Either the conservative president agrees to implement the measures demanded by the indigenous movement to alleviate the cost of living – which is hitting rural communities hard – or he and his people will remain in Quito, a city that has been semi-paralyzed for more than about ten days by the demonstrations.
“If (the executive) does not solve this problem, rivers of people will continue to flow into the capital,” challenged Mr. Iza, at the head of an army of nearly 14,000 capable men and women, spears and clubs. by hand, to make a government tremble.
Iza, 39, is a Kichwa from the Panzaleo people, living in the provinces of Cotopaxi and Tungurahua, in the heart of the Ecuadorian Andes.
His red poncho, his black felt hat, his long brown braid that falls down his back and his fiery verb distinguish him among all the natives.
Stubborn and obstinate, Iza is accused by the government of being an “anarchist”, but his people see him as a faithful and charismatic representative of their causes.
“Any government that arrives will have to come to terms with the position of the indigenous movement and the popular sectors,” he told AFP ahead of the 2021 presidential election.
– “Indo-American communism” –
Leonidas Iza wants to give back to indigenous peoples the power of times gone by, when, through their popular uprisings, they overthrew presidents. His references are Dolores Cacuango and Transito Amaguaña, pioneers in the struggle for indigenous rights in the middle of the 20th century.
The young leader, the only one of eight siblings to have studied at university, led the Indigenous and Peasant Movement of Cotopaxi (MICC).
This led him in 2021 to apply, along with two other Kichwas, for the presidency of the Confederation of Indigenous Nationalities (Conaie), spearheading the protests.
His role in the 2019 demonstrations was essential. This “black October” – as the middle and upper classes of Quito deplore – is told by Iza himself in a book he co-wrote, “Estallido” (Sparkle).
The book, an anti-capitalist plea, summarizes the discourse of the indigenous leader, his “Indo-American communism or barbarism”, according to his own expression.
Iza, born in the community of San Ignacio, in Cotopaxi (south), owes his warrior soul to his mother. “My mother Rosa Elvira (Salazar) had a rebellious spirit,” he said in an interview. “She was always in the community actions, in the mobilizations”.
From his father’s side, he says he inherited “ironclad honesty”.
Activism has been the driving force for Iza, whose wife is a teacher at a community school.
He was a long time member of organizations and associations linked to the Catholic Church, before leading the Union of Peasant Organizations of North Cotopaxi (Unocan).
After the 2019 protests, his name was mentioned as one of the presidential candidates of the indigenous Pachakutik party. The 2021 presidential candidate will ultimately be Yaku Pérez, who came third in the first round with 19.39% of the vote, and narrowly eliminated by candidate Lasso (19.74%).
The powerful Ecuadorian indigenous movement, which represents one million of the country’s 17.7 million inhabitants, has thus come close to power, no doubt contributing to the political frustration of the country’s indigenous people.
In a recent interview with AFP, Iza, who poses as a “defender of the countryside”, claimed that “they are breaking the farmers” and proposed to cut oil projects to make the country an agricultural powerhouse. .
According to him, “if we managed to reorganize the national productive capacity (…) we could feed part of the world”.