Eye on the Amazon

Indigenous Communities Reject "Consultation" in Blocks 74 & 75

Representatives from the community of Sarayaku denounced the illegal entrance of Ecuadorian government representatives from the hydrocarbon ministry who were seeking to conduct an environmental impact study. Photo credit: Amazon Watch

Last month in direct violation of its own laws on "free, prior, and informed consultation" Ecuadorian government officials and oil company technicians entered oil blocks 74 and 75 in the heart of the Ecuadorian Amazon, without informing many of the communities whose ancestral territory the blocks overlap, in what appears to be part of a plan to pull apart the Kichwa territory in the Bobonazo river basin. The blocks affect 68% of the territory of the Kichwa people of Sarayaku. Last week leaders from Sarayaku – where officials did not inform its seven communities before entering – traveled to the National Assembly to denounce the illegal and illegitimate consultation. Sarayaku's 2012 landmark legal victory over the government at the Inter-American Court of Human Rights Court (IAHCR) 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. Not only has it directly violated that ruling, it’s doing so in the very community where its poor practices produced the ruling.

The judgment of the IAHCR notes that this process was performed as established in the regulations of the consultation process: "The consultation process will take place in all communities directly affected," which in this case was false since the "prior consultation process" did not happen in seven of the communities that integrate the Kichwa People of Sarayaku (Sarayaku Centro, Kalikali, Shiwakucha, Kushillu Urku, Pista, Mawka Llakta and Chuntayaku).

The Secretary of Hydrocarbons states that "the Ecuadorian State did not come into this area without permission or in a "clandestine" manner but with the support and written authorization of the communities from the areas of influence of both blocks" and cites an "Entrance Permit." However on the map used by the Secretary of Hydrocarbons, in Block 74 the "Entrance Permit" was obtained in only four out of 15 communities. In Block 75 the same permit was obtained in eight communities from a total of 48 communities. Can this be considered an adequate participation of the communities?

Officials may have intentionally taken the communities by surprise due to the fact that the blocks are the territory of the Indigenous nationalities most firmly opposed to drilling in their territory. Fervent opposition by the the Achuar, Sápara, Shuar, Shiwiar and the Kichwa of Sarayaku forced the government to exclude blocks 74 and 75 from its 11th Round oil auction, which received only three bids out of the original 21 blocks proposed. The government is now desperately trying to expand the oil frontier through other means.

This comes on the heels of the Ecuadorian government’s redoubled efforts to advance proposed oil operations in blocks 74 and 75. In response, Indigenous peoples have ramped up efforts to protect their territory and their rights. This latest clash began in late February when the Ecuadorian government's Secretary of Hydrocarbons set up an office in a school in the Shuar community of Macuma in attempt to convince Indigenous children to accept oil drilling. Upon learning of the government's plans, hundreds of Shuar blocked the access road and immediately afterwards 500 people took part in a special assembly to express their rejection of the government’s illegitimate consultation process. There they 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.

Ten days later hundreds of representatives from five Indigenous nationalities converged on Macuma to reject the government’s intrusion into Macuma and unite against proposed industrial mega-projects in their territories. 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 community of Sarayaku reaffirms its commitment to protect mother earth, and publicly denounced the Ecuadorian government for its plans to pull apart the collective territory of Sarayaku.

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