Ecuador: An October that lights up March

Luisa Lozano is the director of women’s organizing of the National Confederation of Indigenous Nationalities in Ecuador (CONAIE), which incorporates 18 communities from 14 Indigenous nations from the coast, the Amazon and the Andean region. She was one of the key women who participated in organizing and sustaining the Indigenous and popular uprising that took place in Ecuador in October of 2019, against Decree 883

In August of 2015, Lozano was imprisoned while protesting against neoliberal measures that threaten the lifeways of communities and against the organizational forms of rural smallholders. She was charged with paralyzing public services and instigation, and sentenced for four years in jail. Together with her lawyers she fought against incarceration. She was in prison for 16 days and spent more than three years under house arrest, after which she was absolved. 

Today, Lozano is participating together with a team of lawyers in the legal case against the state of Ecuador. They are seeking to establish the causes of the nine assassinations and many other injuries, including serious injuries to those who were shot with buckshot, that took place during the Indigenous uprising. The goal is to ensure that these crimes do not remain in impunity.

Luisa Lozano. Photo: Mujeres CONAIE.

In our conversation, Lozano analyzes the effects and the responses of the police and army attack against communities who participated in the uprising in Ecuador in October. She discusses how women led the call to end violence, while at the same time looking after feeding a massive mobilization of over 50,000 people who were in the streets of Quito with their children in protest against the economic measures and structural adjustment contained in Decree 883. She also talks about what happened when President Lenin Moreno abandoned the Carondelet (the seat of government) in Quito and moved to Guayaquil, among other things. What follows is a transcript of our interview, edited for length and clarity.

Gladys Tzul Tzul: I’m calling this interview “An October that lights up March” because as Indigenous women, we are entering the month of March this year with the very important precedent of the Indigenous and popular uprising in Ecuador. Women were the backbone of the October strike, in terms of care, discourse and leadership. How did you experience those days in October?

Luisa Lozano: During the uprising, as women we were the ones making an appeal to stop the violence. We put ourselves in front of the police to say to them: “Don’t kill us. Our children are waiting for us at home. Why are you killing us, we are just protesting.” It was women who managed to calm the violence. 

The state didn’t take into account the consequences, or the impacts that would take place in the communities. The state declared a curfew. They sent busses, horses, motorcycles, bullets, bombs, police and soldiers to repress us. The state never respected the peace zones, of which the CONAIE created four: the Universities, El Arbolito Park, and the agora of the Casa de Cultura. They entered those areas and repressed women, boys and girls. Regardless, the women stayed. We united with women from the countryside and led a march of more than 15,000 women. 

When the state saw our strength, and saw that everyone was rising up, it abandoned the Carondelet and left for Guayaquil. The congresspeople left. We were never armed, our hands were empty, but we were intensely repressed. The police went against their word.

GTT: Explain a little more what you mean when you say the police went against their word.

LL: In Indigenous communities there is great value placed on our word. If you give your word, you must follow through. That’s how it is in Indigenous communities. The value of our word is fundamental. If you make a promise, you must follow through. We spoke with the police commander, we spoke with the head of the army, we also spoke with a woman police officer who was in charge during some of those shifts. 

We told them we were unarmed, that we were peacefully protesting for the annulment of Decree 883, and demanded the congresspeople return. We told them to stop the violence before there was a bloodbath. They agreed that they would not repress us, but it didn’t end up that way. Women from the communities and from the city held a march to demand the cancellation of 883.

When we women took over the National Assembly, we demanded that they return to do their work. We were singing, dancing, eating, and calling for an end to violence. And that’s when they repressed us. There were more than 15,000 women. And the repression was intense, really harsh against the women. Our hands were empty, they attacked us with buckshot, with gas canisters. It was made very clear to us that violence against women comes from the state as well. We suffered violent attacks and also political attacks, because there was fake news created that said we had sold out.

GTT: How did you interpret those attacks, and how did you react? 

LL: The best strategy, so that the Indigenous movement didn’t end up getting crushed, was to hold an open public dialogue. We made our dialogues public, so that people could see on TV and hear on the radio who was negotiating and who refused to change their position. Unfortunately, that public dialogue required a huge amount of energy. We organized the dialogue, but there, the dead and wounded passed under our noses.

As leaders, we ended up exhausted, because our base was asking us to look after our interests and the government was attacking us. After 11 days we were tired, hungry, under-slept, we hadn’t bathed, we were even looking after the wounded. And at the same time as we were avoiding direct persecution by infiltrators, secret agents and police who were following us. We even went into hiding in order to care for ourselves.

With all of our strength combined we managed to take down the Decree. The goal is to establish decrees that don’t hurt the communities. We were accused of being terrorists, saboteurs, criminals. But we even planned and carried out a day to clean up the streets in the city of Quito.

GTT: What do you think about the next step after the strike? How are the struggles of the women from the communities?

LL: There are nine people who were killed, one person in a coma, our records show that 1,300 people were injured and 1,160 more were criminalized. The CONAIE has taken on the important goal of seeking justice. The health of the wounded is not being guaranteed. As a woman leader, we’re working so that neither state violence nor femicide (the killing of women because of their gender) remain in impunity. The army and the police shot directly at us, all we had were gas masks.

The period after the strike brought criminalization to the communities and to families. But it is clear to everyone in Ecuador that Decree 883 and the state apparatus function without consulting. Their actions impact not just communities, but everyone. In addition, we’ve been attacked, because they say we don’t allow development. [In the last week of February] there were three femicides in Ecuador. We have to keep working on prevention strategies from below, at the community and family level. 

But it is also the responsibility of men to look after life. Men have that responsibility. It is the responsibility of the whole community. Just as we work in chacra (communal work), that’s how we have to work against violence against women. During the march in October, it was the communities that came out, women and men, to topple a Decree. We’ll struggle in the same way against violence. 

Finally, we salute the [feminist/women’s] struggles in March, these are women who have given up their lives to fight for better working conditions. In the case of Indigenous women, we celebrate on September 5 (the International Day of Indigenous Women, which is commemorated on the anniversary of the assassination of Bartolina Sisa, an Aymara women who fought shoulder to shoulder with Tupac Katari). That is also a day of struggle. 

Translated and slightly edited by Toward Freedom with permission and input from the author. Read the original here.

Author bio:

Gladys Tzul Tzul is a Maya K’iche’ sociologist. She researches communal politics in the Andes and Mesoamerica.