Eye on the Amazon

Ecuador Cracks Down on Indigenous Leaders Opposed to Oil

Humberto Cholango, CONAIE President, speaks at a press conference in Quito on Jan. 9, 2014.

Following the close of the 11th Round oil auction on November 28th, 2013, plain-clothes officers in Quito, Ecuador summarily closed the offices of Fundación Pachamama, a nonprofit that for 16 years has worked in defense of the rights of Amazonian indigenous peoples and the rights of nature. The dissolution, which the government blamed on their "interference in public policy," was a retaliatory act that sought to repress Fundación Pachamama's legitimate right to disagree with the government's policies, such as the decision to turn over Amazonian indigenous people's land to oil companies.

After attacking some of their closest allies, the Ecuadorian government is now attempting to take down Ecuador's indigenous leaders who are committed to defending their territory from any oil development plans by companies including PetroAmazonas, Andes Petroleum, ENAP, Belorusneft and Repsol. The Secretary of Hydrocarbons has filed a formal complaint against eight indigenous leaders who have dedicated their lives to defending the Amazon, including Franco Viteri (President of GONOAE), the presidents of the Achuar & Zapara nationalities, the president and vice president of the Confederation of Indigenous Nationalities of Ecuador (CONAIE) and pioneering female leaders Patricia Gualinga from Sarayaku and Gloria Ushigua of the Zapara.

The complaint, which has led to a preliminary investigation by the Attorney General, accuses the leaders of "the crime of [making] threat[s]" during protests against the oil auction on November 28, and accuses them specifically of (1) Obstructing entry to buildings, (2) not having a permit to protest, (3) impeding the opening of the envelopes from the oil auction, and (4) injuries. Most disturbingly, it asks that they be imprisoned.

Humberto Cholango, President of CONAIE, spoke at a press conference yesterday in Quito. CONAIE released the following statement (translated by Amazon Watch):

CONAIE Denounces Secretary of Hydrocarbon's Accusations
Against Indigenous Leaders

Today at a press conference with his governing council, Humberto Cholango , President of CONAIE, brought to light the Secretary of Hydrocarbon's denunciation of the events of November 28, 2013. Secretary Gustavo Andrés Donoso's complaint has led to a preliminary investigation by the Attorney General against Cholango and Amazonian indigenous leaders.

The complaint asks for the leaders to be imprisoned. In it, the Secretary requests that the Attorney General also investigate Bartolo Ushigua, Vice President of CONAIE , Franco Viteri Gualinga, President of the Governing Body of the First Nations of the Ecuadorian Amazon (GONOAE), and seven other leaders.

The attorney general will investigate the accusation of the crime of threatening, including (1) Obstructing entry to buildings, (2) not having authorization for the public act, (3) impeding the opening of the envelopes from the oil auction, and (4) injuries.

CONAIE President Humberto Cholango stated that, "The government of the Ecuador, through the Ministry of Hydrocarbons, continues to criminalize Ecuadorian indigenous leaders. He said, "As President of CONAIE and especially as an Ecuadorian citizen, I am not going to evade justice. I am going to face forward without hiding because my acts of struggle are transparent to the light of day and have not caused any damage to the State nor to any Ecuadorian or foreigner. The denunciation presented by the Secretary of Hydrocarbons Gustavo Andrés Donoso seeks the penalty of prison."

Lastly, Cholango noted that the prosecutor trying the case is Dr. Bayron Granda and that today at 3pm Cholango will go with his lawyers to the office of the Attorney General to sign the registry at the courthouse to begin defending himself from this unjust accusation.


– Department of Communications, CONAIE

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