Last week a delegation of indigenous leaders traveled from the Ecuadorian Amazon to the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights in Washington, DC to help advise the Ecuadorian government on how to properly consult indigenous peoples about projects that affect their territory and their way of life.
Unfortunately, the government announced at the last moment that it would not be attending the hearing and Ecuador’s President Correa tweeted that the indigenous leaders’ claims were “nonsense,” part of a larger trend in which Ecuador has threatened to leave the human rights body.
However, for indigenous leaders defending the Amazon, the government’s failure to properly consult them is anything but “nonsense.” The leaders were particularly concerned about the 11th Round, the government’s attempt to auction off the oil rights of eight million acres of Ecuador’s still-pristine southeastern Amazon. The region is Ecuador’s last remaining tract of virgin rainforest and is home to seven indigenous nationalities: the Achuar, Shuar, Kichwa, Zápara, Waorani, Shiwiar and Andoa. The indigenous nationalities have mobilized against the round, and have issued multiple declarations of opposition.
The visiting leaders and human rights allies began the hearing by showing a film (in Spanish) that shows how Ecuador’s consultation process violates its own constitution and international law. The supposed consultations that they filmed were so absurd that the audience and even some of the commissioners could not help but erupt with laughter.
Human rights experts presented an exhaustive study, which showed that the government has only consulted 39% of the communities and that 7% of the population that would be impacted by the oil auction. The few consultations that have occurred have violated the Kichwa de Sarayaku’s landmark ruling against Ecuador at the Inter-American Court of Human Rights. The ruling ordered the Ecuadorian government to pay $1.34 million in damages for allowing oil company CGC to explore for oil without proper consultation from the Sarayaku and for placing 1,400 kilograms of explosives on their land, explosives that they have yet to remove. It set a legal precedent throughout the Americas that requires companies and governments to obtain the free, prior, and informed consent (FPIC) of communities before operating on their land.
Franco Viteri, who was the president of the Sarayaku during their struggle, and is now the President of the Governing Body of the Original Nations of the Ecuadorian Amazon (GONOAE) went on to describe the government’s consultation process as a “ruse and a manipulation and a propaganda [campaign].”
Jaime Vargas, the President of the Achuar Nationality of Ecuador (NAE) said that “the Secretary of Hydrocarbons of Ecuador has began to contract our teachers, our youth, the leaders of the community, with tricks and with blackmail, and that in our communities has caused a great deal of damage” and has undermined the nationalities’ decision to “not allow the secretary of hydrocarbons to enter [our territory] and especially our complete rejection of oil exploitation.”
Perhaps fittingly, the government missed a chance to consult indigenous peoples about their failure to consult them, but the Amazonian leaders made sure that their message was heard. Some of the most widely-read Spanish language publications, including ABC en Español, covered their journey. They also had the chance to address ten million Spanish-speaking listeners about how they could support their struggle.
Jaime said that the government is endangering their way of life in the name of capitalist accumulation and ended the interview with one last thought: “For us wealth is not about having mansions or fancy cars. Wealth for us means having clean air, clean water, healthy food, tranquility, peace, and solidarity.”