Brief on the Protest March from Amazonian Ecuador to the Capital City of Quito, 11 April - 23 April, 1992, plus information on the Quito Activities)

Norman Whitten
Professor of Anthropology and Latin American Studies
University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign


Diego Quiroga
Profesor de Antropología
Universidad San Francisco de Quito
333-3616 (message)
Fax: 244-3490


Norman Whitten is a cultural anthropologist with more than twenty years experience doing research with indigenous people in Amazonian Ecuador and more than 30 years doing research with black and indigenous people in Ecuador. Research over the past two decades has centered on ecology, social organization, and culture of Canelos Quichua (Pastaza Runa) and Achuar Jivaroan people of Pastaza Province, Amazonian Ecuador. All of this work has been done in various rain-forest areas radiating out of Puyo, the capital of Pastaza Province, and the most dynamic town in Amazonian Ecuador. Diego Quiroga is a cultural anthropologist with extensive experience in Ecuador, where he has worked with black and indigenous peoples. Together they are trying to provide a brief, daily update on the Protest March from Puyo to Quito. This update supplements those on electronic mail circulated by various Ecuadorian-based and U.S.-based organizations.

On April 11, 1992, Indigenous people of Pastaza ProvinceQCanelos Quichua, Achuar and Shiwiar JivaroansQbegan a serious 230-mile march from Puyo to Quito, the capital city of Ecuador. Attached is an bitnet from The South and Mesoamerican Indian Information Center in Oakland, California, that explains the essentials of the March. I am in touch with colleagues and friends in Ecuador who have confirmed first-hand the materials listed below.

Some general information on the March and its political-economic setting and significance

The March is being led by the Organization of Indigenous People of Pastaza (Organizacin de los Pueblos Indgenas de Pastaza), "OPIP," whose president is Antonio Vargas. Principal Spokesman on the March is Carlos Viteri.

In July and August, 1990, President of the Republic of Ecuador, Dr. Rodrigo Borja Cevallos, and many of his associates spoke very authoritatively and angrily against the position of OPIP and its call for indigenous autonomy. I am not sure what the "national mood" is now with regard to the indigenous March, though below I give a few notes about the positive reception in Salcedo and the consternation expressed in the press in Quito.

For more background information, Ecuador has scheduled its national election for 17 May, a run-off election, if necessary, in June, and the "assumption of office" ceremonies for 10 August. 10 August is Ecuador's Independence Day. The indigenous march, coming at this time (before, during, and after Eastern weekend, and before the elections), would seem to cut into the national political agenda in a severe manner.

Specfic bits and pieces of information about the March, in more or less chronological order:

% Some of the Marchers had to walk seven to ten days to reach Puyo; some came from near the border of Amazonian Peru.

% On 8 April, three days before the March was to begin, The Brigada de la Selva (Brigade of the Jungle), #17, of Shell (four miles from Puyo; the town is named after Shell Petroleum Company), militarized the Puyo-Napo Road, the Puyo-Macas Road and occupied Union Base, which is where the Confederation of Indigenous People of Amazonian Ecuador (CONFENAIE) has its office, and where Antonio Vargas, the President of OPIP, resides. The bilingual school in Union Base is also occupied by the military. Troops guard all gas stations and other way-stations on the route of the March.

% There has been no move to block the March itself by military or police. There are two police cars in front of the March and two police motorcycles. All traffic is stopped by the police until the March passes, or the traffic is sent on a detour.

% The Ecuadorian Red Cross is on hand with the marchers to provide emergency medical assistance, and contingent of Catholic Nuns is there, as well.

% On 11 April, before the March began, Monseor Corral (Riobamba) spoke, as did Luis Macas. Both asked the people and military and police of Ecuador to respect the peaceful March, and affirmed that the chonta lances were symbolic, that they were not weapons. Monseor Corral is a prominent Liberation Theologist, and Luis Macas is the President of the national Ecuadorian indigenous organization CONAIE (Confederation of the Indigenous Nationalities of EcuadorQConfederacin de los Nacionalidades Indgenas del Ecuador).

