Mounting Pressures on Yasuní Lead to Violent Attack in the Amazon

Amazon Watch

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Quito, Ecuador – Amazon Watch reports that based on a statement from the Waorani Nationality Organization of Orellena Province (ONWO) on Tuesday, March 6, while walking to collect food in the forest near their community of Yarentaro in the Ecuadorian Amazon, two Waorani adults, Ompore and his wife Bogueney, were attacked and killed by members of the Taromenane, one of two Waorani clans that continue to live in voluntary isolation.

The Tagaeri and Taromenane are nomadic relatives of the Waorani who inhabit what is now the area of Ecuador's Yasuní National Park. Both clans have resisted contact for millennia, retreating further into the forests as missionaries, loggers, oil companies, roads, and colonization encroached around them. The Waorani have become active defenders of the choice their relatives made, working to secure a "No Go Zone" in the southern part of the park and winning precautionary measures from the Inter-American Human Rights Court to force the Ecuadorian government to protect them from contact and harm.

However, this week's violence is a result of escalating pressure on the park and its people. Five active oil blocks overlap the northern portion of the park, and a new oil auction has placed six new blocks up for sale along the park's southern and western border. For the nomadic Tagaeri and Taromenane whose ancestral territory once spanned large swaths of forest, they literally are now surrounded on all sides and are forced to survival within an incredibly reduced territory. The Ecuadorian government has been unwilling or unable to protect both groups, and instead has promoted policies that are escalating unfettered resource extraction on their ancestral lands. Oil companies such as Repsol, PetroAmazonas, and Andes Petroleum are actively drilling and building roads inside the park, setting the stage for increased encounters and conflict between the Tagaeri and Taromenane and colonists, oil workers, and even the Waorani themselves.

A farmer and her two children were killed in spears in 2009 inside the buffer zone of Yasuní National Park, and other recorded incidents date back to the 1940s. The events of this week are an ominous sign of greater conflict to come.

Before attacking with spears, the Taromenane expressed their anger to Ompare and Boguene – who survived long enough to give details of the tragedy – at the Waorani's inability to stop the destruction of their rainforest territory. They said they were tired of the noise, their trees being cut down, foreign crops, the intrusion of infrastructure and colonists, and the construction of oil platforms. Both groups view the Waorani as intermediaries between them and the outside world due to their distant familial ties, and view the Waorani as having the duty of stopping the encroachment onto their territory.

As an organization that advocates for the rights of all indigenous peoples, including indigenous peoples living in voluntary isolation, and in light of Tuesday's tragic events in Yarentaro, Amazon Watch calls for the following:

  1. We ask the government of Ecuador, as well as the national and international communities, not to use this violent event as justification for a campaign to forcibly contact peoples living in isolation as this will only result in death, displacement, cultural loss, and more violence between Waorani;
  2. We call on the government to respect and effectively implement precautionary measures dictated by the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights for the protection of the Tagaeri and Taromenane;
  3. We call on the government to enforce the laws and constitutional clauses that designate the area where isolated peoples live as a no-go zone, off limits to legal and illegal resource extraction, settlement, and agriculture;
  4. We ask that international human rights bodies take a special interest in the precarious situation of isolated peoples in Ecuador and the world, and take the necessary steps to protect their territories; and
  5. We call for the termination of all oil extraction activities within Yasuní National Park and along its borders.

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