Grassroots Resistance in Ecuador: CONAIE and the organization of Indigenous Activists

CONAIE believes that relying on the parliament only keeps power away from the people and in the hands of the international traders and national elites.


Since 13 June 2022, Ecuador has been rocked by massive protests. The protests have been primarily sustained by indigenous activists, mostly associated with the Confederation of Indigenous Nationalities of Ecuador (CONAIE). It also has strong support from workers and student groups. The protests have been against the destructive economic policies of the government that resulted in rising food and fuel process in the country.

In response to the protest, the President of Ecuador, Guillermo Lasso, has declared a state of Emergency. Lasso has claimed that the protesters are planning a coup d’etat.

The protests began on 13 June with a march on the nation’s capital, Quito. The march was organized by CONAIE. CONAIE also called for an indefinite strike. They demanded that fuel prices be controlled, and there should be increased spending on education and other social services. Along the march, there were sporadic outbreaks of violence. The next day, CONAI president Leonidas Iza, was arrested, leading to escalation. Though the court deemed the arrest legal, protesters saw it as illegitimate and responded by blocking roads. Students and workers joined the protests on 15th June. By 17th June, violence between police and protesters broke out. Police put up barricades to prevent the movements of the protesters. Protesters broke through the police barricade. Nearly a dozen protests were critically injured. The same day, the government tried to cancel offline classes and demand students take classes from home online, and declared a state of national emergency.

The escalation continued over the next week. On 22 June, CONAIE brought out a list of demands to the state. The demands were:

  1. Controlling fuel prices
  2. Economic relief for four million families.
  3. Food prices that are fair for farmers and consumers
  4. Effective policies to prevent job insecurity and indebtedness
  5. Moratorium on oil and mining industries
  6. Respect for the rights of self-determination of indigenous people as enshrined in the Constitution
  7. Stopping the Privatization of industry
  8. Regulation of prices of basic necessities
  9. Support understaffed hospitals, and guarantee access of youth to higher education
  10. Effective Public policies to curb crime


CONAIE was founded in 1986 and is currently the largest indigenous rights organization in Ecuador. It is composed of three regional federations representing the people of the Amazon, Coast and Quichua (highlands). CONAIE rejects electoral democracy as a political strategy and calls for a multi-nation state of Ecuador based on principles of participatory democracy and the self-determination of indigenous people.

Traditionally CONAIE has used road blocking and systems of cultural resistance to protest against the state and policies imposed by the IMF. While they have stayed away from electoral politics, in 2002 they supported the Presidential campaign of Lucio Gutierrez. However, after his victory, CONAIE went against him saying that they went back on his promises to CONAIE by deepening ties with the IMF. Their campaign led to the recognition of the rights of nature in the Ecuadorian constitutions in 2008. Since then, CONAIE has begun to shift away from protests and move towards policy recommendations and awareness building.

The indigenous populations of Ecuador have been a strong driver in politics. Nearly a quarter of the population identifies as indigenous. The people come from different ecological contexts, but their concern for the environment unites them. Deforestation, Oil & Mining companies and other industries have been ruining the ecological heritage of the country.


These popular movements have been at odds with the demands of the Global Economy. In the 1990s, American influence, through the IMF, hollowed out the finances of the state, leading to dependence on trade. Ecuador tried to move towards other poles for support, such as China, Russia or Iran, but this had no effect on the ability of the country to protect its environment or its people. As oil prices change, every country that Ecuador has worked with has changed the nature of support. This has often led to further exploitation of resources. While the state officially recognised the rights of Nature, it has been helpless in protecting those rights. Former President Raphael Correa had declared that while Ecuador was committed to protecting the Earth, the rest of the world keeps betraying them.

Latin America has had pro-people and pro-nature politics at different points, but they have waxed and waned in different parts at different points of time. This has kept Ecuador in a precarious position, as throwing in with a sympathetic country today, could mean being ostracised tomorrow.

Courtesy-Bloomberg news
An indigenous women in the midst of protests in Quito, Ecuador, 2019

The only form of resistance comes in the form of para-parliamentary organizations such as CONAIE which speak to the exploitative nature of capitalism against the country. The country means both the people of the country and its rich cultural and natural heritage. This resistance knows that the state will only serve the interests of Global trade unless it meets with resistance outside the state. CONAIE keeps a philosophy of grassroots democracy, which they insist is the only path to democracy. Relying on the parliament only keeps power away from the people and in the hands of the international traders and national elites.

Across the world, there has been a growing movement in indigenous politics. Since the 1970s, efforts have been made across many continents to establish the rights of indigenous people. These movements have grounded themselves in demands for local level democratic autonomy, respect for the varied cultures that have existed before the current nation-states, principles of self-determination, recognition of the historic relationship between the people and their land, and a desire for harmony with the broader globe. They have been under attack for centuries and would like to move on to a place of peace and liberation.

Since the 1970s, there has been increased pressure from indigenous groups to recognize the fights of the first peoples. At the same time, corporations and the state have been even more vicious in looting the resources that rightfully belong to the original inhabitants. Even in India, where in recent times, many of the historic gains by indigenous groups have been under attack, the tug-of-war between the state and the demands of local indigenous people has required more coordination across various communities. In Ecuador, CONAIE shows a way to resist.


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April 2024


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