Eye on the Amazon

Ecuador's Crackdown on Critics on Full Display as COP20 Climate Conference Begins

UPDATE: Yasunidos and Climate Caravan arrive in Lima!

Photo Credit: Yasunidos

A delegation from the environmental collective Yasunidos finally arrived to Lima, Peru today after a week of harassment and intimidation by Ecuadorian police and military that sought to prevent them from crossing the border to attend the COP20 climate conference, and thrust the Ecuadorian government's continued domestic crackdown on civil society critics into the international spotlight.

Yasunidos has vehemently opposed oil drilling plans by President Rafael Correa in Yasuni National Park, one of the most biodiverse places on the planet and home to two Indigenous peoples living in voluntary isolation. The group gathered close to 800,000 signatures last April to force a national referendum vote on government drilling plans, which was ultimately nixed by Ecuador's National Election Commission in a process ripe with fraud and corruption.

The group left Quito Monday evening as part of the Caravana Climatica, a caravan that arrived in Ecuador after leaving Mexico ten months ago in a converted school bus. The caravan has been raising awareness about environmental and social conflicts related to resource extraction through a video documentary project, teach-ins, art, and music, along the road to Lima.

But in the middle of the night on December 1st, police stopped the bus in what would be the first of seven times over the next 24 hours. Each time, the activists were ordered off the bus, photographed, searched, IDs reviewed, and on one occasion forced to go down to the nearest police station. Responding to questions about the harassment, an officer responded, "Orders from above." Tellingly, the bus was not stopped at anytime since it left Chiapas, Mexico last March and passed through ten countries before arriving to Ecuador.

Unable to legally detain Yasunidos and the Climate Caravan activists, police invented one. The bus was impounded and the driver charged with violating the "permitted use" of the bus, which was for tourism, and not "political" activities. The driver now faces three years in prison and a $5,000 fine.

Ironically, the government's attempts to keep Yasunidos from the climate conference in hopes of avoiding embarrassing protests over its Amazonian drilling plans has generated major national and international attention. Tweets of the incidents were trending, national TV and print have done multiple stories, and AP, Democracy Now!, The Guardian, and ABC have all covered the crackdown.

Undeterred yet bus-less, the caravan found other means of transportation, and arrived Friday in Lima. "Unfortunately, this kind of repression has become commonplace in Ecuador," said Leo Cerda, a member of Yasunidos. “Now, the world can see the types of measures Correa has been using domestically to silence critics. This is Ecuador's dirty secret."

But the Ecuadorian government's border-politicking doesn't stop there. A delegation of German Parliamentarians on an official visit to Ecuador was denied entry into the country this week, after announcing plans to meet with Yasunidos and visit Yasuni National Park. Turned away and furious, the delegation called on Chancellor Merkel's to adopt the "necessary measures" in response. According to a previously leaked diplomatic communiqué published in Amerika21, Germany had already been considering blocking a much sought after trade deal between Ecuador and the EU, and this latest incident may further complicate relations.

Ironically, Correa is hosting the first meeting of UNASUR at its new headquarters outside of Quito this weekend, with the participation of several neighboring heads of state. A key part of the agenda for the South American nations is the free transit of citizens between countries.

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