% The route of the March was East to West, from the Upper Amazon to the Andean city of Ambato (first six days) and then South to North, Ambato to Quito, using the Pan-American Highway through the Andes in the valley between two Andean cordilleras.

% The March moved along smoothly. It left Puyo (Upper Amazonia) late on the llth and spent the first night at Mera; arrived Ro Negro Sunday; arrived Baos Monday. I am not altogether clear on Tuesday-Thursday, but the Marchers spent at least one day, and perhaps two, in the Indigenous zone of Salasaca (East of Ambato) on Tuesday and/or Wednesday, and spent Thursday night in a highschool in Ambato. On Friday they left Ambato and arrived in Salcedo; left Salcedo Saturday (18 April) and arrived in Latacunga the same day. It spent Sunday in Latacunga, gaining more indigenous people, and left early Monday morning, camping on the experimental pine-forest area of the pramo at an altitude of about 12,000 feet. Tents were provided by the Rainforest Action Network. It reached Machachi on Tuesday, and Guamani, on the outskirts of South Quito on Wednesday. For the entry to Quito and what happens thereafter, see later rubrics.

% Estimated number out of Puyo 800 by one report; joined by two hundred at Salasaca. By Ambato they were joined by indigenous people from the Provinces of Tungarahua, Chimborazo, and Cotapaxi. On Saturday they were estimated at 2000-3000, but may, from time to time, have as many as 5000, as many well-wishers join the March for a couple of miles. It is not clear on how many marchers/campers were present on the entry to Quito (see below).

% Between Latacunga and Quito the March will have to passed over the pramo, going up to 13,000 feet altitude, where it could have encountere severe weather, including hail storms or snow storms. Temperatures at night dropped to freezing, and below. The route of the March is flanked by spectacular snow capped peaks, the two highest of which exceed 20,000 feet altitude.

Moods, motivations, etc.

% In 1990 there was a general Indigenous uprising, called Levantamiento Indgena, in Ecuador, where between two and three million people staged a major national protest over their living conditions and access to resources. The government has not responded to any of the 16 Indigenous requests over the past two years.

% The Marchers original plan was to "camp" in the center of the old, colonial sector of Quito, near the Presidential palace, until the President and Ecuador address all 16 points of the Levantamiento, and until the President, Congress, and other official agencies of the Ecuadorian Government grant land and access to all public resources.

% Great consternation was manifested through the press in Quito, where people asked "what will be done with all the indigenous people occupying the center of the city?", which is also known as the "heart" of the "city of humanitarianism." (see below for more information).

% Not a negative comment was heard as the March went through Salcedo; everything was upbeat and positive. First-hand reports indicate that the March of Protest was "like a celebratory parade," people threw flowers from balconies and from street sides, and cheered "long live the March;" "Go to Quito indigenous people and claim your rights as Ecuadorians!"

% The Indigenous people from the Amazonian Region of Pastaza are leading the March; many are carrying palm-wood lancesQsymbol of Amazonian indigenous independenceQand wearing toucan headressesQancient symbol of Amazonian indigenous liberation. They are being joined by Andean indigenous people in ponchos signifying their special region.

% There were rumors of another indigenous March from Northern Ecuador to Quito to arrive on the same day (orignially, the 24th) as the Amazonian March. This would represent the Quichua concept of tingkui, the conjoining of two streams to form a swelling river. Water metaphors are often used when indigenous people are engaged in enactment of a system of power.

% In spite of great differences in the specifics of land claims in the high Andes and Upper Amazonia, the native peoples of Ecuador are marching in a sustained alliance over their indigenous being; their main point being "After 500 years of Oppression, Indigenous Self-Determination in 1992".

% While on the March, indigenous leaders have called for the "demilitarization" of Pastaza Province, especially the roads leading in and out of Puyo.

