Recent Posts
HomeBlogEcuador’s Protests: An Indigenous Pink Tide is Making Waves

Ecuador’s Protests: An Indigenous Pink Tide is Making Waves

Image credit: Water Alternatives

By Amadeus Narbutt

A few weeks ago a massive public demonstration against austerity spontaneously erupted in the Ecuadorian capital of Quito. Led by a stunning coalition of indigenous people under the banner of the Confederation of Indigenous Nationalities of Ecuador (CONAIE), the protests brought Quito to a stand-still. Thousands of indigenous protestors descended upon Quito from the Andes and the Amazon, converging on Quito’s El Arbolito Park which, like Occupy Wall Street’s Zuccotti Park, acted as a focal point for the city-wide protest.  President Lenin Moreno commanded the Ecuadorian Army onto the streets of the capital to institute a 24-hour curfew in an attempt to restore order. The protests began in response to Moreno’s application of the International Monetary Fund’s (IMF) restructuring plans, a requirement for Ecuador’s $4.2 billion loan from the fund. This restructuring imposed ‘belt-tightening’ measures for the Ecuadorian government, including wage cuts for public sector jobs, vacation day cuts, and most controversially, the elimination of a fuel subsidy which cause the price of diesel to double and the price of gasoline to rise by 30% overnight. The protests had a significant impact on Ecuador’s immediate economic output, which likely led to President Moreno’s eventual compromise with the protestors. Estimates state that the protests resulted in a $2.3 billion loss of economic productivity during the two weeks of unrest, including a 40% drop in oil production.

In recent days, the protests have subsided, mainly due to marginal concessions from the Moreno government. While Moreno has repealed the IMF package known as Decree 883, he has already announced that a slightly modified package will be put in place instead. In other words, restructuring will still occur. At most, Moreno has bought himself some time before protests ignite in response to whatever repackaged IMF deal he implements in the coming weeks. The human cost of this delay? Eight dead, 1300 injured, and 1200 arrested. Moreno’s compromise on Decree 883 was a victory for the protestors and indigenous activists in particular, but Moreno’s pivot towards right-wing governance has not been reversed. In fact, the propagandistic framing of the unrest as a means of saving face has already begun. 

Moreno has blamed the protest on a cabal of “dark forces”, accusing his predecessor, Rafael Correa, of orchestrating the protests in coordination with Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro, gang leaders, and violent foreigners. Correa, the former leftist President of Ecuador and political mentor to Moreno, is living in self-imposed exile in Brussels due to threats of arrest from his former ally Moreno. Their falling out stems from Moreno’s rightward turn after succeeding Correa and promising to continue his radically progressive ‘Citizen’s Revolution’. Correa rose to power in the Pink Tide – a continent-wide surge in anti-neoliberal leftist governments, from Lula’s Brazil to Evo Morales’ Bolivia and Chavez’s Venezuela. Under his tenure, Ecuador saw unprecedented advancements in the standard of living and the struggle against poverty. The Center for Economic and Policy Research (CEPR) reports that during Correa’s ten-year presidency, Ecuador’s poverty rate declined by 38% and rate of extreme poverty declined by 47%. The Council of Hemispheric Affairs (COHA) emphasizes Correa’s willingness to trounce the norms of neoliberalism and IMF-directed globalization, attributing it to the anti-neoliberal and anti-imperialist foundations of the Pink Tide movement.

Allying with other progressive leaders in Latin America through organizations like the Bolivarian Alliance for the Peoples of Our America (ALBA) – which worked towards regional political and economic integration – Correa helped lead the charge for regional sovereignty and against IMF and US-back economic imposition in Latin American affairs. Thus, Moreno’s wavering from this path of radicalism has been described by Correa as a ‘coup’ against his legacy. In return, Moreno has vilified Correa and begun to build a propagandistic campaign against him, in fear of his ability to reignite a progressive politics in Ecuador were he to return to the country. In addition to this fear, Moreno’s dramatic turn away from Correa’s progressive politics can also be attributed to his allying with Western foreign policy interests regarding Julian Assange’s stay in the Ecuadorian embassy in London. While Correa had been instrumental in granting Assange safe haven from American threats of arrest, Moreno capitulated to American diplomatic pressure and allowed Assange to be taken into custody. 

