Belgium.] Guillermo Lasso, a banker, responsible for the bank holiday of 1999, reached the second round and won the elections. [In March 1999, fearing hyperinflation, the Ecuadorian government declared a national bank holiday, which ended up lasting a full week; at the time, Guillermo Lasso was CEO of Banco Guayaquil.]
There were also elections in the CONAIE [the Confederation of Indigenous Nationalities of Ecuador]. The winner was Leónidas Iza, leader of the MIC (Indigenous Movement of Cotopaxi) and one of the leaders of the October revolt.
In 2019, the uprising in Ecuador helped trigger subsequent uprisings in Chile and elsewhere. Have the movements in Colombia, Chile, and elsewhere in Latin America influenced the movements in Ecuador since then?
From October 2019 on, the populations of several Latin American countries rose up against their governments. However, even though the current events in the country reflect a general, continent-wide crisis and have been decisive in shaping in the collective imaginary, they have clear implications that are tied to the Ecuadorian context. It’s as if something had been left unfinished from the uprising three years ago.
How do you see the first year of Lasso’s government? How was it possible for a neoliberal banker to become president after an uprising as strong and successful as the one in 2019? Why has he lost that support so rapidly, so that only one year into power, he faces another popular uprising?
Appalling. Lasso won thanks to the anti-Correista vote. The scenario would have been different if Yaku Pérez had made it to the second round. Many people voted for Lasso to reject the possible return of the former Citizen Revolution Movement [a party formed by supporters of Rafael Correa]. The divisions within the Indigenous movement contributed to Lasso’s rise to power.
As soon as Lasso began his government, he lost his main ally, the Social Christian Party [PSC]. There was immediately conflict with the Constitutional Court. Considering that he is only supported by a minority in the Assembly, this has forced the banker to struggle to figure out how to govern.
At first, his main strategy was to arrange the extensive vaccination of the general public, which equipped him with excellent political capital for the first few months. After the pandemic and the vaccination period, the reality of the situation in the country was clear for all to see.
The Indigenous movement and several sectors of society sat down to talk with the government twice last year, and the government didn’t listen. What we’re living through now is the result of a lack of response to the demands of Ecuadorian society, which has experienced the raw consequences of poverty, unemployment, destruction of territory, and increased violence in the streets and in jails due to wars between criminal groups. There were four massacres in Ecuadorian prisons (in the last two years, 360 prisoners have been murdered) and contract killings have become an everyday occurrence in the main cities of the country.
Banks have not canceled the debts of campesinos or workers, despite the pandemic. There can be no economic revival for the poorest because the bankers are suffocating them.
The current National Strike, seen from the outside, seems very similar to the strike of October 2019. What are the similarities and differences?
The 2019 uprising was the uprising of the sons and daughters of the first Indigenous uprising of the 1990s. It is a new generation full of rage and thirsty for justice.
Unlike the previous strike, it was CONAIE, together with other peasant organizations, that declared a national strike beginning on Monday, June 13. Three years ago, it was students and transport workers—bus drivers, taxi drivers, and truckers—who lit the match.
This time, the Indigenous communities resisted in their territories for a week before arriving in Quito. The inhabitants of the capital, especially the students and the inhabitants of the poor neighborhoods, had to sustain the strike in the city alone during the first week. The inhabitants of the suburbs of Quito, especially in the south of the city, have fought in their neighborhoods from day one. This didn’t happen three years ago, or at least not as intensely as it is happening now.
The repression has been strong, but apart from the events of Friday, June 24, the police and the military have been more strategic in the ways that they have employed force. This is why there was not an explosion in Quito during the first week. There were marches and clashes with the police, but the situation did not get out of control until the arrival of CONAIE.
Due to political differences with the leaders of CONAIE, the Frente Unitario de Trabajadores (FUT), the main workers’ union, remained out of the demonstrations this year.
Not even the truck drivers joined.
