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Chronology for Lowland Indigenous Peoples in Ecuador

Publisher Minorities at Risk Project
Publication Date 2004
Cite as Minorities at Risk Project, Chronology for Lowland Indigenous Peoples in Ecuador, 2004, available at: [accessed 1 June 2016]
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Date(s) Item
1979 Ecuador democratized with the election of the Roldos-Hurtado administration (1979-1984). Roldos was elected as the "people's president," obtaining votes from much of Ecuador's poor and illiterate. He even gave part of his acceptance speech in Quichua. He created the Center for the Study of Indigenous Education (CIEI), which facilitated literacy and bilingual education programs. Furthermore, he established the National Office for Indigenous Affairs in the Ministry of Social Welfare. However, indigenous groups criticized the "paternalism" of this office.
1984 - 1988 During the following two presidential administrations of Hurtado and Febres Cordero, indigenous groups suffered tremendously. Hurtado did not appropriate funds to the Indigenous Office. Febres Cordero suspended agrarian reforms in favor of economic liberalization plans for land. He supported violent suppression of Indians. During his administration, many Indian homes were burned and Indians were murdered or disappeared. During this period, CONAIE strengthened its mobilization.
1987 Ecuador's external debt exceeded $10 billion, over 60 per cent being owed to US private banks (Hey 1993 553-554). Thus, Ecuador, under the administrations of Hurtado and Febres Cordero was dependent upon Northern modernization policies in order to halt its economic crisis. This economic crisis contributed to the lack of social programs, particularly those directed at indigenous development and aid.
Mar 5, 1987 A strong earthquake shook the northwest region of the Amazon, closing off main roads to the Napo region and spilling millions of barrels of oil into the rivers of the Amazon. Over 50,000 Runa Indians were affected by this earthquake and oil spill.
1988 Rodrigo Borja was elected. Although his administration was more conciliatory to the indigenous communities than the previous two, indigenous mobilization had increased in response to negative government policies. Borja did create a commission for indigenous concerns, which focused primarily on education, territory, and legitimacy of indigenous needs. One way in which Borja tried to give legitimacy to the Indians was by recognizing CONAIE as the representative of the indigenous communities of Ecuador. While this recognition was merely symbolic, it did provide CONAIE with the legitimacy and attention needed to gain concessions after the 1990 uprising of indigenous groups, organized by CONAIE (Selverston 1994 145).
Apr 1988 FOIN (Organizations of the Napo region) formed a resource management program for the Amazon, called PUMAREN (Program for the Use and Management of Natural Resources). This program develops sustainable land use alternatives with support from Cultural Survival Quarterly.
May 27, 1990 One hundred sixty CONAIE activists occupied the Santo Domingo Cathedral in Quito and demanded immediate resolution of land disputes in six sierra highland provinces. The next day, one thousand Indians representing approximately 70 organizations (including Amazonian Indian organizations) marched to Quito and presented President Borja with a 16 point petition, which included legalization of territories, respect for agrarian reform law, funds for bilingual education, and amending the Constitution to declare Ecuador a multinational state. During the following week, there were marches and protests in the Sierra region, supported by Amazonian Indians. However, Amazonian Indians were not as involved in these demonstrations as the Sierra and Coastal Indians. One important factor in the organization of the 1990 uprising was the amount of support from sectors of society, including non-Indian and international organizations. In Ecuador, students, laborers, and the Church aided in the uprising, either through protest participation or support for the indigenous groups. Non-governmental organizations, such as OXFAM and others, provided resources (non-military monetary and communication) for the mobilization of the CONAIE (Salacuse 1993 37).
Jun 8, 1990 In response to international pressures, President Borja appointed several upper level ministers, including the head of the Agrarian Reform Ministry (IERAC), to negotiate with the indigenous groups. The Archbishop of Quito acted as the mediator and Luis Macas (then, a vice president, now president of CONAIE) was the Indian spokesperson.
Jun 19, 1990 The Indians left the Cathedral peacefully, after a thorough cleaning of the building (Salacuse 1993 38; Field 1991 40). While the Borja administration did not implement all of the Indian demands, bilingual education was restored and an Indigenous Affairs Office was established. More significantly, CONAIE and the demands of indigenous people were voiced not only in Ecuador, but internationally. Further incidents and uprisings by indigenous groups were treated more seriously and negotiations were held.
