Ecuadorian Indigenous Leaders & Allies Confront Government Over Oil Auction

Amazonian leaders and international allies unite in Houston at NAPE

Amazon Watch, Gulf Coast Idle No More, Tar Sands Blockade, T.E.J.A.S., Nacionalidad Achuar del Ecuador

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Houston, TX – Indigenous leaders from the Ecuadorian Amazon have challenged the Ecuadorian government face-to-face during its XI Round oil concession promotional activities around the North America Prospect Expo (NAPE), the oil prospecting industry's semi-annual trade show where government officials scheduled meetings with oil company executives and investors seeking to auction off a vast swath of pristine Amazon rainforest. The leaders were joined by North American indigenous leaders and human rights groups including Amazon Watch, concerned citizens from the Tar Sands Blockade, Idle No More Gulf Coast and Texas Environmental Justice Advocacy Services (T.E.J.A.S.) in a collective effort to raise attention and call on the Ecuadorian government to suspend its tendering of oil concessions that threaten to devastate the rainforest and the native communities that live there.

"We have come here to tell the government and companies that these lands are not for sale," said Jaime Vargas, President of the Achuar Nationality of Ecuador. "Any drilling activities on our lands will be met with fierce resistance. We've seen the impact of oil extraction in Ecuador and the world and we know that it only brings contamination, poverty, and cultural destruction. We will defend our sacred lands and culture as we have for millennia."

Yesterday the group garnered international attention protesting outside the Westin Oaks Houston Hotel as the Ecuadorian government launched its latest bidding round and roadshow, timed to coincide with the NAPE. They later confronted government officials at both an information session hosted by the government, and in a hotel where private meetings with oil company executives and investors were being held.

The Ecuadorian Ministry of Hydrocarbons, the Committee of Hydrocarbon Tender, and the state-run oil company Petroamazonas plan to sell 16 Amazonian blocks, covering nearly ten million acres of primary forest and indigenous land in the Southeastern Ecuadorian Amazon. The area is home to seven indigenous nationalities: the Shuar, Achuar, Kichwa, Shiwiar, Andoa, Waorani and Sápara. In none of the blocks has the Ecuadorian government obtained Free, Prior and Informed Consent (FPIC), an internationally recognized human rights benchmark intended to protect the rights of indigenous communities whose lives and lands are affected by extractive mega-projects such as oil drilling. This is in direct violation of the Inter-American Court on Human Rights' July ruling in favor of the Kichwa community of Sarayaku stating that the government must consult with indigenous communities prior to oil operations and pay for physical and "moral" damages to the community.

"The Ecuadorian government is deceiving investors," said Kevin Koenig, Ecuador Program Coordinator at Amazon Watch. "These blocks are the most controversial in all of Ecuador, and there's already a long list of companies who have tried to drill here and have failed. The government's blatant disregard for the rights of these communities is not only illegal, but is a recipe for disaster for companies that attempt to drill in some of the most pristine regions of the Amazon."

The Confederation of Indigenous Nationalities of Ecuador (CONAIE) and the Confederation of Amazonian Indigenous Nationalities (CONFENIAE) are leading the opposition to the new oil auction. The opening of Round XI auction with met with fierce resistance on November 28, in Quito, Ecuador, where outraged communities faced off with the military, police, and private security forces in the streets.

The coalition, backed by international organizations and a growing network of indigenous solidarity, is calling for an immediate suspension of the current bidding round and a firm commitment from the Ecuadorian government that it will adhere to the spirit and letter of Ecuadorian law and respect indigenous land rights, the human rights of isolated and vulnerable populations and the rights of nature, which the government has adopted into its Constitution.

The roadshow comes as investors grow increasingly concerned about the high risks of hydrocarbon activities in remote areas of the Amazon. The government was forced to scrap the last round of oil auctions, which included all of the blocks in Round XI, because it received no bids. Adding to the economic disincentives is the fact that Ecuador has had to compensate companies who have had previous rights to the blocks but have been unable to move forward due to resistance by local communities. Companies including ARCO, ConocoPhillips, Burlington Resources, and CGC (Compania General de Combustibles) attempted to drill in the controversial area but were forced to withdraw due to united indigenous opposition. Interested companies have until May 2013 to bid on the blocks currently up for tender.

Jaime Vargas, President of the Achuar Nationality of Ecuador, and Narcisa Mashienta, community leader from the Shuar Nationality of Ecuador will be in Houston until Thursday. The group had tickets and plans to attend the official NAPE conference but was not admitted today. The actions throughout the week reflect a growing alliance of frontline and fence communities from Canada, the Gulf, and the Amazon uniting in defense of their lands, lives, and culture.

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