Quito, Ecuador — Over 25,000 people flooded Quito, Ecuador’s capital, on March 22 in the culmination of a two week march that began in the country’s Southern Amazon region and spanned roughly 700 kilometres.
The march, translated from Spanish to mean the “Plurinational March for Water, Life, and Dignity of the People,” was led by the Confederation of Indigenous Nationalities of Ecuador (CONAIE) in collaboration with other indigenous, environmental, student, worker, and women’s groups.
The movement was born out of a rejection of the constitutional violations and extractive environmental policies of President Rafael Correa’s national government, which is lead by the Alianza Pais party (“Proud and Sovereign Fatherland Alliance”).
Thousands left Ecuador’s Southern Amazonian province of Zamora-Chinchipe on March 8 – International Women’s Day – to begin their journey to Quito. They arrived on March 22, World Water Day.
The starting point was symbolically chosen to denounce the large-scale, open pit copper mining project initiated in Zamora’s Condor Cordillera following a contract signed at the beginning of the month with the Chinese transnational mining corporation, Ecuacorriente (ECSA).
ECSA is an international subsidiary of the Canadian natural mineral resource company, Corriente Resources Inc., based in Vancouver, BC.
The project is the largest scale mining development in the Ecuador’s history, and is contracted to last 25 years, with a $1.4-billion investment in the Southern Amazonian region by ECSA within the first five years.
Provincial coordinating committees sent roughly 5,000 to 6,000 people from each province to participate in the march, joining the movement as it moved northward from Zamora toward the capital. Together these bodies made 19 demands on issues including labour, environmental justice, and reproductive rights.
They declared three of these demands to be nonnegotiable: the elimination of large scale mining, decriminalization of social protest, and the reinstatement of employment of 5,600 public workers who had been laid off in Fall 2011 by a constitutional decree which instituted “mandatory resignation.”
On March 22, 20,000 demonstrators travelled the final stretch through Quito, arriving from the south to gather downtown at Parque del Arbolito. Another 5,000 arrived from the north. They carried with them large banners, flags, graffiti, and drums, chanting as they made their way through the city.
Though the protesters marched in unity, they represented a wide variety of issues.
“I am here because I believe in protest. I believe it is one of the greatest achievements of the people, and I join this struggle for two reasons; because water is a right for all, and because I am against the large scale mining project in Zamora,” said Pablo Torres, a demonstrator from Quito.
Another demonstrator, Marco Montagua from Pastaza in the South Eastern Amazon stated, “I am here in the spirit of solidarity between indigenous peoples and nationalities. Each people, each sector, has their own reason for being here. We, the Sapara Nation, are here to resist oil extraction on our land.”
Riot cops and military lined the march and police helicopters flew overhead. While the protest remained mostly peaceful, altercations broke out between riot police, police on horseback, and the demonstrators around 6:00 p.m.
The government had banned the contracting of interprovincial buses throughout March, which constrained the number of protesters present in the demonstration.
Despite this, Soledad Vogliano, Natural Resource and Legal worker for CONAIE, explained that the march has already yielded some positive results.
“The government has announced that they will begin a process of dialogue to evaluate how the nonnegotiable demands can be implemented,” said Vogliano. “This period will last six months, by the end of which, if there is no action, the organizations involved in the march have announced that there will be uprising.”