democraciaAbierta: Interview

‘Barbarism or solidarity’ at stake at Ecuador elections, says indigenous presidential candidate

Yaku Pérez, the leader of indigenous party Pachakutik, is running on a green platform – but can he reach outside of his traditional base?

WhatsApp Image 2022-04-16 at 2.52.03 AM.jpeg
Francesc Badia i Dalmases
5 February 2021, 4.22pm
El candidato Yaku Pérez (en el centro de la imagen) en una visita de campaña a Carita de Dios, norte de Ecuador, 4 Febrero 2021.
Twitter account, Yaku Pérez

Amid a deepening economic and public health crisis, Ecuadorians will return to the polls this Sunday to choose a new president and new National Assembly. In an exclusive interview, we ask Yaku Pérez, indigenous leader and presidential candidate for the Pachakutik party in Ecuador, about the country’s electoral process and the issues he will face if elected.

Francesc Badia i Dalmases: There have been concerns about fairness and transparency in the upcoming elections. What are the chances of you winning? 

Yaku Pérez: We are growing exponentially. The pollsters, of course, put us in third place and we don't have the chequebook to pay the pollsters to put us in first place. But we have seen how enthusiasm has been growing, and this is not an illusory optimism. 

Two years ago, I was the candidate for the prefecture in Azuay and none of the pollsters even put me among the top five. I already felt we were going to win, and in the end we won. We were 10 points ahead of the next candidate. Now we feel the same way, and we are convinced that we are going to win. If we don't come first, we will come second, but I am pretty hopeful that we will come first. 

The big problem is electoral control. What we won at the ballot box could be lost at the desk of the National Electoral Council (CNE) because we have no guarantees. There is no representative of our party Pachakutik at the CNE. All the other parties are there except us. 

This is where the injustice begins, because we are the second or third political force in the country and we don't even have a representative. That’s worrying when the CNE has already admitted printing an error in six million ballot papers and past candidates have alleged a "computer blackout" during the count in the 2017 elections. 

FBD: Let's talk briefly about the origin of the Pachakutik party and its role in Ecuadorian politics, which has been dominated by the extreme polarisation between Correism and anti-Correism, denying oxygen to others in the media. Tell us a little about the origins of Pachakutik and the party's trajectory.

YP: Pachakutic was born as the political arm of the Indigenous Movement of CONAIE (Confederation of Indigenous Nationalities of Ecuador), which was created in 1995 and first participated in the 1996 elections. We did not have a strong campaign and we won only 4% or 5% of the vote. Perhaps our problem was that we did reach people beyond our indigenous base. 

But this time it will be different. And maybe this is because the indigenous movement holds the moral high ground. We have learned to walk the walk, we are mature. We have good candidates for the assembly, for the vice-presidency, for everything. And I believe that our proposals, our trajectory have been so strong because we represent the possibility of real change, respect for human rights and freedoms and the prospect of reconciliation. We’ve demonstrated that by defending the environment for 30 years. 

I was mayor of Azuay, I have been a professor at three universities in Ecuador, I have written seven books and I have four postgraduate degrees. They have searched everywhere to see if I have any blemishes. They haven't found any. 

FBD: The total foreign debt is estimated at more than $45 billion US dollars. An important issue in the Ecuadorian public debate has been the current government's debt to the International Monetary Fund (IMF). The government recently signed a new agreement with the IMF for $6.5 billion until 2022. Is a renegotiation of this debt viable?

YP: The current government is getting out of the difficulties resulting from the legacy of Correism, which left us with a balance in the red. $70 billion dollars were squandered in ten years, which is a monstrous amount. There is a reason why former president Correa is a fugitive from justice. If he were to come to Ecuador, he would be imprisoned for his Odebrecht shenanigans and other dubious deals. 

The current president, Lenín Moreno, has in desperation turned to the IMF who have provided resources and promised to provide more, but in exchange for the privatisation of national companies, the shrinking of the state and more taxes, such as increasing VAT from 12% to 15%. And we don't agree with this because it goes against the interests of the Ecuadorian people. 

It's not that we don't want to pay. We want to honour the debts, but first we want to take care of our priorities, which is dealing with the pandemic  as well as the education and the health of our people. And once we recover, which I don't think will take more than three years, then we can start paying the debt. Our approach would be a comprehensive restructuring of the external debt with multilateral organisations. Our approach would be to defer the debts, that is to say, to extend the term.

FBD: You have fought hard for climate and environmental justice. But the pressure from the oil and mining industry in Ecuador is still enormous. How would you respond?

YP: Our proposal is to move from extractivism to post-extractivism. That will mean a transition. Now it is a bit difficult to say: we are going to close the oil wells. Oil extraction has to continue in the wells that are already open. But we must stop the advance of the oil frontier. And in the case of mining, we are going to hold a referendum so that Ecuador can decide at the ballot box whether to go for gold or for water.

FBD: We are concerned about increasing deforestation. What can you tell us about this issue?

YP: For us, global warming is no longer a threat, it is a reality and that is why we have to stop deforestation. And instead of deforesting, we have to reforest. We have to take care of the planet and for that we have a set of policies and actions to stop indiscriminate logging in the Ecuadorian Amazon. 

In the Amazon, the loggers come first and then the oil and mining companies follow. All this extractivism must be stopped. We must be very clear that our policies will always be socio-environmental. That is why we are even proposing an eco-social pact in order to avoid this collective suicide that we are committing every day by polluting forest water and destroying biodiversity.

FBD: How do you see Ecuador emerging from the pandemic?

YP: It is complex. This is already a global issue, but we will try to form a political and social coalition to fight the pandemic, and we will spare no effort to get the vaccine to protect our people. This will be the priority.

FBD: And finally, I would like to ask you about the international community, which is watching what is happening in Ecuador with concern. The mobilisation of indigenous nationalities has been important in recent years and their struggle against extractivism has also made headlines. What message would you send to the Latin American international community, and to your colleagues from other nationalities?

YP: From Ecuador we aspire to be environmental pioneers, to have the greenest constitution and to use grassroot actions for global impact. We invite the international community to: 

Firstly, change paradigms, to centre the environment over the market. Life must be at the centre of everything. If we want to guarantee life on the planet, the life of our children and grandchildren, it is crucial to go green. 

Secondly, there are so many interests that unite us. We must start with international cooperation to help those who need it most. The international community should consider some form of reparations for the exploitation of the developing world’s natural resources. 

And thirdly, to seek a reconciliation with nature, not only on a national level, but on a planetary level, so that there will be no more wars, no more displacements, no more violence. Let’s end this patriarchal, segregationist, racist violence that does us so much harm. 

In the words of Martin Luther King: "Let us learn to live as brothers. Otherwise, we will die like idiots". And I believe that what is at stake here is the triumph of barbarism or the triumph of solidarity, and I hope that solidarity will become planetary.

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