1991 Large tracts of land were awarded to the Woarani people (the largest land grant in the Amazonian region) after a massive demonstration by over three thousand indigenous people. This demonstration was aided by other Indian groups not included in the CONFENAIE (137).
Aug 1991 CONAIE occupied the national legislature, demanding talks between the government and the Indians.
1992 500th Anniversary of the Conquest. CONAIE organized an electoral boycott, which meant a boycott of over two million Ecuadorian voters of the six million total. This boycott, however, halted when indigenous leaders from CONAIE ran for office in leftist political parties (Van Cott 1993 44). Due to a stalemate on negotiations of land reforms in Yuracruz (the land has been awarded to indigenous people but without funding), hacendados (land owners) were forced to hire security officers to protect them from the violent protests of Indians in that area. International human rights organizations intervened in this violent situation in Yuracruz because over 14 deaths of indigenous people and rapes (to victims were 77 and 91 years of age) were reported due to the violent tactics of the security forces. Finally, the government of Ecuador intervened in the situation.
1992 Ecuadorian administration of Sixto Duran Ballen. Duran attempted to rescind the bilingual education agreement negotiated with CONAIE and Borja, but did not due to mass protest. Duran did open an indigenous office in the national government and named an Otavalo Indian and indigenous intellectual, Jose Quimbo, to the position. However, the office has very little funding and is now rejected by CONAIE.
Mar 1 - Sep 30, 1992 Seven of the fifteen land disputes in the Sierra and the Amazon were settled through indigenous and governmental negotiations between indigenous organizations and the government.
Apr 1992 10,000 OPIP members (indigenous group from Pastaza in the Amazon) marched to Quito and demanded control of their ancestral land in the rainforest. President Borja in return met with 100 indigenous leaders, and eventually, the Indians of Pastaza were granted legal title to three million acres of homelands. This was the largest land grant yet made to Ecuadorian Indians (Salacuse 1993 39-40).
Dec 1992 Duran negotiated with CONAIE for financial support for indigenous groups to regain their land (Selverston 1994 147). The Fourth Congress of CONAIE met. The members devised resolutions for its further organization and management. Regional parliaments were created with the intention of unification into a National Parliament in the near future. An Annual Fund was created as part of the resources for the mobilization of the group in response to land and territorial conflicts. A bank will be established in order to aid small, indigenous farmers with debts. OPIP will continue to be supported by the organization in its struggle for the protection of the environment against the multinational company, ARCO. Also, the Confanes Indians will continue to be supported by the organization in their battle with TEXACO for compensation for harm done to their Amazonian territory. Finally, CONAIE will support the work of the United Nations in its "Declaration of the Decade for Indigenous Peoples" (Cuarto Congreso De La CONAIE Mantiene Indpendencia de Partidos Politicos).
1993 - 1994 The Duran administration attempted to implement liberal economic policies with the intent of modernizing Ecuador, such as an Agrarian Reform Law and a Modernization Law, as well as various privatization and exploration policies for oil industries. All of these initiatives have been met with protest, at times violent, by indigenous groups, organized by CONAIE. The government response to the indigenous mobilization has often been violent and negotiations have been held mainly in response to international pressures.
Jun 1, 1993 - Dec 31, 1994 Amazonian Indians protested against oil companies. Amazonian Indian groups have been struggling for many years to expel foreign oil companies and Petroecuador from their land. However, recently, these companies have been negotiating directly with the indigenous groups due to their massive demonstrations and protests. One such incident which has alerted oil companies to the demands of indigenous groups is a case currently waiting trial in the New York Federal District Court. It is a $1 billion federal class action suit filed against Texaco, a U.S. based multinational oil corporation, on behalf of the Cofan, Secoya, and other Indians in the Amazon region. The Indians charge that Texaco has contaminated the rainforest environment with crude oil wastes, increasing the risk of cancer for their community members. The attorney for the Indians, Joseph Kohn, a Philadelphia attorney, charges that Texaco dumped over 3,000 gallons of crude oil per day along the dirt roads of the rainforest. The Indians have organized on an international level with regard to the oil issue in Ecuador. Each indigenous community affected by the oil drilling and the environment has filed a law suit against Texaco. These law suits are tried in the U.S. court system, utilizing media attention, and the Indians are represented by U.S. law firms and supported by various non-governmental organizations and transnational organizations. Through international media attention, the Indians have lobbied the Ecuadorian government to postpone its international oil field auction in order to create an environmental management plan and a special sustainable development fund. This auction would give international oil companies over 8 million acres of indigenous community territory. OPIP (Pastaza Indians) would be the most harshly affected by losing over 600,000 hectares of their territory, which was to be awarded to them by the government.