However, the solidarity of the people has not changed—indeed, it has grown stronger since the last revolt. The comrades are now better organized despite the difficulties caused by the government.
On Sunday, June 19, at the end of the first week of the strike, in response to the announcement of the arrival of communities from all over the country in Quito, the military and the National Police ordered the requisition of the Ecuadorian House of Culture (CCE), so that this site could not serve as a meeting point for the demonstrators, unlike in 2019. Consequently, the Central University became the site of the assemblies and the logistical center of the uprising. This has led to clashes not only in the area of the Arbolito [a historic park in the center of Quito], the Parliament, and the historic city center, but also in the area around the Central University.
June 22: Ecuador police complaining that one police unit “has been destroyed and burned in its entirety, as have the patrol cars and motorcycles that were assigned to the service of citizens,” along with a plea for “no more violence.” Pretty rich, coming from those whose profession is to wield violence against the public.
Can you give a brief description of the events that have occurred in the course of the strike? What are the chief demands—and have they shifted in the course of the mobilization? What strategies and tactics have demonstrators employed?
The national strike began on Monday, June 13. On that day, Indigenous and campesino organizations began blocking roads in their territories. In Quito, students organized a march from the Central University to the city center. The blockades were not particularly strong and the mobilization in the city center was repressed.
The outlook suggested that the strike would not be as strong as the one that took place in 2019.
But in the early hours of Tuesday, June 14, the government made the mistake of illegally arresting CONAIE leader Leónidas Iza, provoking an immediate reaction across the country. This was what lit the fuse, causing the strike to gain momentum. The police held Leónidas Iza hostage for 24 hours and the protest escalated. In Quito, people attacked the Flagrancia Unit [the police unit focusing on “flagrant crimes”—ironically, “flagrant” originally means “on fire”] and set a police vehicle on fire. In Latacunga, the Indigenous movement occupied the headquarters of the Prosecutor’s Office. The next day, Iza was released, but he had to show up every day to sign paperwork in the city of Latacunga.
Starting on the second day, the neighborhoods of Quito became active, especially in the south of the city and in the northern suburbs. They were repressed for several days, but continued to resist. Quito’s students and social movements marched for five days in support of the national strike. Thursday, June 16, was the day when the largest number of people took to the streets—approximately 10,000 people. The demonstration took the same approach as the previous ones: a march towards the city center, which was violently repressed by the police.
The city of Cuenca also took action, and the police attacked the university where the demonstrators had taken refuge. Academic authorities denounced the incident and called for a much bigger march for the next day.
In the capital, where dozens of police infiltrators had been following people after the end of the marches and arresting them, people began to organize groups to identify and remove them from the marches. This put a strain on the repressive apparatus of the police. The demonstrators were wary of the police and photos of these infiltrators circulated on social networks. Likewise, before expelling infiltrators, people took photographs of their faces.
It is important to understand what the demands of this national strike are. People are presenting ten demands to the government.
These include lower fuel prices; a banking moratorium so that people can reactivate the economy without the pressure of the bank vultures; a halt to exploiting and destroying the territories where there are water sources and where communities live; mechanisms such as prior consultation in the territories where mining or oil extraction is planned.
Another demand is to declare a state of emergency in public health and education. Both sectors have been attacked by the government’s neoliberal policies and have seen their budgets shrink.
Fair prices for agricultural products so that farmers can receive what their work is worth. A stricter control by the government on basic necessities, in view of rampant speculation.
A halt to the privatization of strategic sectors including social security, the Banco del Pacífico, the CNT (National Telecommunications Corporation), and highways. Respect for the 21 collective rights of Indigenous organizations and bilingual education.
The last demand is to guarantee the safety of citizens, given the wave of violence in the streets and in the country’s prisons.
All these demands are shared by the people who are supporting the national strike.
