The government of Ecuador and the largest indigenous organization in the country began a dialogue on Wednesday that will last 90 days and that seeks agreements around an agenda of ten social demands that motivated a recent strike that paralyzed the country.
The talks start amid the tension generated by the statements from the government sector about the alleged financing of the indigenous marches with drug money and the violent participation of trained indigenous guards.
The president of the Confederation of Indigenous Nationalities of Ecuador, Leonidas Iza, complained at the opening of the event about the president’s statements and assured that “We cannot accept that we continue to be accused of paying eight dollars to each protester and, in this case, that we receive resources from drug traffickers.”.
Iza asked the Ecuadorian Episcopal Conference, which acts as a mediator, to ask the government to make a formal request to the United Nations (UN) so that a special rapporteur from the permanent forum of indigenous peoples oversees the talks. “That dialogue be the valid instrument in the field of politics, that we solve the problems“, he claimed.
The government minister, Francisco Jiménez, stressed that the government has taken the talks “seriously” and highlighted the presence of five state ministers and other officials. “I want to reiterate our absolute commitment, good faith and willingness to continue advancing in this process, we know that it will not be easy”, he concluded.
Earlier, also the president of the Federation of Evangelical Indigenous People of Ecuador (Feine), one of the three sections of these organizations, Eustaquio Tuala, stated that “we are not to pay attention to the lies”.
“La Feine has no connection with drug trafficking… in the indigenous communities we don’t even deal with these issues”, stated the leader in statements to radio Sonorama and assured that during the strike of more than two weeks they subsisted with the “solidarity” from the people who delivered food to them. “We have not had luxuries those days in the capital… not a single penny that someone has helped (us)”, he narrowed down.
The first day will address two critical issues: the fuel subsidy and public and private banking. The methodology established for the development of the conversations indicates that each thematic table will last three days, and may be extended for two more.
The challenge will be to convene the experts who contribute to defining “what alternative or what method should be used to target the people who really need the subsidy” to fuel, Tuala said.
The main demand during the indigenous mobilizations was the reduction of fuel prices in a range of 45 cents per gallon of extra gasoline and diesel. However, the government agreed to reduce by 15 cents a gallon and move towards targeting subsidies for those who need them most.
The Minister of Economy and Finance, Pablo Arosemena, stated in statements to the press that the proposal with which the government will present itself to the talks will be “order with a social focus.” “What it is about is that the money reaches people and they can feel how that money circulates“, said. In Ecuador, resources are scarce, but investment in education, social housing and health will be prioritized, he added.
The Minister of Agriculture, Bernardo Manzano, told the Teleamazonas channel that “the important thing is to reach an agreement… favoring small producers who are the most complicated in the production chain”.
For the economic analyst Vicente Albornoz, it will require a “great dose of creativity” to achieve a mechanism for targeting subsidies that does not imply an increase in them and the generation of “black markets”.
Albornoz was pessimistic because he considered “Too complex” design a system “that it be efficient, that it does not cost the government additional money and that it reaches those it has to reach”.
He assured that the State currently allocates approximately US$500 million to cover the fuel subsidy, a model that presents problems, he said, because “first they reach the rich and not the poor, second they benefit the smugglers who take (the fuel) to Colombia and Peru… it is the worst possible policy”.
The expert recognized that an elimination of the subsidy at this time is “utopian” because it would represent an increase in price for most Ecuadorians.