Eye on the Amazon

Ecuadorian Indigenous Movement Unites in Defense of Territory

Photo credit: Amazon Watch

This week hundreds of representatives from five Indigenous nationalities came together in a special assembly to defend their Amazon territory from oil, mining, logging, destructive dams and the commodification of nature. The group released a declaration (English translation here) that "reaffirms their strong rejection of the Ecuadorian state's policy on oil developments, mining, logging, hydropower and Socio Bosque [REDD] activities", and declared null and void all agreements that the government had reached with individual communities instead of through the official Indigenous leadership structure. They also rejected the Secretary of Hydrocarbons' intrusion into their territory, and vowed to "create a new economic development model utilizing renewable natural resources."

The group met in the Parish of Macuma, where just over a week before the Ecuadorian government's Secretary of Hydrocarbons set up an office in a school in attempt to convince Indigenous children to accept oil drilling. Upon learning of the government's plans, hundreds of Shuar had blocked the access road and had held an emergency assembly. There they had demanded that the Secretary of Hydrocarbons sign an agreement to never again return to their territory and that the government respect the people's decision to live free from oil.

And this is just one part of a much larger fight. Largely due to the nationalities' resistance, the Ecuadorian government was forced to exclude oil blocks 74 and 75 from their 11th Round oil auction because it is the territory of the Indigenous nationalities most firmly opposed to the drilling in their territory – the Achuar, Sapara, Shuar, Shiwiar and Kichwa of Sarayaku.

Sarayaku's 2012 landmark legal victory over the government at the Inter-American Court of Human Rights set a legal precedent that obligates companies and governments throughout the Americas to gain communities' right to free, prior, and informed consent (FPIC) before operating on Indigenous peoples' land. The government was also forced to publicly apologize and pay reparations. However, it seems that the Ecuadorian government has a short memory. It is not only directly violating that ruling, it's doing so against a coalition that includes the Indigenous community that beat it in court.

This past Sunday the Shuar, Achuar, Shiwiar, Sapara and Kichwa of Sarayaku – the groups that have successfully fought for the last 30 years to keep Ecuador's southern Amazon free from oil – came together to reject the government's attempts to enter their communities to consult them about oil operations. As this in-depth report (in Spanish) and this short documentary (in Spanish) show, the government's consultations have been not respected free prior and informed consultation, much less free, prior and informed consent (FPIC). Instead, they have been products of coercion, bribery and division. They are attempts to divide communities and co-opt leaders, all with the aim of extracting oil from their territories. That's why they promised to "prohibit and control the entry of the technicians attempting to carry out prior consultation activities for oil activity without the approval and endorsement of the Indigenous organizations."

An example of that division reared its head at the recent assembly. Out of the dozens of Achuar communities in Ecuador, there are three that want oil operations in their territory. Two representatives from those communities came to the assembly and, as you can see in minute 1:25 of the video, at least one attempted to violently disrupt the meeting. When they were kicked out and one was supposedly threatened, the governor of the province announced that he was activating the region's security forces. Contrast that with the response to the murder of Indigenous anti-mining activist Jose Tendetza. The government's investigation into his death started with a SWAT team raid of his house.

This is indicative of the way that the Correa government has treated Ecuador's Indigenous movement. In addition to prosecuting Indigenous leaders for peacefully protesting oil and mining operations, it is attempting to kick CONAIE – Ecuador's national Indigenous organization – out of the headquarters it has held since 1991. CONAIE is organizing a massive mobilization for March 19th to protest the closure of its headquarters and the crackdown on Indigenous rights and the environment.

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