A Project for Life

The Recent Indigenous Uprising in Ecuador Illuminiated by the Word of God

A pronouncement by the pastoral agents of the Diocese of Riobamba
April 2001

Return to Table of Contents
Print Article

The recent uprising in Ecuador forced the country's president, Gustavo Noboa, to negotiate directly with the leaders of Ecuador's five Indigenous Confederations. What began as a protest on January 21 to remember the first anniversary of the ouster of former president, Jamil Mahuad, escalated due to the unwillingness of the current government to dialogue with the Indigenous.

The occasion also marked the first anniversary of the dollarization of the economy (replacing the country's currency with the U.S. dollar). Rather than the promised economic growth, Ecuador has experienced economic stagnation, spiraling inflation, high unemployment and an increase in poverty, which now extends to 80 percent of the population.

The new president had made no changes in the economic policies introduced by his predecessor and appeared oblivious to the desperate plight of the people. He introduced a new round of price increases on December 28, further aggravating the situation of the poor.


The theological reflection that follows is a pronouncement by the pastoral agents of the Diocese of Riobamba who attempt to understand the presence of God in these events. We thank Tom Walsh for translating it into English for Scarboro Missions magazine.

For a Christian the book of life and the bible are lights that illuminate the signs of the times. God's plan is the project of life: 'I have come so that they may have life and have it to the full' (John 10:10).

However, ambition, egoism and corruption attempt to thwart what life offers to the poor, abusing the weak by imposing unjust laws and heavy loads, like the economic measures decreed by the Ecuadorian government on December 28, 2000.

The Indigenous uprising that followed a month later was a Paschal celebration whereby society's excluded stood up like never before to defend creation as God's gift-a gift of life to all humanity, a gift for the life of all humanity.

'Yahweh then said, "I have observed the misery of my people who are in Egypt. I have heard their cry on account of their taskmasters. Indeed, I know their sufferings, and I have come down to deliver them from the Egyptians, and to bring them up out of that land, to a land rich and broad, to a land flowing with milk and honey... I will send you to Pharaoh to bring my people, the Israelites, out of Egypt."' (Exodus 3:7-8,10)

The weeks that we have lived, just like the people of Israel in Egypt, have been days of struggle and suffering for the Indigenous people. The long suffering of the poor is expressed in the cold, long nights, the harsh conditions, the wounding, imprisonment and even death that the Indigenous had to endure throughout the three weeks of the uprising. Whole communities came down from their homes and work places in the mountains and rural areas, to maintain a nonviolent presence on the country's highways and byways. They protested the government's posture of refusing to withdraw the drastic economic measures that gravely hurt the local economies of the poor. During these weeks the Indigenous maintained the closure of all roads in the central mountain areas of Ecuador, not permitting any vehicles to pass.

'The people's taskmasters and overseers went out to speak to the people and said, "Pharaoh says this, 'I shall not provide you with any more straw. Go and collect straw for yourselves where you can find it. But your output is not to be any less.' (Exodus 5:10-11)

A people's liberation, just like Israel's, brings with it difficulties. When the Indigenous occupied the Salesian's Technical University in Quito the government suspended the service of water, light and the provision of food to the 4,000 Indigenous lodged there. Leaders were captured and imprisoned.

What mattered most to the government was to maintain economic production. Its ministers, using the army, tried to force the people from the roads. Martial law was declared, resulting in the loss of human life in provinces such as Napo and Tungurahua. The biblical vision of Nebuchadnezzar appears with renewed meaning:

'...there was a great statue...its brilliance extraordinary; it was standing before you, and its appearance was frightening. The head of that statue was of fine gold, its chest and arms of silver, its middle and thighs of bronze, its legs of iron, its feet partly of iron, partly of clay. As you looked on, a stone was cut out, not by any human hands, and it struck the statue on its feet of iron and clay and broke them in pieces.' (Daniel 2:31-34)

The market economy that generates gold and dollars while impoverishing the world's majority can be compared to the statue in Nebuchadnezzar's dream as it retains within itself the weakness of having clay feet. The Indigenous communities, like small stones, came down from the mountains, convoking themselves in an attempt to destroy the corrupt society, anxious to begin to live the hour of truth, the hour of unity, which is our own space and time with the hour of God: 'I am with you always; yes, to the end of time.' (Matthew 28:19)

The Indigenous uprising constituted a political, social and economic triumph. It has been a questioning presence forcing the government to sit down at the table and dialogue. The Indigenous people upon making national proposals, and not particular demands belonging to a specific group, give importance to the agreements negotiated and force openings in what has been up until now the unyielding posture of the government.

Jesus says: Do not be afraid little flock, you will be persecuted, tortured, accused, slandered, struck and even killed because of me, but they will not terminate with the grand project which is the Reign of God.

The Indigenous people and the poor of this country are constructing roads of transformation for Ecuador. The uprising was a meeting of peoples, where a new project is being constructed-a project for life. In this coming together the people have been strengthened.

Onwards People of God, onwards brothers and sisters, let us walk together with the Indigenous peoples and the poor of our country in order that together we will reach the goal. Let us hope that the government and each one of us might contribute to the building of a just society with a foundation of Christian values."

By Fr. Ray O'Toole, S.F.M., Assistant General

As a member of Scarboro's General Council, I was in Ecuador to visit with Scarboro's mission team working there. While I was in the city of Riobamba the Indigenous uprising picked up momentum. Each day the local bishop, Victor Corral, met with the priests, religious and pastoral agents to reflect on the situation, compare notes and plan the Church's response to what was happening. I had the privilege of participating in these meetings.

I witnessed a peaceful demonstration in which 20,000 Indigenous marched through the city. The bishop and some Sisters, priests, including myself, and pastoral agents, including our own lay missionary Julia Duarte, also participated in the march. The Church responded with a manifesto supporting the Indigenous cause.

The people peacefully took possession of the cathedral. The bishop, as part of a mediating group, spoke to the president of the country on behalf of the Indigenous. What impressed me most was to witness the Church in action. I am reminded of the Scripture passage from Exodus: "I have seen the affliction of my people...I have heard their cry...and I have come down to liberate them." In this passage we can clearly see the preoccupation and concern of God for the Israelites. In Ecuador, I witnessed the Church of Riobamba expressing the same preoccupation and concern for the Indigenous peoples who find themselves heavily burdened and oppressed. The Church images God as it listens to the cry of the people, clearly placing itself not only on the side of the Indigenous but also on the side of God.

It was a privilege to have witnessed a prophetic Church in action. What an example for the Church throughout the world. We commend the pastoral agents of the Diocese of Riobamba for the profound theological reflection published here, and recognize the pivotal role of Scarboro's Ecuador mission team in the Church's response to this critical situation.

Return to Table of Contents
Print Article