Ecuador in the logic of War: Break the Siege, Shift the Power

“Its twelve at night and the bombs don’t stop,” a friend tells me, crying. I am afraid for the Indigenous people from the Amazonia that arrived to the city yesterday and today are already being subjected to this, after such a long journey. “It is terrible,” says my friend and neighbor, “they’re killing us, I feel such impotence. We should do something.  Something different maybe. Out there the city just goes on with its life, it doesn’t know they’re killing us. I can’t stand it anymore. This government is a death machine, a machine of total annihilation.”

That city, I’ve seen it.  Its the city of the North, where the supermarkets are not stocked, where people have a torta at the Sweets&Coffee and watch the news from the sofa.  It is a city that is obscene in its disconnection and its connection through the media, which talk about destruction of property, the violence of those who are protesting, and the desire of ordinary people to get back to work and push the country forward, as if this had no relation to the legalization of generalized poverty by both the new measures and the old injustices.

Today, after another occupation of the National Assembly and a declaration by President Moreno in which, in vain words, he called for dialogue with the Indigenous leaders so they might “speak to me,” the police suddenly began to attack again.  This time, a crowd peacefully seated, waiting for any signs of hope. One of my students was there and sent an account. She couldn’t stop crying. “The surprise attack on the universities last night while people were resting was vile, the new offensive today right after the call for dialogue is vile. Seeing the president speaks turns my stomach, he’s a fascist, we now know he won’t stop the massacre.”

Women and police, Quito Ecuador. Photo by Jonathan Rosas

In a meeting in the agora of the Casa de la Cultura in a matter of minutes we saw at least four injured people being brought in on precarious cloth litters. In the supply centers people are no longer requesting blankets, they’re requesting extinguishers, medicine, bandages, oxygen… that is what they’re asking for. Yesterday we cried at a ceremonial assembly to honor the first dead, today the numbers are rising and rising in a spiral of terror. While we’re there in the agora they announce that two Shuar women have been killed. Several companions start crying. Today is October 12th, day of the massacre, of the invasion and colonial pillage, and there is still no other story to tell.

A huge explosion shakes the house. After, a disturbing silence.

Yesterday we ran out. The Indigenous women had captured eight police officers and were exhibiting them in the assembly, without their boots. We arrived and I couldn’t believe what I saw. The agora jam-packed. I was afraid they would come at any minute to rescue the police, and I didn’t want to even imagine what would happen with so many people in a closed space.

The captured police were up on a stage in front of the people. Under the delicate direction of Leonidas Iza, leader of the Cotopaxi Peasant Movement, the show commenced. Each and every one of the police officers spoke.  At no time were they mistreated, everyone was reminded that they too were “the people.” Also on stage was a secret police agent, who had been discovered when some young people noticed the police sweatshirt he wore under his undercover clothes. An older woman prepared the ceremonial fire with palo santo and all the elements.

The police officers were ritually cleaned, several of them passing the embers over their own heads, clearly familiar with the ritual. They were draped with Ecuadorian flags, Wiphalas were wrapped around them like scarves. Then the different media sources spoke. Patiently, one by one, they gave their arguments. The alternative media was there, so were the ones that offend with their lies like Ecuavisa, Teleamazonas. In front of the assembly, they were to explain their falsehoods. Like I said, I couldn’t believe it. They too were being included as “the people.”  Part of the system, members of the people.

They were trying to broadcast this live, but the Secretary of Communication cut off the signal. It was all taking place right there, nowhere else, in a flow of interaction before our eyes. We were waiting for the bodies of our murdered companions to arrive. Much later they did arrive, accompanied by their families, the community. A Mass was held, with calls for justice and liberation. The police officers that had spent the whole day there in front of the people served as pall-bearers, and everyone filed out in a procession. Later — and this I didn’t see— apparently the police were handed over, with the mediation of the UN and the Episcopal Conference. I don’t know exactly how. In any case, I couldn’t believe what I had witnessed. I heard that one arrogant, rude journalist had had stones thrown at him as he left.  This one small detail got quite a lot of attention from the media, unlike the whole process of public exhibition that took place without physical harm or humiliation.

The bombs again.  Tonight is terrifying.

In these circumstances, which are those of war, one wonders what became of politics.

We go up and down to the center of the city, to where the assembly is, in an continuous river of people from which the lives of young people, women, men, children keep spilling out.  Last night we went up again, after the coffins were carried out. We were afraid, but we went up anyway. The logic of the body-to-body advance is to push the limits of the possible. Not through violence, but through a stubborn pressure that wins space and legitimacy for itself step by step, inch by inch. But the logic of war is not this, it is different, it is the logic of the ferocious State that shoots to kill from sniper positions on high. Politics ends, war begins.

The women, perceptive in all that has to do with politics, realize this quickly. They call out and those who are nearby gather around. We cannot continue putting our bodies on the line, they say, we cannot permit the annihilation of our people. We have to send the young ones down. Without giving in, without giving them anything. We have to break the siege, a spatial cordon but also a cordon that identifies the protest as only Indigenous, as if the rest of us (students, women, workers, public servants, and so on) had nothing to do with Decree 883 that imposes these measures, as if the whole city could be reduced to the area around El Arbolito Park and the Casa de la Cultura.

Urban women have helped sustain the protest through innumerable tasks that generate bonds, solidarity and accompaniment, and through our efforts these have been valued and recognized. Through all these tasks of stockpiling, caring, housing, and feeding we have developed the skills of collective life. But all that which worked yesterday, within the logic of physically and ethically pushing forward together, in the spirit of fusing the front and the rear guards… it doesn’t work today.  We have to change strategy in order not to replicate the war in our own bodies.

The women —rural, urban, feminist, Indigenous, peasant—recognize in themselves the pain of the dead and the injured, and in the impotence one feels at the sight of one city that dies right beside another city that goes on as if nothing were happening. And so we speak up: against war, we have to shift our strength and our rage, transforming them into power and political wisdom. Because we are all together, and we are pushing forward towards a life of dignity.

The original version of this report was published in Spain’s El Diario.

Author Bio

Cristina Vega Solís is a professor in the Department of Sociology and Gender Studies at FLACSO Ecuador.