1994 The demands made by CONAIE attributed to the discrimination and repressive policies of the state against indigenous communities. COMUNIDEC (a not-for-profit organization that manages grassroots development projects for international organizations) reports that 70-80 percent of the funding for indigenous communities is funneled through a system of state bureaucracies rather than being managed by indigenous communities and leaders. These programs are also not implemented with the consultation of the indigenous communities for which they are established. Moreover, El Comercio (Ecuadorian newspaper) reports that barely 1 percent of the economic budget for Ecuador is spent on the indigenous populations (Van Cott 1994. The Journal of Commerce).
May 26, 1994 Indians, students, and labor unions protested the new economic modernization plans. This created a work stoppage which had not occurred in Ecuador in over 14 years. Moreover, the indigenous groups had now mobilized beyond their own communities to others that were affected by the plans.
Jun 13, 1994 President Duran signed a new Agrarian Reform Law, intended to create a free market for farm produce, strengthen individual titles to land, provide economic assets to small farmers used for investment, and to abolish the land reform agency (IERAC). For indigenous groups, this law is controversial because it allows communally held plots of land to be divided and sold, or mortgaged. Fifty-eight percent of Ecuador's rural land belongs to peasant communities, primarily indigenous, and 41 per cent is privately or state owned. It is this 58 per cent that is jeopardized. President Luis Macas of CONAIE argues that the "breakup of communal lands will mean the dissolution of indigenous communities by destroying their geographical and political integrity" (Van Cott 1994 The Journal of Commerce).
Jun 14, 1994 Massive protests ensued in response to the signing of the Agrarian Reform Law. While organized by CONAIE, the FUT (Ecuador's largest labor union), students, teachers, and the Catholic Church supported the protests. These were reported as the most violent protests that Ecuador has experienced. CONAIE organized the blocking of access roads in 56 communities which lead to oil drilling sites. Fifteen of the 21 major arteries of transportation were closed, causing food and oil shortages. In the town of Canar, looting and vandalism occurred. The reports of deaths due to these protests range from 20 to 40.
Jun 22, 1994 Protests against the Agrarian Land Reform Law continued. President Sixto Duran-Ballen declared a state of emergency on 21 June 1994. But, the decree seemed to have heightened rather than squashed the uprising. It is the largest uprising in Ecuador in the past four years. Nearly all Ecuadoreans were affected by shortages of fuel and agricultural products, while violent conflicts between indigenous peoples and merchants left at least 2 dead and many more injured. Several center and left-wing parties in Congress that did not support the passage of the law proposed that it be repealed in order to end the violent uprising. This was rejected by right-wing parties and the government who continued to insist that indigenous leaders accept the basis of the law, with the possibility of only minor reforms.
Jun 23, 1994 100 Indians had occupied the Riobamba Cathedral, in Chimborazo, supported by a local bishop. Reports of Indian deaths and beatings numbered from two deaths to four or more.
Jun 23, 1994 100 Indians had occupied the Riobamba Cathedral, in Chimborazo, supported by a local bishop. Reports of Indian deaths and beatings numbered from two deaths to four or more.
Jul 10 - Jan 25, 1994 The government and CONAIE, aided in negotiations by the Church and non-governmental organizations, reached an agreement to reform the land law.
Jul 10 - 25, 1994 The government and CONAIE, aided in negotiations by the Church and non-governmental organizations, reached an agreement to reform the land law.
Feb 9, 1995 In the border war between Ecuador and Peru, both sides have recruited Shur-Achuar civilians as guides and scouts. Forty-thousand Shuar and 10,000 Achuar natives live on the Ecuador side of the border and 12,000 on the Peruvian side. The Confederation of Indian Nationalities reported that 8,400 Shuars had been forced to evacuate 21 villages in the border area. Most moved into forest areas away from the conflict, while about 1000 were being cared for by the Ecuadorean civil defense. No native death toll has been reported to date. Before the war, the Shuar-Achuar moved freely across the border.
Feb 16, 1995 UNESCO urged Peru and Ecuador to stop fighting and settle their dispute, pleading for consideration of the effects of the fighting on indigenous peoples of the area. Delegates at UNESCO included Shuar Indians from both countries. They claimed natives were being recruited to fight and whole communities forced to evacuate.