Within Latin America, this story is not new. A similar script is playing out currently in Brazil under the rule of neo-fascist Jair Bolsonaro, who jailed the progressive and unprecedentedly popular Pink Tide-era President of Brazil, Lula da Silva, preventing his reemergence on the political stage. Lula’s successor, Dilma Roussef, was ousted in a judicial coup with Washington’s blessing. All of these actions served the purpose of furthering economic neoliberalization and American domination of continental politics. The repression of progressive political voices across Latin America is a historical norm, and it has been carried out through corrupt legal practices, media propaganda campaigns, and US military interventions, assassinations, and coups. However, as repetitive as such actions may be across the continent, Ecuador has its own unique historical motif: the power of indigenous activists. On three occasions since 1997, indigenous protesters and activists have succeeded in removing Ecuadorian Presidents from office. The last time this occurred was in 2005, in response President Gutierrez’s acceptance of similarly harsh IMF-imposed restructuring plans. However, the leader of CONAIE, Jaime Vargas, has stated that it is not the current intention of the indigenous movement to remove Moreno. 

Unless Moreno and the IMF are willing to deviate significantly from their original course of action, the indigenous peoples of Ecuador may again rise to the occasion and force a change. These recent protests have served as one of the most significant public pushbacks against globalization and neoliberal orthodoxy in recent years, showing that there is still some vigor left in the remnants of the Pink Tide.  

Panel 4: Pathways to Manage Non-Proliferation in the Middle East (4:30 PM - 5:45 PM ET)

The Western powers have failed to effectively manage the increasing threat of proliferation in the Middle East. While the international community is concerned with Iran’s nuclear program, Saudi Arabia has moved forward with developing its own nuclear program, and independent studies show that Israel has longed possessed dozens of nuclear warheads. The former is a member of the treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT), while the latter has refused to sign the international agreement. 

On Middle East policy, the Biden campaign had staunchly criticized the Trump administration’s unilateral withdrawal from the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), more commonly known as the Iran Nuclear Deal and it has begun re-engaging Iran on the nuclear dossier since assuming office in January 2021. However, serious obstacles remain for responsible actors in expanding non-proliferation efforts toward a nuclear-free zone in the Middle East. 

This panel will discuss how Western powers and multilateral institutions, such as the IAEA, can play a more effective role in managing non-proliferation efforts in the Middle East.  


Peggy Mason: Canada’s former Ambassador to the UN for Disarmament

Mark Fitzpatrick: Associate Fellow & Former Executive Director, International Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS)

Ali Vaez: Iran Project Director, International Crisis Group

Negar Mortazavi: Journalist and Political Analyst, Host of Iran Podcast

David Albright: Founder and President of the Institute for Science and International Security


Closing (5:45 PM – 6:00 PM ET)

Panel 3: Trade and Business Diplomacy in the Middle East (3:00 PM - 4:15 PM ET)

What is the current economic landscape in the Middle East? While global foreign direct investment is expected to fall drastically in the post-COVID era, the World Bank reported a 5% contraction in the economic output of the Middle East and North African (MENA) countries in 2020 due to the pandemic. While oil prices are expected to rebound with normalization in demand, political instability, regional and geopolitical tensions, domestic corruption, and a volatile regulatory and legal environment all threaten economic recovery in the Middle East. What is the prospect for economic growth and development in the region post-pandemic, and how could MENA nations promote sustainable growth and regional trade moving forward?

At the same time, Middle Eastern diaspora communities have become financially successful and can help promote trade between North America and the region. In this respect, the diaspora can become vital intermediaries for advancing U.S. and Canada’s business interests abroad. Promoting business diplomacy can both benefit the MENA region and be an effective and positive way to advance engagement and achieve foreign policy goals of the North Atlantic.

