On 10 January Andrés Donoso Fabara, Ecuadorian Secretary of Hydrocarbons, filed a formal complaint against eight indigenous leaders: Humberto Cholango and Bartolo Ushigua, President and Vice-president of CONAIE (Confederation of Indigenous Nationalities of Ecuador); Franco Viteri, President of GONOAE (Governing Body of the First Nations of the Ecuadorian Amazon); Sarayaku leader Patricia Gualinga; Zapara leaders Cléver Ruiz and Gloria Ushigua, and Achuar leaders Jaime Vargas and Patricio Sake. The Minister accused them of ‘making threats’ while opposing the government’s 11th round of oil auctions, and recommended they be imprisoned.
Cecilia Velasque, former public attorney with the national Department of Indigenous Peoples and Communities, and now Coordinator of REMPE (the Network of Political Women of Ecuador), says: “More than 200 leaders have been prosecuted, both indigenous activists and trades unionists. Marlon Santi of Sarayaku is one of those prosecuted.”
Marlon Santi, former head of CONAIE was president of the Amazonian Kichwa community of Sarayaku when it successfully argued before the Inter-American Court of Human Rights that Ecuador had violated their rights by allowing oil companies to operate on their land without their consent. The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights has also ordered precautionary protective measures be implemented to protect the Tagaeri and Taromenane Peoples in the Yasuní region of the Amazon.
The order has been ignored by Quito and the Taromenane are threatened with extinction in a conflict linked to the effects of government-approved oil exploration; the contrast between such achievements for indigenous rights at the international level and their continued neglect in Ecuador couldn’t be clearer. In an article on the Ecuadorian government’s presentation of its recent oil auction to potential investors in the Beijing Hilton, the Guardian reports the same minister of hydrocarbons, Andrés Donoso Fabara, saying of indigenous territories:
We are entitled by law, if we wanted, to go in by force and do some activities even if they are against them, but that is not our policy.
Their policy, according to Amnesty International, is to “undermine communities’ claims for greater participation by arguing that expanding the extractive industry is not only necessary for national development, but also beneficial” to the environment through providing funds that can be used to improve water quality. A further part of their strategy is to cast “doubt on the legitimacy of the protests and indeed to curtail the rights to freedom of expression and assembly of some of the most marginalized sectors of society.”
Carlos Pérez, President of ECUARUNARI (Confederation of Kichwa Peoples of Ecuador), says “Unfortunately in Ecuador we are putting in place a model which we thought we’d overcome; a fascistic model in which all official capacities, from the judiciary to the ministries, are under the control of one person.”
President Rafael Correa has little time for the claims of CONAIE or the indigenous electoral alliance Pachakutik, telling Green Left Review: “Their view is fundamentalist and strongly influenced by foreign NGOs who provide a distorted ecological discourse that fails to take into account the great needs of the Ecuadorean people.” The president particularly rejects their demand that indigenous communities be able to control whether mining and oil drilling take place within their territories: “With so many restrictions, the left will not be able to offer any viable political projects.”
Carlos Pérez advances a widely expressed indigenous perspective: “We need to decolonize ourselves from this view of development. We’re part of nature, we’re the children of the Earth and if we don’t protect our mother we’re headed for suicide.”
READ THE ENTIRE ARTICLE HERE: Facing the New Conquistador: Indigenous Rights and Repression in Rafael Correa’s Ecuador.