After five days, faced with the indifference of the government, the Indigenous and campesino movement decided to go to Quito. On Friday, June 17, the government declared a state of emergency in the provinces that were seeing the most unrest and enacted a curfew in Quito from 10 pm to 5 am. On Sunday, June 19, they ordered the requisition of the House of Culture and violently occupied it to prevent people from organizing. Blockading and clashes between residents of Quito’s southern districts and the police continued throughout the weekend.
On Monday, June 20, the first caravans of the Indigenous movement began to arrive in the north and south of the capital and were violently repressed. Meanwhile, the students of the Central University and the social movements of Quito occupied the university so that those who were arriving would have a safe place to sleep and organize. In the evening, trucks full of demonstrators began to arrive one by one, but police harassed them from all sides in hopes of preventing them from reaching the city.
Only two universities have opened their doors to the Indigenous movement.
Since the House of Culture was in the hands of the police, the operational center of the national strike shifted to the Central University for the first time. Here, people began to organize the first solidarity kitchens, childcare centers, medical brigades, and storage centers, and the front lines of resistance.
From the morning of Tuesday, June 21, clashes with the police began throughout the northern part of central Quito. The death toll was already rising, eventually reaching five victims. Police threw one demonstrator into a ravine; another, in the province of Puyo, was killed by a tear gas canister that lodged in his skull; others in Quito were killed by buckshot.
On Thursday, June 23, a gigantic march took back the House of Culture and the El Arbolito park, and the main assemblies returned to the historic site of the Ecuadorian left. The conflict immediately shifted to the area around the park and the entrances to the National Assembly. Having much more experience this time than during the previous strike, the front lines have been better organized and protected.
In the district of San Antonio, in the north of Quito, residents attacked the army when it tried to enter the area to crack down on the demonstrators. One comrade was killed by a shot from the military.
On Friday, June 24, Guillermo Lasso made a broadcast on national television authorizing the police to increase their repressive force. An hour later, the police and the army indiscriminately attacked the House of Culture and the Arbolito, causing a mass escape from the area. Many children and elderly people suffocated as a result of police violence.
We were all chased all over the place until we left the area. Dozens of people were arrested and injured. However, the police withdrew from the area in the evening.
This weekend, many comrades have returned to their communities, while others are arriving. Collective cleaning tasks have been organized and priority has been given to assemblies to organize the third week of the national strike. On Saturday, June 25, there was a massive march of women and dissidents.
Today, Sunday, June 26, there are concerts and sports activities at the Central University. An artistic and cultural festival will be held in the House of Culture.
However, the minimum condition for dialogue is an immediate reduction in fuel prices.
Which social sectors have mobilized in Ecuador? What social and political alliances have they created?
The Indigenous and peasant movements have mobilized, along with the students and the neighborhoods of Quito. The Indigenous and peasant movements are historically the most organized; the students and neighborhoods have become active again in this situation. The neighborhoods of Quito are the surprise of this strike; they have shown a high level of organization and control of the territory.
Many comrades throughout the country are supporting the national strike, and it is in this context that the main alliances have been woven. Many of them were not organizing together before due to ideological differences, but those have been set aside in view of the importance of the moment. Although not strong enough yet, the social movement has matured enormously, especially in Quito.
How do you evaluate the role of CONAIE in this national strike? Has it managed to assert itself as the main protagonist of social opposition to the neoliberal order? Has it succeeded in establishing social alliances beyond the indigenous world?
CONAIE continues to be the country’s chief political entity and one of the most important in Latin America. Their organizational capacity and collective strength continue to amaze. However, the internal fractures have taken a toll: the force that they have managed to field this time is less than that of 2019. Still, the comrades continue to put their bodies on the line for everyone.
It is not easy to come to sleep on cardboard on the floor in coliseums for days. Their determination is amazing.