This panel will investigate the trade and investment opportunities in the Middle East, discuss how facilitating economic engagement with the region can benefit Canadian and American national interests, and explore relevant policy prescriptions.


Hon. Sergio Marchi: Canada’s Former Minister of International Trade

Scott Jolliffe: Chairperson, Canada Arab Business Council

Esfandyar Batmanghelidj: Founder and Publisher of Bourse & Bazaar

Nizar Ghanem: Director of Research and Co-founder at Triangle

Nicki Siamaki: Researcher at Control Risks

Panel 2: Arms Race and Terrorism in the Middle East (12:00 PM - 1:15 PM ET)

The Middle East continues to grapple with violence and instability, particularly in Yemen, Syria and Iraq. Fueled by government incompetence and foreign interventions, terrorist insurgencies have imposed severe humanitarian and economic costs on the region. Meanwhile, regional actors have engaged in an unprecedented pursuit of arms accumulation. Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates have imported billions of both Western and Russian-made weapons and funded militant groups across the region, intending to contain their regional adversaries, particularly Iran. Tehran has also provided sophisticated weaponry to various militia groups across the region to strengthen its geopolitical position against Saudi Arabia, UAE, and Israel. 

On the other hand, with international terrorist networks and intense regional rivalry in the Middle East, it is impractical to discuss peace and security without addressing terrorism and the arms race in the region. This panel will primarily discuss the implications of the ongoing arms race in the region and the role of Western powers and multilateral organizations in facilitating trust-building security arrangements among regional stakeholders to limit the proliferation of arms across the Middle East.



Luciano Zaccara: Assistant Professor, Qatar University

Dania Thafer: Executive Director, Gulf International Forum

Kayhan Barzegar: Professor and Chair of the Department of Political Science and International Relations at the Science and Research Branch of Azad University

Barbara Slavin: Director of Iran Initiative, Atlantic Council

Sanam Shantyaei: Senior Journalist at France24 & host of Middle East Matters

Panel 1: Future of Diplomacy and Engagement in the Middle East (10:30 AM-11:45 AM ET)

The emerging regional order in West Asia will have wide-ranging implications for global security. The Biden administration has begun re-engaging Iran on the nuclear dossier, an initiative staunchly opposed by Israel, while also taking a harder line on Saudi Arabia’s intervention in Yemen. Meanwhile, key regional actors, including Qatar, Iraq, and Oman, have engaged in backchannel efforts to bring Iran and Saudi Arabia to the negotiating table. From a broader geopolitical perspective, with the need to secure its energy imports, China is also expected to increase its footprint in the region and influence the mentioned challenges. 

In this evolving landscape, Western powers will be compelled to redefine their strategic priorities and adjust their policies with the new realities in the region. In this panel, we will discuss how the West, including the United States and its allies, can utilize multilateral diplomacy with its adversaries to prevent military escalation in the region. Most importantly, the panel will discuss if a multilateral security dialogue in the Persian Gulf region, proposed by some regional actors, can help reduce tensions among regional foes and produce sustainable peace and development for the region. 


Abdullah Baabood: Academic Researcher and Former Director of the Centre for Gulf Studies, Qatar University

Trita Parsi: Executive Vice-President, Quincy Institute for Responsible Statecraft

Ebtesam Al-Ketbi: President, Emirates Policy Centre​

Jon Allen: Canada’s Former Ambassador to Israel

Elizabeth Hagedorn: Washington correspondent for Al-Monitor

Panel 4: Humanitarian Diplomacy: An Underused Foreign Policy Tool in the Middle East (4:30 PM - 5:30 PM ET)

Military interventions, political and economic instabilities, and civil unrest in the Middle East have led to a global refugee crisis with an increasing wave of refugees and asylum seekers to Europe and Canada. Moreover, the COVID-19 pandemic has, in myriad ways, exacerbated and contributed to the ongoing security threats and destabilization of the region.

