Ecuador: Farewell to Transito Amaguana — 1909-2009

Saturday, May 23, 2009

The world has recently lost one of the most important leaders of the indigenous movement in Latin America.

Rosa Elena Transito Amaguana Alba was born in Pesillo, Ecuador, in 1909. She spent her childhood at La Chimba, the property of a rich landowner.

Her parents worked alongside other peasant workers who were forced to work seven days a week without a salary. For their hard work they were allowed a tiny piece of land where they could live and cultivate their own food.

At the early age of seven, Transito started working at the property, but at her mother's insistence she started school. However, she left soon after, as indigenous children were often humiliated for not speaking Spanish.

At the property it was usual for young girls to be raped by the owners so her mother forced her to marry an older man. She was only 14 and he was 25.

At 15, she became a mother and had to suffer the continuous beatings perpetrated by her husband. At this young age she began to clandestinely attend meetings organised by the Socialist Party.

Her husband reacted fiercely when he found out she was attending meetings and mixing with "whites", and accused her of having extramarital affairs.

After one of the meetings, he beat her until he tired himself out. The next morning she discovered her baby dead in his cot.

Despite this, Transito continued to attend meetings with other indigenous leaders, until she was finally able to get rid of her husband. She had two children by then.

On her own, she supported her kids and herself by working on the property in exchange for food.

In 1930, she helped set up the first indigenous organisations of her country and took part in 26 marches to the capital, Quito, to demand justice for her people. Quito was 66 kilometres from her home and Transito did this carrying her two kids.

She took part in the foundation of the first agricultural unions and the first agricultural workers' strike in Olmedo. The strike lasted three months until some of the workers returned to work.

The leaders continued their strike but the property owners called in the military and they destroyed their homes and detained them. Transito managed to escape and for the next 15 months lived in hiding.

In 1944, she was one of the founders of the Ecuadorian Federation of Indigenous Peoples (FEI), and in the mid-1950s she collaborated in the creation of the Federation of Agricultural Workers of the Coast (FETAL).

Once the unions were established she fought to set up bilingual schools for children, that would offer instruction in Quechua and Spanish. Among her people, she was respected and admired but she was constantly threatened by the authorities.

She later joined the Communist Party and in 1961 travelled to Cuba and later to the Soviet Union to represent the indigenous people of Ecuador.

When she returned home in 1963, she was detained and accused of trafficking Soviet weapons and of being sponsored by the Bolsheviks to incite trevolution in her country.

Of course she had no money nor weapons but did have instructions to promote land reforms.

She was released after four months, after signing a statement that she would not continue "agitating" her people.

Back in her home, she continued her work and got involved with setting up cooperatives. But her partner died in an accident and since she wasn't the owner of her piece of land, she could not inherit it.

Since she no longer worked at the property she was left homeless.

In the late '80s the government gave her a pension for life and she settled herself in the area, where she lived with her daughter-in-law and grandson. She lived in a tiny house, almost forgotten by the new generations.

Let's hope that her example does not fade with her passing away. She almost lived a 100 years, and dedicated her life to improve the conditions of her people.

A whole century of struggle that should not go unnoticed.