Quito just before the March arrived

% Before the March arrived in Quito Borja made an announcement about a great expansion of bilingual education to be put under full and exclusive indigenous control.

% For a day before the March reached Quito there were "contra- manifestations" reported in the major newspapers Hoy and El Comercio. These were staged by the organization FEDECAP, FENOC, AND FOCIN, the former of which is a "peasant" organization that includes a few native people from the Pastaza area, and the latter two are protestant indigenous organiztions. The contra-manifestations had previously taken place in Puyo on the day the March departed. They focus on the need for distribution of land to families and to communities, as opposed to vast territory controlled by exclusively by OPIP.

% One preoccupation in the Quiteo press was sanitation. It was announced two days before the March reached Quito that the city would be completely cleaned before the March entered, and that it would be kept clean during the Camping of Marchers. On 22 April, the day before the March arrived) an announcement was made that portable sanitation facilities (potty houses) had arrived and would be set up in the camp-site.

% Originally the March was to arrive in Quito on the 24th, March in through South Quito to the Plaza de Independencia in front of the National Palace, and then go to the Plaza San Francisco de Quito, which is behind the national palace and adjacent to the Market named "Ipiales". Then it was to go to the El Ejido Park for a program and return to San Francisco to camp.

The March Reaches Quito

% The March left Guamani at 4:00 a.m. on 24 April. It entered Quito early and reached the Plaza San Francisco de Quito at 9:30. Soon thereafter the leaderss, Luis Macas President of CONAIE, Velario Grefa, President of CONFENIE, and Antonio Vargas, President of OPIP, and apparently a few others, visited with the President, Dr. Rodrigo Borja Cevallos, in the National Palace

. % The President offered them their land, and Grefa thanked him in very grateful and moving words. The leaders returned to the Plaza San Francisco and announced that the land would be given to indigenous people and there was a great cheering, and much rejoicing.

% Then the March proceeded to El Ejido Park where a speach was made by the President and where the details of the "gift" of land were announced (below).

% All downtown Quito was heavily guarded by police in full battle- gear, including helmits, face masks, and shields. Few, however, carried firearms. It was exceedingly difficult to get through the police to speak or even see the Marchers.

% The Marchers movement was facilitated by the police; no Marcher was impeded.

Details on the President's messages

% The President can do nothing about changing the Constitution to make Ecuador a "multi-national state"; only the Congress can do this.

% With regard to the land transfer (this comes from the morning edition of El Comercio, 24 April, which was being scanned and read to me at 7:15 a.m.), the March and encounter with the President represents a Dilogo Positivo, a positive dialogue.

% Specifically, the Government has now set up a 15 day study to be undertaken by a Frente Social, composed of the Government, the Ministry of Government, the Department of Defense, the program for Health and Welfare, and IERAC.


% It should be noted that, for many years now, and especially since the confrontational meeting that resulted in the Acuerdo de Sarayacu in early May of 1989, OPIP has specifically opposed IERAC and its presence in every single context of negotiation over indigenous lands, social justice, and indigenous rights.

% 15 days counting weekends goes to 9 May.

% But 15 days, beginning, Monday, 27 April, and exclucing weekends, takes the date to 15 May, just two days before the national election.

% It would appear that 15 days would be a long time for indigenous people to camp in the El Ejido Park, and the "full 15 work days"), or 21 real days ia a week longer. This is a very long time for people to campin tents in El Ejido Park, or anywhere else.

% After 17 May Borja will be serving in "lame duck" status. It may not be clear who will be President until after a run-off election to be held in June. And then it would be rare to have any action taken such as turning over Ecuadorian territory to Indigenous people until the new congress and new President assume office on 10 August.

% After the 10th of August, the Congress will have to elect its President and Vice President, and this can (and usually is) a very dramatic and even violent period within the Congress. It is common for Congress to begin its term, and for the new President to begin his term, by rejecting and denouncing activities, especially recent ones, by the ex-congressmen and ex-congresswomen, and by the ex- president.