Ecuador indigenous protests

Political tensions rise after protesters waving the flag of the country’s indigenous movement demand an election recount

Photo by Reuters.

3 minute read — By Camilla Foster

Recent elections in Ecuador saw the emergence of the country’s long-standing marginalised indigenous movement. It has become a key driver of political conversation. The National Electoral Council declared the right-wing former banker, Guillermo Lasso, the narrow winner of the extremely tense election. Yaku Perez, an environmental activist who is popular with the indigenous community, lost by less than one percent.

Since the election result, Perez has actively encouraged the indigenous communities across Ecuador to come together and rally against – what he regards as – the manipulation of poll statements. Protesters demanded transparency, wanting to recount at least 17 of Ecuador’s 24 provinces, which accounts for approximately 45% of the country’s registered voters.     

The controversial election result unravelled amidst widespread discontent within a country that has been crippled by the COVID-19 pandemic. Ecuador has become a place where economic and social troubles go hand in hand. It has faced significant human rights challenges: weak institutions, poor prison conditions, laws that give authorities broad powers to limit judicial independence, violence against women, far-reaching restrictions on women’s and girls’ access to reproductive health care and disregard for indigenous rights. 

Perez and his Pachakutik party broke the mould of Ecuadorean politics by advocating a voice that has been repressed for so long. The indigenous community have previously failed to find a voice in a country whose politics have been historically dominated by the wealthy elite of European descent. The activist is known for his strong opposition to mining as well as his undivided support for environmental protection. The ambitious politician desires to be the first indigenous leader in Ecuador. The Pachakutik Party has largely been supported by Ecuador’s indigenous people, who make up only 7% of the population. However, the party has also struck a chord with the young disillusioned demographic, who support the party’s pleas for gender equality and climate change action. His leadership rivals were left-wing economist Andres Arauz and right-wing conservative banker Guillermo Lasso, highlighting how divided the country’s political climate is.  

Conflict between the indigenous communities of the country and the government cuts deep. Yaku Perez connects with the Ecuadorean natives, his roots and fresh perspectives helped cultivated a huge popularity and made him a relatable figure for members of indigenous community to admire and respect. Over the last few years there have been an increasing number of clashes between the community and the government over several issues, most notably water rights and inequalities, mining, rainforest pollution, deforestation, agrarian debt and peasant welfare. This accumulated to create unstable pre-election conditions.

President Lasso is now faced with an uphill struggle to get the country out of the current crisis. Slow progress on vaccinations, economic recovery and migration all represent significant challenges for the future of Ecuador. What this year’s electoral outcome and consequential protests have shown is a re-vindication of the value of indigenous culture.