Eye on the Amazon

Ecuadorian Government Responds with Crackdown Following 11th Round Failure

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Fundación Pachamama, gagged

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Following last week's close of the 11th Oil Licensing Round, President Rafael Correa and the Ecuadorian government have cracked down on indigenous leaders, organizations and NGOs, including Fundación Pachamama who received an order to shut down its work to defend human rights and the rights of nature yesterday. Today, our allies have called for international solidarity demanding that they be reinstated as an NGO so they can continue their important work and to call attention to the risk that all social organizations face in Ecuador at this time.

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Background on 11th Round failure

In what industry press is calling a "lackluster block sale," Ecuador received offers on just four blocks from its much-touted auction of 13 Amazonian oil blocks known as the 11th Round. The bids are far short of what the government had hoped in a licensing round that they promoted around the world for over a year. The controversial round covered over six million acres of rainforest that is home to seven indigenous nationalities. Attempts to lease it have been plagued by a transnational oil spill, global protests, wary investors, deadline extensions and other setbacks.

In a final push to sell companies on the oil round, government officials met with oil and energy industry executives at a conference in Quito early last week. There they were met by nearly 100 protestors led by the regional indigenous confederation GONOAE and the national indigenous umbrella group CONAIE. The groups say that they are against oil activity on their ancestral lands, which they claim will be affected by the exploration.

While the lack of bids is a reprieve – for now – of millions of acres of primary rainforest, the 600,000 acres bid upon represent a grave threat for the indigenous groups that call those forests home. The government received an offer for blocks 79 and 83 from China's Andes Petroleum and an offer for block 29 from Repsol Cuba, a subsidiary of Spain's Repsol YPF. Block 79 is Kichwa and Zápara territory, block 83 is Kichwa, Zápara and Shiwiar territory, and the southern part of Block 29 is home to the Kichwa.

State-run oil company Petroamazonas confirmed a previous contract with Chile's Enap Sipetrol SA and Belarus's Belorusneft to explore and drill block 28. Disappointed that the government was unable to find partners for the other Petroamazonas blocks – the only sites with proven reserves – President Correa said that Petroamazonas would develop the blocks without partners. Block 28 is home to the Kichwa and is the provincial capital of Puyo. It includes 6,000 hectares of the Kichwa of Sarayaku's territory.

Background on government crackdown

Last month, Ecuadorian Minister of Justice Lenin Lara was forced by the Inter-American Court of Human Rights to issue a public apology to the Kichwa of Sarayaku for allowing oil companies to enter their land without their consent, militarizing their territory, and torturing community leaders. On Saturday, November 30th, President Correa contradicted Lara when he accused the Kichwa of Sarayaku of fabricating the military occupation of their own territory. Incredible! Especially after the government has already paid over $1 million in reparations and agreed to remove 1400 kilograms of explosives still buried in Sarayaku territory.

But he didn't stop there. Foaming at the mouth, he spent over twenty minutes of his weekly television address attacking indigenous leaders and their NGO allies, including Fundación Pachamama, who had the audacity to protest against the auction of their territory, calling them "bad...violent people who reflect badly on their country." Last Thursday, Indigenous leaders and their allies organized a march from CONAIE to the Ministry of Hidrocarbon's Offices where the close of the 11th Oil Round was taking place. When oil executives and politicians came outside, protestors followed them, accusing them of being complicit in ethnocide. As the situation became heated, one of the indigenous protestors lightly tapped the head an executive from Belorusneft with his spear. Correa took advantage of this situation to publicly portray all indigenous protestors and the NGOs that supported them as violent, despite the fact that they had nothing to do with the incident and have issued statements condemning violence.

It also gave the government an excuse to shut down the office of one of the Amazon's greatest defenders and one of our closest allies: Fundación Pachamama. Yesterday morning the police and several officials from the Ministry of the Interior shut down the environmental and human rights NGO for "violence [and]...interference in public policy."

The Correa administration has had a zero-tolerence for civil society dissent or protest, cracking down and taking to the airwaves to ridicule anyone who dares to offer a differing opinion. Last June Correa issued a decree that banned political speech by NGOs and gave the state broad powers to dissolve them, a move that Human Rights Watch likened to similar measures by the governments of Russia, Venezuela, Uganda and Bahrain.

However, Fundación Pachamama stood firm in their resolve, asserting their right and their commitment to defend the Amazon in a statement released yesterday:

"For our work in defending rights, we have been attacked publicly and violently by those who hold political power, and this has been widely disseminated by the media under government control. That is violence. It is also violence to dissolve an organization unexpectedly, without legal cause, without due process that guarantees self-defense.

Faced with this aggression, we declare:

  1. We do not waive our right to defend rights.
  2. We dispute the unlawful decision by all legal means at our disposal.

We will not allow this aggression of which we have been victim to divert attention and debate away from the underlying issue. This is a violation of the collective rights of indigenous Amazonian peoples and the rights of nature, for an oil round that is against the will of the rightful owners of the affected territories, through a process of ‘socialization,' not a consultation."

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