EspañolWary of an ever-growing state in Ecuador, several indigenous groups have joined a nationwide movement against the government of President Rafael Correa. To demonstrate their resolve, they have decided to embark on a 10-day march all the way from the Amazon to Correa’s office in Quito.
On Sunday, August 2, the 400-kilometer “March for Democracy and Dignity” convened by Ecuador’s Confederation of Indigenous Nationalities (CONAIE) departed from the town of El Pangui, in the southern Zamora Chinchipe province.
Before leaving, the demonstrators celebrated a ritual in which they prayed to Mother Earth for her permission and her blessing “to overcome all obstacles,” according to Salvador Quishpe, an indigenous opposition leader and Zamora Chinchipe governor for the Pachakutik party.
“We want peace, tranquility, respect, cordiality. That’s all we seek with this march: respect, above all, respect for the dignity of our history, our ancestors, our children — for the dignity of our peoples,” Quishpe told Efe news agency.
No to Indefinite Reelection
Moreover, the indigenous leaders signed the “mandate of the peoples of Cordillera del Cóndor.” The document asks for the shelving of constitutional amendments promoted by the ruling PAIS Alliance party, notably the one enabling indefinite reelection. They also call for the elimination of laws that restrict fundamental freedoms, for the respect of unions and workers rights, among other demands.
Jorge Herrera, president of CONAIE, stressed the peaceful nature of the protest and promised that on August 10 there will be a “great uprising of the peoples of Ecuador” throughout the South American nation.
The event, however, did not start without incidents. Herrera reported that a police checkpoint stopped five buses carrying people to the march, allegedly so the demonstrators could not get to the event on time. Undeterred, some travelers came out of the bus and walked to El Pangui, he said.
In an interview with Colombian outlet NTN24, Herrera assured that the Correa administration, after years of refusing to talk with them, is now “desperately” trying to set up a channel to negotiate.
“During the eight and a half years that President Correa has remained in power, he has not been able to reach consensus … The only thing that Correa has done is lie. He has betrayed the ideological and political principles of this country … and he has been systematically restricting rights in Ecuador,” Herrera said, assuring that the indigenous groups will join the national strike convened by labor unions on August 13.
Meanwhile, certain indigenous groups that support the ruling party have rejected the demonstrations, alleging that the CONAIE leadership did not consult with all its members before launching the march.
“We reject [those supporters of] the right, who are taking advantage of social movements,” lashed out Delia Caguano, a coordinator of indigenous groups in Chimborazo and Sierra
On Saturday, Ecuadorian Vice President Jorge Glas took to Correa’s show Citizen Link on national television to attack the media for turning a blind eye towards indigenous groups that support PAIS Alliance. While citizens have the right to demonstrate, he said, he warned protesters not to block roads or destroy them.
He insisted that the Correa administration has worked in favor of indigenous groups, and repeated that the country needs a profound “dialogue.”
Ecuadorians escalated protests against the Correa administration in early June, after the president introduced legislation enacting new taxes on inheritance and capital gains. Thousands have since rallied to demonstrate with the slogan “fuera Correa, fuera” (get out Correa, get out!).
EspañolA month ago, the Colombian government approved the passage of the so-called Anti-Smuggling Law. Almost immediately, small-business owners across the country took to the streets to protest against it. Santiago Rojas, however, the head of the National Taxes and Customs Directorate (DIAN), claimed smuggling rings were behind the demonstrations. In Colombia, it's become second nature for officials to say these things and attempt to discredit protesters instead of engaging with them. Without ever addressing the issue, all they need to do to tarnish the cause is to suggest the demonstrations are somehow linked to some vaguely defined armed group or criminal organization. It's pure ad hominem fallacy, but with an aggravating factor: believing that obscure, unnamed groups are behind legitimate citizen protests dilutes personal responsibility. As the head of the government office responsible for collecting taxes and tariffs, it's in Rojas's best interest to minimize the influence of the protesters. It is DIAN's job to persuade the public that the Colombian state is allocating the money it takes from them to worthwhile projects. And when it fails to do so, it must force the public to fork over the cash anyway. Unfortunately, the state has succeeded in persuading many Colombians. Most believe taxes are the best or even the only way for society to solve its problems or express solidarity. They ignore the importance of social organizations, altruism, and initiatives beyond the political sphere, which tend to lead to corruption and the undue sway of special interests. Those who buy into the state's logic argue tariffs are important, because they provide a source of revenue for the government as well as protection for some economic sectors. What they usually forget to explain is why the government should spend any amount of money at the expense of other people's hard work, or why some industries should be granted privileges over others. This is not the only thing Rojas fails to account for either. The head of the DIAN also avoid explaining what driving the smuggling business in the first place. In short, contraband exists where there are trade barriers. Consumer demand for foreign goods creates incentives for some businessmen to fill the void, even though it's an illegal and violent activity. The World Bank's Ease of Doing Business Index demonstrates this clearly. Colombia is doing relatively well when it comes to the number of bureaucratic steps and the amount of days it takes to import and export goods. The country ranks above the Latin American average, but below the OECD countries. Colombia, however, performs poorly in the category of freight cost per container. While the Latin American average for exports is US$1,299, and $1,080 for OECD countries, it costs $2,355 per container in Colombia. The situation is similar for imports: $1,691 and $1,100 versus $2,470, respectively. The high barriers to trade in Colombia are as evident as the pervading anti-import bias. The Global Competitiveness Report 2014-15 points to the same trend. When it comes to trade barriers, Colombia ranks 119 out of 144 countries. On tariffs in relation to total tax revenue, the country stands at position 82. When taking into account the burden of customs procedures, Colombia ranks 91. Trade barriers and a high tax burden are the prefect mix to harm investment and job creation. The index ranks Colombia 127 out of 144 for tax environments that promote investment, while the effects of taxation on incentives to work place the country at position 122.Furthermore, the country shows a moderately concentrated market, ranking 101 in the category that measures the extent of existing competition. This take us to the sixth pillar of the competitiveness report, efficiency in the market for goods, where Colombia stands at position 109 — the second worst position after the pillar of institutions (111). Considering the current situation, instead of punishing protesters or manufacturing conspiracy theories, Rojas should avoid persecuting people who simply serve consumers. Smugglers will continue to exist because people will continue buying. Persecution will only beget more violence. Instead, the DIAN should focus on simplifying tariffs to help Colombians trade with the rest of the world. Translated by Adam Dubove.