While these challenges pose serious risks to Canadian security, Ottawa will also have the opportunity to limit such risks and prevent a spillover effect vis-à-vis effective humanitarian initiatives in the region. In this panel, we will primarily investigate Canada’s Middle East Strategy’s degree of success in providing humanitarian aid to the region. Secondly, the panel will discuss what programs and initiatives Canada can introduce to further build on the renewed strategy. and more specifically, how Canada can utilize its policy instruments to more effectively deal with the increasing influx of refugees from the Middle East. 



Erica Di Ruggiero: Director of Centre for Global Health, University of Toronto

Reyhana Patel: Head of Communications & Government Relations, Islamic Relief Canada

Amir Barmaki: Former Head of UN OCHA in Iran

Catherine Gribbin: Senior Legal Advisor for International and Humanitarian Law, Canadian Red Cross

Panel 3: A Review of Canada’s Middle East Engagement and Defense Strategy (3:00 PM - 4:15 PM ET)

In 2016, Canada launched an ambitious five-year “Middle East Engagement Strategy” (2016-2021), committing to investing CA$3.5 billion over five years to help establish the necessary conditions for security and stability, alleviate human suffering and enable stabilization programs in the region. In the latest development, during the meeting of the Global Coalition against ISIS, Minister of Foreign Affairs Marc Garneau announced more than $43.6 million in Peace and Stabilization Operations Program funding for 11 projects in Syria and Iraq.

With Canada’s Middle East Engagement Strategy expiring this year, it is time to examine and evaluate this massive investment in the Middle East region in the past five years. More importantly, the panel will discuss a principled and strategic roadmap for the future of Canada’s short-term and long-term engagement in the Middle East.


Ferry de Kerckhove: Canada’s Former Ambassador to Egypt

Dennis Horak: Canada’s Former Ambassador to Saudi Arabia

Chris Kilford: Former Canadian Defence Attaché in Turkey, member of the national board of the Canadian International Council (CIC)

David Dewitt: University Professor Emeritus, York University

Panel 2: The Great Power Competition in the Middle East (12:00 PM - 1:15 PM ET)

While the United States continues to pull back from certain regional conflicts, reflected by the Biden administration’s decision to halt American backing for Saudi Arabia’s intervention in Yemen and the expected withdrawal from Afghanistan, US troops continue to be stationed across the region. Meanwhile, Russia and China have significantly maintained and even expanded their regional activities. On one hand, the Kremlin has maintained its military presence in Syria, and on the other hand, China has signed an unprecedented 25-year strategic agreement with Iran.

As the global power structure continues to shift, it is essential to analyze the future of the US regional presence under the Biden administration, explore the emerging global rivalry with Russia and China, and at last, investigate the implications of such competition for peace and security in the Middle East.


Dmitri Trenin: Director of Carnegie Moscow Center

Joost R. Hiltermann: Director of MENA Programme, International Crisis Group

Roxane Farmanfarmaian: Affiliated Lecturer in International Relations of the Middle East and North Africa, University of Cambridge

Andrew A. Michta: Dean of the College of International and Security Studies at Marshall Center

Kelley Vlahos: Senior Advisor, Quincy Institute

Panel 1: A New Middle East Security Architecture in the Making (10:30 AM -11:45 AM ET)

The security architecture of the Middle East has undergone rapid transformations in an exceptionally short period. Notable developments include the United States gradual withdrawal from the region, rapprochement between Israel and some GCC states through the Abraham Accords and the rise of Chinese and Russian regional engagement.

With these new trends in the Middle East, it is timely to investigate the security implications of the Biden administration’s Middle East policy. In this respect, we will discuss the Biden team’s new approach vis-à-vis Iran, Yemen, Saudi Arabia, and Israel. The panel will also discuss the role of other major powers, including China and Russia in shaping this new security environment in the region, and how the Biden administration will respond to these powers’ increasing regional presence.



Sanam Vakil: Deputy Director of MENA Programme at Chatham House

Denise Natali: Acting Director, Institute for National Strategic Studies & Director of the Center for Strategic Research, National Defense University

Hassan Ahmadian: Professor of the Middle East and North Africa Studies, University of Tehran

Abdulaziz Sagar: Chairman, Gulf Research Center

Andrew Parasiliti: President, Al-Monitor