Eye on the Amazon

Indigenous Mobilization Results in Steps To End Criminalization in Ecuador

"We are not asking for forgiveness. We are asking for justice and freedom for our people."

Yesterday morning Ecuador's indigenous leaders, community members, allies in the environmental and human rights community, and general supporters marched to the country's National Assembly and then to the presidential palace to demand amnesty and pardons for the 197 indigenous leaders currently under criminal investigation or imprisoned for charges filed after they participated in protests against destructive mining and oil drilling projects and the rollback of indigenous rights.

Refusing to give in to the government's attempts to silence indigenous protest, the Ecuadorian indigenous movement, known by its acronym, CONAIE, launched a campaign to demand an end to this repression of their democratic rights. They called the campaign Amnistía Primero (Amnesty First) in response to new President Lenin Moreno's request to meet with CONAIE – we'll only meet with you, the campaign has said, if you give us amnesty first. Over the last two weeks they traveled the country collecting petition signatures, and asked Amazon Watch to collect messages of solidarity from international supporters, thousands of whom responded to the call.

Although last Thursday, just a day after being sworn in, President Moreno said he would soon announce “good news” about amnesties for criminalized indigenous leaders, he provided no specifics. Not satisfied such general platitudes, CONAIE and allies continued as planned, and yesterday over 200 indigenous leaders from the Amazon and all over Ecuador delivered those thousands of petition signatures and thousands more solidarity messages from international supporters, along with the list of 197 cases of criminalized leaders they have identified, directly to the president of Congress, José Serrano, and newly-elected president, Lenin Moreno. The movement is also demanding the legislature change Ecuador's criminal code to eliminate the crime of "attack or resistance," due to its abuse in criminalizing protest and political organizing.

That same afternoon, Serrano announced that a congressional commission would be created to study each of the 177 cases of leaders currently under investigation. That's good news, though CONAIE would have preferred they be reviewed by the whole assembly. In another important response, the National Police announced the creation of a commission to analyze the social context and charges in each of the cases currently under its jurisdiction. Pardons in the 20 cases in which protestors have already been convicted would have to be issued by the president; Moreno has yet to issue a specific statement about any pardons.

Although this isn't a full victory, it marks a significant step in the right direction toward ending the criminalization of indigenous protest in Ecuador and is a clear demonstration of the power of mass mobilization and international support.

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