Ecuadorian Indigenous Leaders Arrested, Including Pepe Acacho, Candidate for President of CONAIE

Río Blanco, Ecuador – Around 11 am today, several Indigenous leaders were arrested in a joint operation by the Army and the National Police. Among those detained is Pepe Acacho, one of the candidates for president of the Confederation of Indigenous Nationalities of Ecuador (CONAIE).

Pepe Acacho is a former president of the Interprovincial Federation of Shuar Centers (FICSH) and also detained with him were Pedro Mashiant Chamik, president of the Sevilla Don Bosco Parish Council and Fidel Kaniras y Andrés Vizuma, President of the Arutam Corporation.

The operation took place in the Río Blanco area of Canton Morona in Morona Santiago Province. Pepe Acacho's arrest occurred while he was traveling to the city of Quito.

The operation included the use of a helicopter and officers whose faces were covered with balaclavas. The detainees are currently being held in the Social Rehabilitation Center in Macas.

Julius Caesar Sarango, Acacho's lawyer, denounced that the arrest of his client is part of the process of criminalization against several Indigenous leaders accused of sabotage and terrorism.

The arrest warrant was issued by Miguel Angel Villamagua Ortega, president of the Provincial Court of Morona Santiago, although the judicial process has failed to prove any criminal charge against Pepe Acacho.

Francisco Shiki, current president of the Interprovincial Federation of Shuar Centers, blamed the Court of Morona Santiago for violating the constitution and due process and the arbitrary and ill-considered deprivation of liberty of the Shuar leaders.

CONAIE condemned the arrest, calling it a clear example of political persecution using legal mechanisms.

As reported by the Network of Intercultural Bilingual Communicators of Ecuador (REDCI), Pepe Acacho is a strong candidate to become the next president of CONAIE, having been nominated by the assembly of the FICSH held on January 28-30th, 2011.

Pepe Acacho is renowned for his activism and is a figure respected by the various nationalities in Ecuador, according to REDCI.

Criminalization of Protest

This process of criminalization is intended to shut down social protest led by the Indigenous nationalities of Ecuador against the Water Act and in opposition to open-pit mining megaprojects and oil exploration in their territory.

According to ECUARUNARI, the Kichwa Confederation, there is a policy to "criminalize social protest" which has led to the filing of more than 189 lawsuits against leaders and organizations defending human rights and the environment.

Seven social leaders have been sentenced to eight years in prison in Azuay province, despite a request for amnesty.

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