Report #4 from Hotel Pais Libre, Canoa, Ecuador
Ecuadorian indigenas (native people) revived their active insurgence in the capitol Quito last month near the first anniversary of last year’s rebellion that caused the collapse of the previous government. CONAIE, the native-led political association, had from the beginning promised a renewal of anti-government actions if their original demands weren’t met by last summer. Negotiations had been underway but the government’s lack of compliance caused a break-off followed by demonstrations, blocked highways, and beginning a few days ago, interruption of food shipments from farms to city markets. (Indigenas claim they have enough food stored to last themselves for a year.)
Leaders have been arrested, thousands tear-gassed and many beaten. Two nights ago the government declared an official State of Emergency. Next week something has to give.
In addition to scalding human social and justice issues, what is perhaps most notable about this uprising in small, almost unnoticed to the outside world Ecuador, is that it involves a direct repudiation of the International Monetary Fund’s globalist economic policies requiring reduced services and increased privatization in the public sector by national governments in order to obtain loans. Indigenas want to throw out dolarization and restore welfare, education and health services, among other things. They are calling the bluff of borderless capital investment and imposed neoliberal economics.
Aside from some nervousness, Bahia de Caraquez is as seemingly unaffected by what is happening in Quito as it was last year when there was scant tangible reaction. It took a month for a half-day highway closing at Fanca following the calamitous events in the capitol, and not much more can be expected now.
Bahia’s contribution to social change is its home-grown ecological transformation. In January last year, some non-profit and business groups along with private citizens were sufficiently united to push through a municipal by-law mandating an ecological city. The then-mayor was unenthusiastic, approving the measure with his signature only a day before it was scheduled to be announced. When he was replaced by the present mayor and city council last August, a positive official attitude began to evolve. Last week was a crucial period for determining how the new administration will direct the ecological city effort over the remaining three and one-half years of Mayor Leo’s term.
It began at an informal meeting on Tuesday night at Leo’s home. Jacob Santos agreed to interpret so that there was clarity of understanding about details in Spanish and English. I requested authorization of the revegetation and recycling plans that were written up in both languages. The mayor listened to summaries and read parts of them, agreeing that save for lack of funds in the city budget they had his backing, which is essential for approaching potential donors. Then I brought up the necessity of guiding his term with the previously prepared ecological plan that now benefits from Dario Proano’s additions (thereby incorporating the influences of Planet Drum and Bahia’s Stuarium Foundation in the same document). Mayor Leo had been forming a new Department of Tourism and Environment, and he put the ecological plan in that perspective, requesting that I draw up a mission statement for the new department that included a reference to the plan. He would call an afternoon meeting the next day to present this statement of purpose to the new department head and others. A salsa band and dancers could have paraded through the gate off the night street at that moment! It was such a completely satisfying solution that I had to fight back the feelings of elated relief about the last weeks, and in truth, the last two years work in Bahia. A few more potential projects that need more fleshing out were discussed before we said “Hasta manana.”
Around noon the next day the statement practically wrote itself:
Purpose of the Department of Tourism and Environment:
- Serve to represent ecological interests of the community in all matters,
- Understand and guide accomplishment of points in the ecological plan.
A. Establish and maintain a directory of all public and private ecology and eco-tourism projects activities,B. Develop and oversee public education programs regarding ecological understanding and practices,
C. Regularly meet and respond to public agencies and private groups in order to discuss, assist, and guide ecological activities,
D. Develop volunteerism, volunteer opportunities, and lists of volunteers for assisting public and private activities,
E. Consult with the city council and legal department to streamline approval of ecologically oriented ordinances and their enforcement.
I walked quickly to Jacob Santos’ Bahia Bed and Breakfast Inn for a translation at one o’clock and he carried it to the meeting in the mayor’s office an hour later. Leo glanced at the mission statement, called everyone in, spoke about the need for immediate and meaningful action, instructed the new department head and I to form a working alliance, read the statement aloud, and invited me to present ideas. Copies of the proposals for revegetation and recycling were passed around. An open, public forum to read and discuss the entire environmental plan with follow-up discussion, questions and suggestions will be held in the Municipio (City Hall) February 15th. We will spread awareness of this event to the general public through newspaper stories, radio, flyers, and posters, and issue direct invitations to representatives of all groups involved. (Amy Jewel has taken over producing the event.)
We left the mayor’s office for the first of what has become daily meetings with Patricio “Patrick” Rivandenerra, the new department jefe (chief), his assistant Marco Acosta, and Gabriela. So far we’ve been through all five points of the mission statement for understanding and development of ideas to accomplish them. On Thursday, Nicola Mears and I collaborated to make definitive English and Spanish versions of the environmental plan with Dario’s and my names no longer cited because the process of participatively creating a community document has begun. (See following). The next day Patrick and Gabriela received copies for their input next Monday.
In different ways for las indigenas in Quito and we in Bahia, it was a remarkable