The Kichwa of Sarayaku
Residing in the central Ecuadorian Amazon, the Sarayaku community of about 1,200 indigenous Kichwa people has had one of the most successful histories of defending their territory from resource extraction.
Like most of the Amazon, their land has been divvied up into oil concession blocks. Block 23 overlays their territory, and was granted to Argentine company CGC in 1996. CGC has remained the operator of the block with a 50% share, while its business partners in the block have come and gone due to the concession's on-going controversy. Sarayaku has been adamant in its opposition to oil extraction, but government pressure and aggressive company incursions led to multiple confrontations, with community members being victims of rights abuses.
In 2003, the Sarayaku community brought their case before the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights that formally recognized a number of human rights violations that had transpired, including the case of four community leaders who were detained by the Ecuadorian military and tortured at a CGC oil facility by the military and police. The Commission issued precautionary measures to the Ecuadorian government for the removal of a critical river blockade and the cleanup of widespread explosives left by the company after its failed attempt to carry out seismic testing.
In an attempt to intimidate the community through brute force, several members were violently attacked in route to peacefully protest, but their voices would not be silenced and the protest continued. In light of continued abuses, representatives of the Sarayaku successfully petitioned the Inter-American Court on Human Rights to issue provisional measures to the Ecuadorian government in 2004. Currently, CGC continues to hold a 50% share in the block along with ConocoPhillips. Both companies are in talks with the government to terminate its contracts and return the concessions.
The video above (in Spanish only) is a brief summary of the current situation as of May 2012
Amazon Watch has been a longtime supporter of the efforts of the Sarayaku community in the central Ecuadorian Amazon to prevent oil development on their ancestral lands. In a testament to the strength and resilience of the Kichwa people, Sarayaku has a significant history of success in repeatedly ousting oil companies from the region. Block 23, which overlays a substantial portion of their territory and is now currently owned by ConocoPhillips, has changed hands multiple times in the past decade and a half.
They have also garnered the attention and support of the Inter-American Commission and Court on Humans rights, which have both produced precautionary and provisional measures (respectively) to the Ecuadorian government on behalf of the Sarayaku community. Unacceptably, the Correa administration has failed to take the necessary steps to be in compliance with these measures causing representatives of the community to return to Washington, D.C. in the fall of 2009 to once again present their case before the Commission, asking them to impress a sense of urgency upon the Ecuadorian government.
In April 2010, members of the Sarayaku community were again able to evict intruders from their land. A small group, claiming territorial rights to a portion of land legally allotted to Sarayaku, attempted to settle and form a pseudo community they call Kutukachi.
Once they were able to establish rights to the land, their intent was to negotiate with the oil company AGIP, which holds the concession overlapping this region (Block 10), to construct a new airstrip. During the evening of the April 29th, a group of men from Sarayaku were violently attacked and severely injured, but invaders were successfully expelled. Amazon Watch remains in close contact with the Sarayaku community and will continue to closely monitor the situation.