Oil, not grease, is the word.
Titled "The Return of Indigenismo and the Weakening of Indigenous Organizations under the 'Citizen's Revolution' in Ecuador," Carmen Martinez Novo, Ph.D, associate professor and director of Latin American studies at the University of Kentucky, spoke to a small group Monday night about the rocky relationship between indigenous groups in Ecuador and their current president, Rafael Correa.
The conflict, she said, stems from a struggle for the most coveted of all commodities – oil.
Since his election in 2006, Novo claims the president has marginalized indigenous residents in Ecuador, causing the indigenous movement to lose political strength.
"Indigenous people are not seen as actors anymore," Novo said, "but as recipients."
As tension rises between the indigenous movement and the government, Novo noted that indigenous people have lost many of their rights – many more have even been imprisoned. Shortly after a large indigenous movement protest in 2008, President Correa announced that indigenous people would no longer have educational autonomy.
"The indigenous people cannot elect the authorities of the education system, they cannot decide anymore on educational policies," Novo said. "It is the minister of education ... not an indigenous person who makes all of these decisions.
"This allows the government to gain control of the jobs in the education system and intentionally avoid hiring indigenous people."
Internationally, Correa is regarded as environmentally considerate and supportive of indigenous people, particularly in the U.S. and Europe. Yet, Novo deems this reputation a façade.
For Novo, Correa is primarily concerned with allowing the Chinese government to drill for oil on privately owned property, which often belongs to indigenous people. Through marginalizing the indigenous movement, Novo said she believes Correa hopes to simultaneously prevent political backlash and undermine their claim to the property.
Jana Morgan, Ph.D, director of Latin American studies program and an associate professor of political science at UT, hosted the lecture. Attendance for the lecture was approximately 30 attendees, which Morgan said, "For a Monday night, it's not bad."
"One of the important points that Carmen made was that there are a lot of contradictions within Latin America politics," Morgan said. "A lot of times when we hear about what's happening in other countries in the U.S. press, we get really simplified stories. What she did was add a lot of the complexity back in about competing interests."
Even so, Morgan remarked that only "insiders" can truly understand the turmoil within Ecuador.
"I really appreciated Carmen's willingness to talk about politics as complex rather than black and white, good and bad..." Novo said. "What seems like a government that's pro-indigenous is maybe not so pro-indigenous when actually you get down to the ground."