Beyond the alliances they may or may not have generated, they are recognized by all as the foremost defenders of the collective rights of Ecuadorian society. What is missing is for the urban social movements to coordinate more with the Indigenous movement and for the latter to learn from the urban movements as well. There is still no assembly in which social collectives can make decisions about what is happening. They are involved in day-to-day organization, they participate in small assemblies, but it has not been possible, for example, to create an assembly that brings together all the social movements of Quito and the front lines that are supporting this national strike.
How do you see the role of CONAIE leader Leonidas Iza, who emerged in October 2019 as a prominent figure from the left of the Indigenous organization and ultimately became its president? How do you understand Iza’s arrest on the second day of the strike? Is he playing more of an agitator or moderator role in the context of social protest? Does he have goals in electoral politics?
Leónidas Iza is the absolute leader of the national strike. CONAIE now has a leader with clear political ideas and excellent preparation. His ideas are more radical than those of his predecessors. This caused him problems within the movement, but at the same time aroused a lot of sympathy.
As I mentioned at the beginning, Iza’s arrest was the trigger that gave force to the national strike.
The problem is that Iza’s leadership, intentionally or not, is overshadowing other social and Indigenous leaders. The media also helped centralize all attention on him. He has both moderated and also agitated this movement, depending on the moment.
The Indigenous movement wants to have the first Indigenous president in the history of the country, so one way or another, at some point everything that is happening will be capitalized on in electoral politics. I don’t know if Iza or someone else will do it, but this is undeniable.
What role is Correism playing in this national strike?
Just like three years ago, they participate, but they do not have the slightest control over what is happening. They support the national strike and want to topple Lasso, which is why they were the ones who called the plenary session of the Assembly to discuss the possibility of impeachment on account of nationwide chaos.
It seems that a request for impeachment (muerte cruzada) is being processed in the National Assembly. How likely is this to happen? Is it realistic to anticipate the fall of Lasso, either through parliament or social protest? What can we expect next, a new government elected by Parliament or new elections? Is this something that the movements seek, or do they fear that the political order will reestablish itself in a new form? What prospects are opening up and what opportunities are closing?
Fourteen days have passed and the government still manages to keep itself on its feet with various tricks. The repression that occurred on Friday was a hard blow for everyone.
The Indigenous movement has asked its political arm, Pachakutic, to vote in favor of impeachment as an alternative and a way out of the current crisis, if the government fails to respond to the ten demands. They cannot return home with empty pockets; five comrades have already lost their lives.
Unseating Lasso would not change things, because his vice president would take power and continue the same political project. But it would still set an important new precedent regarding the ability of social movements to obtain results, even if they are only partial.
There is not enough force yet to bend Guillermo Lasso, so impeachment has been considered as an option.
However, as I write this, there are still not enough votes to topple the president via impeachment. Yesterday, Lasso strategically withdrew the State of Emergency so as not to justify a national crisis.
We rose up again. This time, we have more experience, but not enough strength to achieve our objectives. We are resisting and defending ourselves from police and state violence, one day at a time.
Tomorrow, Monday, June 27, a new week of unemployment begins, which will be decisive. We will see if additional subjects and social forces will join in, if the strength in the neighborhoods will increase, if new collective strategies of struggle will emerge, if it will be possible to put the government in difficulty again. Everything is still unknown; what is certain is that resistance continues and we will not give up.
We are also aware that this uprising is not going to change the country’s problems at the root, but we know that the next revolt will be better because we are already building that possibility here. The organizational processes that have emerged and that sustain the strike (popular kitchens, medical brigades, front lines, daycare centers for children) are being organized and that fabric is what will remain after all this is over.
The rage is great—and so is the desire to win. We continue in the fight, we do not give up.
We continue the fight, we do not falter.
“The government breaks off dialogue, confirming its authoritarianism, lack of will, and incapacity. Lasso Guillermo is responsible for the consequences of his belligerent policy. We demand respect for our maximum leader. Lasso doesn’t break up with Leonidas, he breaks up with the people.”
The Uprising in Ecuador: Inside the Quito Commune—An Interview from on the Front Lines