Feb 17, 1995 Peru and Ecuador signed a Peace Accord. But, the accord seemed to have intensified fighting because each side wanted to show it was in control. IPS reported 28 deaths of natives in the war.
Mar 3, 1995 Members of the Andean Pact have united to seek a joint position on the region's genetic resources and biodiversity in order to limit transnational corporations' access to local biological resources.
Apr 27, 1995 Ecuador pulled out the last 160 troops remaining at the border post that was heavily fought over during the country's recent war with Peru. It is part of the process to create a demilitarized zone in the area. Unofficial figures reported at least 200 killed.
May 1995 Indian and peasant groups blocked roads in the highlands region, isolating cities from other regions and from food-producing areas, to express opposition to the government's privatization program. In confrontations during the protest, police shot and severely wounded three demonstrators and arrested 13 others.
May 1996 Indigenous people, through independent candidates, won 8 of 82 Parliamentary seats and 71 local offices throughout the country. The New Country Pachakut movement became the fourth largest political force in the country with election of its members to Parliament. This also marks the first time in Ecuador's history that indigenous people have been elected to Parliament. However, the elections marked a split in CONIAE, the national organization of indigenous peoples. The split largely reflects the differences between Indians of the Amazon and those of the highlands. Luis Macas, one of the top leaders of the highlands, and an MP became a leading opponent of Bucaram. Leaders from the Amazon region supported Bucaram's election.
Aug 1996 Abdala Bucaram was elected President of Ecuador.
Oct 20, 1996 An agreement was reached by the organization of indigenous peoples of Pastaza in the Amazonian region and the oil conglomerate Arco. Arco, with the support of the Ecuadorean government had planned to construct an oil pipeline that went through the territory of 240 Quichua communities. After several years of negotiation, an agreement was reached through which the company would pay for social and environmental damage and job training, and establish a fund for environmental and cultural restoration.
Nov 1996 One hundred eleven indigenous communities filed a lawsuit in the U.S. against Texaco. The indigenous demand was $8 million in compensation for environmental and social damages and reparation of 25 years' damage to the environment from oil prospecting. It was thrown out of the courts in late 1996, but the indigenous groups filed a petition to reopen the case.
Dec 1996 Antonio Vargas, an Amazonian leader, was elected as the new president of CONIAE over the opposition of indigenous peoples from the highlands who charged the electoral process was marred by irregularities. Former President Jose Maria Cabasango, cousin of the murdered activist Juli Cabasango, was seeking reelection with the support of Quechua Indians of the highlands. Some indigenous groups claimed President Bucaram used tactics of "divide and conquer" when he saw the indigenous movement was gaining ground in the country's political scene. He recently created the Ethnic and Cultural Ministry and appointed two Amazonian Indians as Minister and Vice Minister. CONIAE rejected the proposal of the Ministry which it defined as "political booty" to be used by Bucaram to consolidate his popularity. Luis Macas, leader of the indigenous bloc in Parliament also opposed the new ministry questioning how the government had the funds to establish a new ministry, but not to repair roads and provide other services to indigenous regions.
Feb 6, 1997 Ecuadoreans began a strike yesterday, the largest in the country in several years. It is in protest against President Abdala Bucaram's economic austerity measures. Discontent has grown in Ecuador after the six-month-old government introduced austerity measures that included price increases for electricity, telephone services, and public transport. Indigenous peoples participated in the strike by blocking roads.
Feb 24, 1997 Indians from the Quichua area have made no headway in a five-year struggle to file suit for environmental negligence against Atlantic Richfield Co. More cases alleging environmental damage have been filed in Ecuador than in any other Latin American country. Its government is counting on foreign oil operators to double it current 384,000 barrels-per-day production within six years. Nearly three-quarters of the increment is to come from indigenous areas and around the orient basin.
Feb 25, 1997 An agreement was reached between the Achuar people and an Argentine oil firm setting a precedent that companies interested in operating in Ecuador's Amazon region must negotiate directly with the indigenous people living there. The firm signed an agreement with the community stipulating that they are to be fully informed of its operations in the area.
Mar 4, 1997 Occidental Petroleum was denounced by environmental groups for attempting to drill oil in lands of the U'wa peoples of Columbia and for plans to drill in Ecuadorean and Peruvian Amazon regions. Last year in Ecuador, Occidental Petroleum solicited the help of the military in an effort to force the Scona and Secoya people to give up their land. In August, indigenous people marched from the Amazon to Quito in protest of the tactics of Occidental Petroleum.

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