Since the publication of our article about the Ecuadorian Government’s brutal repression of Shuar people defending their territory from mega-mining, the regime has dramatically increased its crackdown on anti-extractivist voices.
On 18th December, Ecuador’s most prestigious environmental NGO, Acción Ecológica, called for a Peace & Truth Commission to explore the attacks on indigenous and environmental rights. Two days later, the Government announced its intention to close the NGO, which has been operating in Ecuador for 30 years and is largely responsible for the country’s modern environmental movement. This is not the first time that the Government has closed an organisation for disagreeing with its extractivist policies. In 2013, Fundación Pachamama was closed for opposing the auction of 2.6 million hectares of virgin jungle to oil companies.
Also in December, a female activist from Acción Ecológica was subjected to a seemingly planned sexual attack and two further instances of harassment outside her home. In response, Ecuador’s women’s and feminist movement released a statement denouncing sexual aggression as a strategy for the political control of women and requesting an investigation into the attacks:
“Organizations and collectives that make up the Ecuadorian women’s and feminist movement, in solidarity with defenders of human rights and nature, express support to our comrade at Acción Ecológica who suffered a sexual attack. We denounce what we consider a political retaliation. Indeed, there is clear evidence that this was a planned attack to punish and frighten her and intimidate other activists who publicly appear as leaders of the resistance movement against the expropriation and exploitation of natural resources on Indigenous or farming land of high biodiversity”.
On the same night that the Government announced the closure of Acción Ecológica, December 20th, police raided the offices of the Shuar Federation, FICSH, and detained its president, Agustín Wachapa, who is still being held. Local radio reported that the premises were surrounded and entered in the middle of the night by around 100 officers, who ransacked the offices, destroyed property and took the Federation’s computers without explanation.
The State of Exception that has been declared in the provinces of Pastaza and Morona Santiago strips residents of the rights to freedom of movement, freedom of association, freedom of assembly and inviolability of the home, amongst others. Since the arrest of Agustín Wachapa, the police have used the State of Exception to target other indigenous leaders. Nearly a dozen have been arrested. A video has been published showing Stalin Robles struggling to breathe after police threw tear gas into his car as they arrested him.
On December 26th, the President of the Confederation of Indigenous Nationalities of the Ecuadorian Amazon (CONFENIAE) released a statement, excerpts of which are below:
“Security does not exist for indigenous leaders in the streets and public spaces of these two provinces. A network of agents and informants has been deployed throughout the south-central Amazon region for the sole purpose of finding means to incriminate and prosecute them”.
“The consequences of imprisoning our brothers and using the State of Exception to raid their homes and intimidate their families and communities will be the total and absolute responsibility of the Government. The whole world will know that, in Ecuador, human rights are violated, leaders are persecuted and organizations destroyed”.
“The Government’s actions in #Nankints are unprecedented in history. The military is firing on the Shuar people, who were decorated as war heroes of the Cenepa only decades ago. Tanks have been deployed in Shuar territory, where helicopters are intimidating villagers. Farmers’ homes are being raided and police are persecuting leaders amidst ongoing violations of due process. A police state has been established and apparently will continue until it satisfies the economic interests of its transnational allies”.
Both the United Nations and Amnesty International have condemned the Ecuadorian Government’s attacks against the Shuar and Acción Ecológica:
“The Ecuadorian Government must protect the Shuar people from attacks on their community, and not impose states of emergency or arrest Indigenous leaders. These acts of intimidation only serve to increase tension and put the lives of more people at risk”, said María José Veramendi, South America researcher for Amnesty international.
“Amnesty International calls on the Ecuadorian authorities to thoroughly respect due process of law in Agustín Wachapá’s case and urges them to end the state of emergency and the acts of harassment in Morona Santiago. The organization also urges the Ministry of the Interior to drop their application for the dissolution and closure of Acción Ecológica.”
A group of United Nations human rights experts also criticized the Ecuadorian Government for “stifling civil society” and “violating international human rights standards.” “Dissolving groups is the most severe type of restriction on freedom of association,” they said.
In a related incident, on Monday 19th December the Kichwa community of Sarayaku, which has publicly declared support for the Shuar, intercepted eleven soldiers traveling unannounced through their ancestral land, in violation of their territorial rights. After talks with the Governor of the province of Pastaza and the brigade commander, the soldiers were peacefully and safely released to Ecuadorian authorities. However, Ecuadorian President Rafael Correa now claims that the Sarayaku “kidnapped” the soldiers and has fired the Governor for negotiating with the community for their release.
The attack against Acción Ecológica, the heavily militarized response to Shuar protests, the persecution of indigenous leaders, and the attempts to criminalize and defame the Kichwa of Sarayaku, are all evidence of the Correa administration’s prioritization of extractivism over human and environmental rights.
It’s a desperate situation, but there are signs of hope. In cities across Ecuador, protests have been held in solidarity with the Shuar and Acción Ecológica. In the capital city of Quito, environmental activists and national Indigenous leaders have held joint demonstrations in front of the presidential palace and improvised assemblies to map out further resistance strategies.
“We are building new alliances between the city and the countryside, mestizos and Indigenous. It is events like these that help activate a new consciousness and build a larger platform,” Luis Corral, a leading environmental activist, told Al Jazeera.
Internationally, concerned global citizens have taken to social media to show their solidarity with the Shuar and Acción Ecológica, another case of the people vs. the combined power of state and corporations. The hashtags #SOSPuebloShuar, #SOSAccionEcologica and #NankintsResiste are being used to rally international support.
Add your voice:
- Sign a petition to demand the demilitarization of Shuar territory and dialogue to avoid further confrontation and acts of violence.
- Add your photo to the campaign showing solidarity with Acción Ecológica and the Shuar. Take a photo of yourself with a poster like the one shown (with your own country name), post it to your Facebook wall and send it in a message to Yasuni Guardians, who will add it to one the online albums, which can be seen here and here.
- Spread the word! Acción Ecológica triumphed against a similar closure threat in 2009 with the help of a huge international outcry. Visibility and solidarity can make a real difference!
In 2014 we interviewed Ivonne Yánez, founding member of Acción Ecológica. She spoke to us about the importance of indigenous resistance against oil exploitation and mining; Acción Ecológica’s role in supporting that resistance; and the Government’s campaign to discredit and criminalise those who defend nature: