Tag Archives: Carlos Pérez Guartambel

Good News for Julian Assange, Bad News for Manuela Picq & Ecuador’s Indigenous Peoples

This week, as Julian Assange marks his fifth year inside the Ecuadorian embassy in London, international media coverage continues to strengthen Ecuador’s image as an international champion of free speech. While the diminutive Latin American nation should be applauded for its courageous stance against the US, the good PR masks much darker truths about Ecuador which rarely reach the attention of the international community.

The recent election of President Lenin Moreno, former Vice-President to Rafael Correa and candidate of Ecuador’s ruling party Alianza País, was good news for Assange. Polls had predicted the victory of Moreno’s rival, conservative banker Guillermo Lasso, who had promised to evict the Wikileaks founder from the embassy should he come to power.

As Moreno’s election victory was announced and Assange celebrated his continued safe haven, another political refugee wept. That April night, French Brazilian professor and journalist Manuela Picq was finally forced to accept her exile from Ecuador, the country she had called home for nearly a decade. In 2015, she had been peacefully covering a protest with her husband when the couple were set upon by police officers, beaten with batons and separated. Picq’s visa was revoked overnight and she was detained as an irregular migrant. Days later, she was expelled from the country for ‘participating in politics’.

Manuela and Carlos at Lake Kimsacocha, which Carlos has spent over a decade defending from mega-mining

In fact, Professor Picq was forced into exile by the very same government, led by Rafael Correa, which offered sanctuary to Assange and Edward Snowden. As Moreno was announced President-elect she knew she would be denied re-entry to Ecuador. After two years in limbo, she would have to start building a new life away from her husband, the indigenous lawyer and water defender Carlos Pérez Guartambel, and her job as a Professor of International Relations at a prestigious Quito university.

Picq’s detention was the culmination of months of government harassment against her for expressing criticism of Correa’s government, such as an article about the Vice-President’s father raping and impregnating a 12-year old girl. Without doubt, her detention was also a political retaliation against her husband, a key figure in the indigenous resistance movement, who has been imprisoned three times by Correa’s government for defending water against international mega-mining projects.

Picq was detained at a national protest against a law that would have permitted Rafael Correa’s indefinite reelection. The official version of events was that a foreign national had been attacked by unknown assailants in the street and rescued by police, who then discovered her illegal visa status and handed her over to immigration. However, a journalist filmed the moment that she and Pérez were brutally attacked by police, exposing the government’s lies. In fact, there were no ‘unknown assailants’ and her visa was valid at the time of her arrest, as verified by Human Rights Watch.

The attempt to silence Picq is just one example of many in Ecuador’s crackdown on dissenting voices. The day after her detention in August 2015 the government declared a state of exception to quell the protests, raiding houses in the indigenous town of Saraguro, beating and arresting hundreds. Picq is one of 700 people criminalized by Ecuador’s government, the majority indigenous leaders and environmental activists. While the government positions itself in the media spotlight as an international champion of free speech, within its own borders it is quietly implementing the most repressive media legislation in Latin America and forcibly closing NGOs and unions that disagree with its policies.

Ecuador became the first foreign government to advertise during the US Super Bowl with this $3.8m commercial, soundtracked by The Beatles “All You Need Is Love.”

Many governments use oppressive tactics to silence critics. What sets Ecuador apart is a world class marketing department that proactively defines Ecuador’s brand. Public relations and marketing are the biggest ministerial expenditures, used to generate a smokescreen behind which the government feels free to implement its own agenda, largely free from scrutiny and media criticism.

It’s not just in the area of free speech where positive PR acts as a fig leaf for the Ecuadorian government’s less palatable activities:

Ecuador was applauded by the global community for its high profile Yasuni Initiative in 2014, when the government sought international funds in exchange for not exploiting the oil under the most biodiverse national park in the world. However, the Guardian revealed that the administration was simultaneously negotiating a secret $1bn deal with a Chinese bank to drill for the very same oil.

The use of PR as smokescreen can be blatant. In 2015, Ecuador was awarded the Guinness World Record for planting the most tree species in a single day. No mention was made of the auction of 3 million hectares of pristine Amazon rainforest to oil companies, a process known as the XI Oil Round.

The Ecuadorian government is widely viewed as an environmental pioneer for awarding legal rights to nature in its constitution, even though it constantly prosecutes, threatens, or assassinates those who attempt to uphold these rights. The rights of nature have become rhetoric, disconnected from the constant attacks against environmental defenders.

Ecuador promotes itself as plurinational state with constitutionally guaranteed indigenous land rights, however it commits ethnocide (according to the same constitution) by exploiting for oil in the territories of the country’s last two uncontacted tribes; and has undertaken the largest licensing of land for extractive industries in the history of Ecuador, much of it in indigenous territory.

The government celebrates the indigenous Shuar’s contribution to the war against Peru, while carrying out a campaign of repression against these war heroes’ communities. It has even fired upon them from helicopters and is actively militarizing their territory to make way for a billion-dollar Chinese-owned copper mine.

Correa often boasted about Ecuador’s financial independence from US, however, his administration more than doubled Ecuador’s external debt to $32 billion (32.9% of GDP), mostly in loans from China.

Protesters outside the national electoral council headquarters in Quito, Ecuador, April 2017. (Photo: Reuters)

The recent Presidential election was one more example of things not being what they seem. Guillermo Lasso, who narrowly lost a second round vote to Lenin Moreno, presented convincing evidence of election fraud and a partial recount was undertaken, but with every institution controlled by Correa, there was little hope for a transparent outcome.

In the limited international media coverage it has received, the continuation of Correa-ism under Lenin Moreno has largely been portrayed as the triumph of a democratically elected socialist government over a right-wing, corporate-friendly, US-backed opposition. Many Ecuadorians, however, would tell a different story. In fact, a broad coalition of normally left-leaning Ecuadorian civil society groups, indigenous organisations, academics, activists and NGOs united behind Lasso. “Better a banker than a dictator,” explained Carlos Pérez succinctly.

To these sectors of Ecuadorian society, the election of Moreno represents the triumph of oppression, fraud and good marketing. It would be some comfort to these Ecuadorians if the international community recognized their government for what it is: an authoritarian, extractivist regime.

It is distressing that even world renowned critics and thinkers such as Chris Hedges appear to have been taken in by Ecuador’s PR. Chakana Chronicles wrote to Chris Hedges following this pro-Correa-ism podcast from his show ‘On Contact’, suggesting he does not limit his story to a government’s official narrative and proposing he interview Professor Picq to present a countervailing view, but received no response.

Why does the international left, including influential dissidents like Hedges, prefer to believe the lies of Ecuador’s government than the cries for help of Indigenous peoples and journalists on the ground? Indigenous peoples are stewards of the most threatened biodiverse regions, such as the Amazon rainforest, and play a key role in combatting climate change. As they put their bodies on the line to defend their lands from extractivist regimes, the left chooses to turn a deaf ear to their cries, continuing their oppression, rendering them voiceless.

So, as Julian Assange begins his sixth year inside the Embassy, the continuation of such an extractivist regime under Lenin Moreno might be good news for Julian Assange, but it is bad news for Manela Picq, Carlos Pérez and the indigenous peoples of Ecuador.

La Diferencia que Hace un Día: Parte 2: Resistencia es Vida!

(English version here). Después del almuerzo nos reunimos con dos organizaciones que trabajan conjuntamente en el mismo edificio: Acción Ecológica y Yasunídos. Parecía un gran colectivo, en su mayoría compuesto por extranjeros. Nos sentamos y conversamos con ellos por un tiempo. Ellos se centraron exclusivamente en la recolección de firmas para solicitar una consulta popular sobre la explotación petrolera en el Parque Nacional Yasuní.

Una sola hectárea del bosque húmedo en Yasuni abarca más especies de árboles e insectos que  todos los existentes en E.E.U.U. y Canada juntos.

Una sola hectárea del bosque húmedo en Yasuni abarca más especies de árboles e insectos que todos los existentes en E.E.U.U. y Canada juntos.

Para aquellos que no lo saben, el Parque Nacional Yasuní es un área de la Amazonía recientemente descubierto por los científicos como el más biodiverso del planeta. Yasuní es probablemente inigualable a cualquier otro parque en el mundo por el número total de especies de plantas y animales.  El parque fue declarado una Reserva de la Biosfera por la UNESCO en 1989. Yasuní es el hogar de los pueblos indígenas con derechos territoriales  legalmente reconocidos (Waorani) y las dos últimas comunidades indígenas que viven en aislamiento voluntario  en Ecuador (Tagaeri y Taromenane).

Como parte de la Iniciativa Yasuní ITT, en la que el gobierno ofreció abstenerse de manera indefinida a de la explotación de las reservas de petróleo en los sectores de Ishpingo-Tambococha-Tiputini (ITT) dentro del Parque Nacional Yasuní, a cambio del 50% del valor de las reservas, o $3.6 billones durante 13 años por parte de la comunidad internacional. Un Programa de las Naciones Unidas para el Desarrollo (PNUD) este fondo se creó en el  2010 para recibir contribuciones. Pero el 15 de agosto de 2013, el Presidente, afirmando que se había recibido sólo $ 13,3 millones de las naciones extranjeras, firmó un decreto para liquidar el Fondo PNUD.

La Extracción de petróleo fue declarada de interés nacional, una medida que amenaza 10.000 hectáreas de selva virgen en el Parque Nacional Yasuní y desafía la Constitución, que establece:

“Los territorios de los pueblos en aislamiento voluntario son de posesión ancestral irreductible e intangible, y en ellos estará vedada todo tipo de actividad extractiva. El Estado adoptará medidas para garantizar sus vidas, hacer respetar su autodeterminación y voluntad de permanecer en aislamiento, y precautelar la observancia de sus derechos. La violación de estos derechos constituirá delito de etnocidio, que será tipificado por la ley”.

Despite savvy marketing from the government, the majority of Ecuadorians are against drilling in YasuniUna razón para la falta de donaciones internacionales al  Yasuní es que la credibilidad del gobierno fue socavada cuando anunció sus planes de subastar toda la selva virgen en la región sur de la Amazonía con la XI Ronda Petrolera. De hecho, una ONG internacional describió la Iniciativa Yasuní ITT como “una hoja de parra para construir capital político, mientras se planifica más destrucción”.

La sociedad ecuatoriana se ha movilizado para rechazar la perforación petrolera en el Yasuní y para exigir su derecho constitucional a una consulta pública. En respuesta, el gobierno se ha comprometido a celebrar la consulta si la sociedad civil presenta 600.000 firmas ante el Congreso antes de finales de marzo.

Es un desafío enorme, pero puede ser la única manera de salvar a la región más biodiversa del planeta: las encuestas recientes indican que hasta un 90% de los ecuatorianos votarían para mantener el petróleo del Yasuní bajo tierra, a pesar de una campaña gubernamental de RRPP  muy astuta.

En un anuncio visto regularmente en varios de los canales de televisión controlados por el Estado, el gobierno compara la perforación en Yasuní con la vacunación de un bebé; un pequeño rasguño que es doloroso por un segundo, pero que beneficia todo el cuerpo.

Acción Ecológica y Yasunídos nos invitaron a que los acompañaramos a recoger firmas, pero no pudimos. Teníamos que preparar otra reunión. Habíamos decidido embarcarnos en el nuevo proyecto de inmediato: planeamos  preguntarle a Carlos Pérez Guartambel si podíamos terminar nuestra reunión con una breve entrevista en video. C pasó el resto de la tarde buscando preguntas sobre el Decreto 16 y la opresión de las ONGs por el gobierno. Yo quería hablar con él acerca de cómo ser más útil en la lucha contra las grandes petroleras en la Amazonia y pasé el tiempo preparando lo que quería decir en español.

Yo estaba muy emocionada de conocer a Carlos, cuyos antecedentes en el activismo se centra en gran medida en la lucha contra la mega- minería en la región Kimsachocha en el sur del Ecuador. La constitución ecuatoriana garantiza a las comunidades indígenas el derecho “una consulta previa, libre e informada, dentro de un plazo razonable, sobre planes y programas de prospección, explotación y comercialización de recursos no renovables que se encuentren en sus tierras y que puedan afectarles ambiental o culturalmente”.

Cuando se hizo evidente que el gobierno no tenía ninguna intención de celebrar una consulta pública sobre si se debe permitir la minería en la región de Kimsacocha, Carlos era parte de un equipo que organizó su propio proceso de consulta, sin la autorización del Estado. Este proceso fue legitimado por la presencia de observadores internacionales y el resultado fue de 93% contra la minería.

No es sorprendente que el gobierno no estuviera de acuerdo con el proceso de consulta (y aún menos con su resultado) y declaró la consulta inválida. Sin embargo, las Naciones Unidas visitó a Kimsacocha para aprender sobre el proceso, tomó testimonios, y estableció un informe que identificó el proceso como una de las mejores prácticas de la democracia participativa en el mundo.

Como si un impresionante historial en el activismo no es suficiente, Carlos Pérez también tiene cinco diplomas (en leyes, justicia indígena, derecho ambiental, manejo de cuencas y justicia penal) y es autor de varios libros sobre los derechos indígenas y la ley. Desde sus humildes inicios (sus padres son campesinos), Carlos pagó por su propia educación con becas y tocando el saxofón.

Carlos se encontraba en Quito por una importante cumbre de dos días de la dirigencia indígena (otro golpe de suerte) y él sugirió que nos reuniéramos en la Universidad Andina, la sedede la cumbre. Cuando llegamos, la cumbre estaba todavía en sesión y abierta al público, por lo que tomamos dos sillas y nos  sentamos en la parte trasera.

Indigenous art in the Universidad AndinaEl ver a Carlos en la mesa principal, presidiendo la reunión, me hizo sentir aún más nerviosa. La última persona en hablar fue una mujer que habló de la resistencia y la reacción del gobierno a la misma. Dijo “Están tratando de asustarnos, pero no tenemos miedo!”

Después de la reunión, nos fuimos con Carlos a su hotel, buscando un lugar tranquilo para realizar la entrevista. Era evidente que Carlos no había elegido su trabajo por el glamour: ostento que no era.

Encontramos un lugar  tranquilo y algunas sillas. Le dije a Carlos que estábamos encantadas con ese encuentro, lo mucho que me había encantado la entrevista que le había dado a Manuela, y que admiraba mucho el trabajo  que había hecho en Kimsacocha. Luego le formulé  mis dos grandes preguntas:

¿Cómo podemos ser más útiles en la lucha contra las grandes petroleras en la Amazonía? ¿Cómo podemos apoyar a los pueblos indígenas que defienden sus tierras ancestrales frente a la invasión de las compañías petroleras?

Carlos respondió haciéndose eco de lo que K había dicho; que Pachamama no sería la última organización cerrada por el gobierno; que ahora no era el momento para llamar la atención sobre nosotros mismos. Luego pasó a explicar que, para la Ecuarunari, la prioridad urgente es la recolección de firmas para la consulta popular Yasuní. Dijo que el momento de luchar por los 8 millones de hectáreas que se venden en la XI ronda de petrolera llegaría, pero que la prioridad inmediata era Yasuní. Explicó que la recolección de firmas era un tarea muy difícil por que el gobierno ha establecido normas muy estrictas sobre la validez de las firmas (por ejemplo, una sola mancha en la página invalida todas las firmas en ella). A pesar de esto, Ecuarunari y otras organizaciones haran todo lo posible para lograr lo imposible: la presentación de 600,000 firmas impecables, todas documentadas digitalmente, antes de finales de marzo.

Le gustó la idea de la misión de viajar por Ecuador y documentar las historias de vida y resistencia. Dijo que la próxima vez que él fuera a Yasuní que nosotros estraíamos  bienvenidas a ir con él y entrevistar a la gente allí. Por supuesto, dijimos que nos encantaría! ¡Que aventura, un viaje al corazón de la lucha con un líder de la resistencia!

Luego C llevó a cabo esta entrevista sobre el Decreto 16 y el futuro de las ONG en Ecuador. Como dice Carlos “Esta es la vida o la muerte. Y la resistencia es vida!”

 

Nos gustó mucho Carlos, por su humilde forma y absoluta dedicación. Él fue muy generoso con su tiempo, sobre todo después de una reunión de todo el día. Él incluso declinó una invitación a cenar con un amigo con el fin de seguir hablando con nosotras. Al final de nuestro encuentro, Carlos nos dio su tarjeta de presentación, que tenía el siguiente impreso en el reverso:

“Nosotros sólo recibimos lo que damos.

Las gigantescas desigualdades nos hicieron naturalmente rebeldes.

La libertad es un ideal alcanzable; rompamos las cadenas físicas y mentales.

Es mejor llevar una vida agitada que una paz sepulcral.

Somos agua, de ella venimos y a ella volvemos.

Si cuidamos del agua hoy, mañana triunfará la paz sobre la guerra entre los pueblos”.

Definitivamente la tarjeta más” cool” que jamás haya recibido!

The Andean Cross symbol dates back over 4000 yearsÉl también nos dio a cada unoa esta “Chakana” o cruz andina, que es un antiguo símbolo indígena. Originaria de los Andes centrales, la Chakana representa entre otros aspectos: la igualdad, lo comunitario y el equilibrio que hacen posible la armonía. De acuerdo con las creencias indígenas, todo el que vive en base a los saberes de la Chakana alcanza la vida armónica, en los espacios individuales, familiares, comunitarios, sociales y con la madre tierra.

Después de nuestra reunión con Carlos, yo estaba absolutamente agotada y mi cerebro apenas estaba sobrellevando todo lo que había sucedido.

Bajo la sensación de agotamiento, yo estaba encantada con el progreso hecho durante el día, y que tanto K como Carlos nos habían tomado en serio.

A la mañana siguiente estábamos en el bus a Guayaquil a las 6:30 am. Había una marcha por ‘la Resistencia y la Vida!’ allí en la tarde y queríamos ir. El viaje duró 11 horas y en el camino tracé mis planes para este blog.

"Life is a daring adventure, or nothing!"Hacia el final de nuestra jornada hicimos carteles  para la marcha. El cartel de C citó a Carlos (“Las gigantescas desigualdades nos hicieron naturalmente rebeldes”) y en el otro lado protestó el avance de las empresas petroleras en la Amazonía. El mío citó a Helen Keller (“La vida es una aventura de riesgo o nada”) y en el otro lado “Di ‘¡No!’ a las empresas petroleras en la Amazonia”).

No había muchas personas a la marcha (no era sorprendente que se hubiera organizado con solo dos días de anticipación), pero fue divertido mostrando nuestros carteles a todas las personas atrapadas en el tráfico.

Después de la marcha nos fuimos a ver una película en el cine, un verdadero alivio después de un intenso par de días. “Los Juegos del Hambre 2” estaba lleno de simbolismo sobre la revolución y me gustó mucho, sobre todo porque el personaje principal era una mujer fuerte. Después de hablar de casi nada excepto la resistencia durante dos días, se sentía muy surrealista y plástico en el centro comercial. Como C comentó “aquí se siente imposible cambiar el mundo”.

No puedo esperar por la próxima entrega de la aventura, que espero nos llevará a Quito de nuevo a fines de enero.

The Difference a Day Makes: Part 2: Resistance is Life!

(Versíon en Español aqui). After lunch we met with two organisations working together in the same building: Accion Ecologica and Yasunídos. It seemed like one big collective, mostly made up of foreigners. We sat and chatted with them for a while. They were entirely focused on collecting signatures to petition for a public consultation on whether to drill for oil in Yasuní National Park.

One single hectare of rainforest in Yasuní harbours more tree and insect species than all of the USA and Canada combined.

One single hectare of rainforest in Yasuní harbours more tree and insect species than all of the USA and Canada combined.

For those who haven’t heard of it, Yasuní National Park is an area of the Amazon recently found by scientists to be the most bio-diverse on the planet and probably unmatched by any other park in the world for total numbers of plant and animal species. The park was designated a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve in 1989. Yasuní is also home to indigenous peoples with legally recognised territorial rights (Waorani) and two of the last native communities living in voluntary isolation (Tagaeri and Taromenane).

As part of their Yasuní ITT Initiative, the Ecuadorian government offered to refrain indefinitely from exploiting the oil reserves of the currently untouched Ishpingo-Tambococha-Tiputini (ITT) oil field within the National Park, in exchange for 50% of the value of the reserves, or $3.6 billion over 13 years from the international community. A United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) fund was set up in 2010 to receive contributions. But on 15th August 2013 the President, stating that only $13.3m had been received from foreign nations, signed a decree to liquidate the UNDP fund. Drilling for oil was declared to be in the national interest, a move which threatens 10,000 hectares of virgin jungle within the Yasuní National Park and goes against the constitution, which states:

“The territories of the peoples living in voluntary isolation are an irreducible and intangible ancestral possession and all forms of extractive activities shall be forbidden there. The State shall adopt measures to guarantee their lives, enforce respect for self-determination and the will to remain in isolation and to ensure observance of their rights. The violation of these rights shall constitute a crime of ethnocide, which shall be classified as such by law”.

Despite savvy marketing from the government, the majority of Ecuadorians are against drilling in Yasuni

Despite savvy marketing from the government, the majority of Ecuadorians are against drilling in Yasuni

One reason for the lack of international donations to the Yasuní fund is that the government’s credibility was undermined when it announced its plans to auction off all the virgin rainforest in the southern Amazon region with the XI Oil Round auction. Indeed, one international NGO described the Yasuní ITT Initiative as “a fig leaf to build political capital while planning for more destruction”.

Ecuadorian society at large has mobilized to reject oil drilling in Yasuní and to demand their constitutional right to a public consultation. In response, the government has promised to hold the consultation if civil society presents 600,000 signatures to Congress by the end of March.

It’s a tall order, but it may be the only way to save the planet’s most bio-diverse region: recent polls suggest that up to 90% of Ecuadorians would vote to keep Yasuní oil underground, despite a savvy PR campaign from the government. In an advert played regularly on the several state-controlled television channels, the government liken drilling in the national park to a baby getting vaccinated; a small scratch which is painful for a second but goes on to benefit the whole body.

Accion Ecologica and Yasunídos invited us to accompany them collecting signatures, but we declined. We had another meeting to prepare for. We’d decided to embark on our new project immediately, by asking Carlos Pérez Guartambel if we could finish our meeting with a brief video interview. C spent the rest of the afternoon researching into questions about Decreto 16 and the government’s oppression of NGOs. I wanted to speak with him about how to be most useful in the fight against big oil in the Amazon and spent the time preparing what I wanted to say in Spanish.

I was in awe of the guy I was about to meet, whose background in activism centres largely on the fight against mega-mining in the southern Ecuadorian region of Kimsachocha. The Ecuadorian constitution guarantees indigenous communities the right “to free prior informed consultation, within a reasonable period of time, on the plans and programs for prospecting, producing and marketing nonrenewable resources located on their lands and which could have an environmental or cultural impact on them”. 

When it became clear that the government had no intention of holding a public consultation on whether  to allow mining in the Kimsacocha region, Carlos was part of a team which organised their own consultation process, without state authorization. This grassroots process was legitimised by the presence of international observers and the result was 93% against mining. Not surprisingly, the government disagreed with the consultation process (and even more with its outcome) and declared the consultation fake. However, the United Nations came to Kimsacocha to learn about the process, took testimonies, and established a report that identified the process as one of the best practices of participatory democracy in the world.

As if an impressive background in activism isn’t enough Carlos Pérez also has five degrees (in law, indigenous justice, environmental law, watershed management and criminal justice) and is the author of several books on indigenous rights and law. From humble beginnings (his parents are ‘campesinos’ or peasant farmers), Carlos put himself through university with scholarships and by playing the saxophone.

Carlos happened to be in Quito for an important two-day summit of the indigenous leadership (another serendipitous piece of timing) and he suggested we meet at the Universidad Andina, the venue for the meeting. When we arrived, the summit was still in session and it was open to the public, so we took chairs in and sat at the back.

Indigenous art in the Universidad Andina

Indigenous art in the Universidad Andina

Seeing Carlos at the top table, presiding over the meeting, made me feel even more nervous. The last person to speak was a woman who talked about resistance and the government’s reaction to it. “They are trying to frighten us, but we are not afraid!” she said.

After the meeting, we went with Carlos to the hotel he was staying at, in order to find a quiet place to conduct the interview. It was apparent that Carlos was not in it for the glamorous lifestyle: swanky it was not.

We found a quiet landing to sit on and pulled up some chairs. I told Carlos how delighted we were to meet him and how much I admired the work he had done in Kimsacocha. I then asked him my two big questions:

How can we be most useful in the fight against Big Oil in the Amazon? How can we best support the indigenous peoples who are defending their ancestral lands against the invasion of oil companies?

Carlos responded by echoing what K had said; that Pachamama would not be the last organisation to be closed by the government; that now was not the time to draw attention to ourselves. He went on to explain that, for Ecuarunari, the urgent priority is the collection of signatures for the Yasuní public consultation. He said that the time to fight for the 8 million acres being sold in the XI Oil Round would come, but the more immediate concern was for Yasuní. He explained that even though the government is making the task difficult by being very stringent over the validity of signatures (e.g., one smudge on the page invalidates every signature on it), Ecuarunari and other organisations would do their best to achieve the impossible and submit 600,000 impeccable, digitally documented signatures by the end of March.

He liked the idea of travelling around Ecuador and documenting stories of life and resistance. He said that next time he goes to Yasuní we would be welcome to go with him and interview people there. Of course, we said we’d love to! What an adventure that would be, travelling into the heart of the struggle with a leader of the resistance.

Then it was over to C, who conducted this interview about Decreto 16 and the future of NGOs in Ecuador. As Carlos says “This is life or death. And resistance is life!”

 

We liked Carlos a lot, for his humble manner and utter dedication. He was so generous with his time, especially after an all-day meeting. He even passed up on an invitation to have dinner with a friend in order to keep speaking with us. At the end of our meeting, Carlos gave us both his business card, which had the following printed on the back:

 “We only receive what we give.
Giant inequalities have made us natural rebels.
Freedom is a reachable ideal; we just break the physical and mental chains.
It’s better to live an agitated life than a sepulchral peace.
We are water; we come from her and we return to her.
If we take care of water today, tomorrow we will achieve peace in the war between the peoples”.

Definitely the coolest business card I’ve ever been given!

The Andean Cross symbol dates back over 4000 years

The Andean Cross symbol dates back over 4000 years

He also gave us each this ‘Chakana’ or Andean Cross, which is an ancient native indigenous symbol from the central Andes that represents, among other things, the equality, communalism and balance that make harmony possible. According to indigenous beliefs, whoever lives based on the knowledge of the Chakana achieves a harmonious life in individual, family, social and community spaces, and with Mother Earth.

After our meeting with Carlos, I was absolutely exhausted and my brain was barely coping with everything that had happened. Under the frazzled feeling, I was delighted with the way the day had gone and that both K and Carlos had taken us seriously.

The next morning we were on the 6:30am bus to Guayaquil. There was a march for ‘Resistance & Life!’ there in the early evening and we wanted to make it back for that. The journey ended up taking 11 hours and en route I hatched plans for this blog.

"Life is a daring adventure, or nothing!"

“Life is a daring adventure, or nothing!”

Towards the end of our journey, we made banners for the march. On one side, C’s banner quoted Carlos (“Giant inequalities have made us natural rebels”) and the other protested the advance of oil companies into the Amazon. Mine quoted Helen Keller (“Life is a daring adventure or nothing”) and on the other side “Say ‘No!’ to Oil Companies in the Amazon!”). 

There weren’t many people at the march (not surprising, as it had only been organised two days previously), but it was fun showing our banners to all the people stuck in traffic.

After the march we went to see a film at the cinema, a real relief after such an intense couple of days. “The Hunger Games 2” was full of symbolism about revolution and I enjoyed it, especially as the lead character was a strong female. After talking of almost nothing but resistance for two days, being in the mall felt very surreal and plastic. As C commented “being here makes it feel impossible to change the world”.

I can’t wait for the next instalment of the adventure, which I hope will take us back to Quito at the end of January.

Cómo Empezó Todo

Quito 2009(English version here). Para mí, Quito, la capital de Ecuador, es un lugar de cielos azules y brillantes; noches frías y frescas bajo mantas pesadas de lana; caminatas jadeantes en calles  empinadas y empedradas; paredes encaladas y el chic de anticuarios.

Fue un solo día en esta hermosa ciudad que llevó a mi amiga C y yo, a aceptar el desafío más emocionante de nuestras vidas.

Habíamos hecho el largo viaje a Quito parapoder  encontrar las respuestas a las siguientes preguntas:

¿Cómo podemos ser más útiles en la lucha contra las grandes petroleras en la Amazonía? ¿Cómo podemos apoyar a los pueblos indígenas que estan defendiendo a sus tierras ancestrales frente  la invasión de las compañías petroleras?

Retrocediendo un poco, ¿qué fue lo que llevó a nosotros dos a emprender un viaje como esto, a hacer preguntas como éstas?

Nuestro interés común en el tema surgió con este documental de bajo presupuesto sobre la explotación petrolera en la Amazonía ecuatoriana.

Mientras observaba el documental por primera vez, me quedé horrorizado a ver el terrible  impacto social y ambiental de la explotación petrolera que existe ya en la selva tropical del Ecuador. También estaba totalmente chocada por los planes del gobierno a vender todo lo que queda de la  virgen del Ecuador, un total de 8.000.000 hectáreas, a las empresas petroleras en una subasta conocida como la XI ronda petrolera. Descubriendo el alcance de la catástrofe, me hice cada vez más decididos a correr la voz lo más ampliamente posible acerca de este enorme delito ambiental.

2013 Rio Napo, Derrame de Petróleo

2013, Rio Napo, Derrame de Petróleo

Comencé con artículos, uno tratando de atraer a un público más amplio usando la comparación de la situación en Ecuador a la trama de la película Avatar. Envié un sinnúmero de correos electrónicos a las estaciónes de radio ambientales; prensas locales, nacionales y internacionales; celebridades; y grupos ambientales de las universidades, tratando de crear conciencia de la XI Ronda Petrolera.

La falta de respuesta fue tal que, por momentos, estaba convencida de que todos mis mensajes estaban siendo entregados en las carpetas de basura de los destinatarios. Sin embargo, cada vez que sentí muy desanimada, algo pasaba para levantar  las fuerzas de Nuevo, en el momento preciso y mas necesitada. En uno de esos momentos, Amazon Watch publicó uno de mis artículos en su página de Facebook, que cuenta con 75.000 seguidores. En otro, el capitán de un barco de Greenpeace, con quien estaba en contacto me mando un correo electrónico de su barco en el Pacífico Sur, me presentó a los activistas forestales principales de la organización con las siguientes palabras, que trajo una lágrima a mi ojo:

“Cuando la Tierra se ve acosada por las excavadoras, plataformas de perforación petrolera y oleoductos con fugas y nos sentimos mareados en el resultante tazón de polvo de la depravación – necesitamos poner nuestros mapas a un lado y mirar al alrededor para rastrear los signos y símbolos que se quedan, a reconocer los encuentros fortuitos y entonces,  saber que hay una salida. Mas alla de todo, tenemos que reconocer los guerreros que están apoyando. Y así es que les presento a una de esas personas.  Espero que ustedes pueden compartir información y ideas, también la inspiración”.

Siendo llamado una guerrera por un capitán de Greenpeace esta, sin duda,  todo el incentivo necesario para poder seguir por adelante!

Blood of the Amazon

Sangre de la Amazonía

Un hito importante para mí fue un evento, la proyección de una película sobre la explotación petrolera en la selva Ecuatoriana llamada Sangre de la Amazonía. Por un golpe fortuito de la suerte, el evento estaba ocurriendo durante un breve visita al Reino Unido. Termine hablando en el evento y me di cuenta de dos cosas. En primer lugar, entre las personas en esa audiencia bien informada, ni uno sabía de la subasta  iminente de la selva tropical del Ecuador. En segundo lugar, habian varias  personas con bastante interes en apoyar a las comunidades indígenas que estan luchando contra la invasión de las compañías petroleras en la Amazonía. Empecé a pensar que mi trabajo sera la de conseguir apoyo internacional para la resistencia indígena, mientras difundiendo la palabra acerca de lo que esta sucediendo.

La creadora de Sangre de la Amazonía, ecologista Nicola Peel, ha estado trabajando para proteger la Amazonía Ecuatoriana desde hace muchos años y está involucrada en algunos proyectos increíbles, incluiendo la investigación sobre el uso de hongos para limpiar la contaminación causado por petroleo (tienen un sorprendente  95% de efectividad) . Creo mucho en que el universo se pone en el camino  las personas adecuadas en el momento oportuno, y yo había contactado a Nicola antes del evento y tuvimos una reunión de estrategia el día siguiente. Nos discutimos planes para juntar apoyo para la resistencia indígena y mas tarde ella me presentó a algunos contactos clave.

Después de meses de tocar puertas, fue un gran avance cuando uno de los contactos de Nicola, trabajando con una organización internacional muy respetada que tiene una pequeña presencia en Quito, respondió a uno de mis correos electrónicos y ofreció una reunión.

CarlosPerez

Carlos Pérez Guartambel, Presidente de ECUARUNARI, la Confederación de los pueblos Kichwa del Ecuador

La ciudad capital es un centro de la resistencia en el Ecuador y  quería aprovechar lo mas posible mi tiempo alla. A través de una amiga común, organicé una reunión con Carlos Pérez Guartambel, Presidente de ECUARUNARI (Confederación de los pueblos Kichwa del Ecuador). Carlos es un activista con mucho tiempo dedicado a la resistencia indígena y estaba super emocionada a poder reunirme con él (para entender por qué, lea esta maravillosa entrevista, que ha sido una tremenda fuente de inspiración para mí).

Un par de meses antes, C ha visto “El lado oscuro de la Amazonía” en Internet y ella estaba tan conmovido que empezamos a hablar de lo que podríamos hacer al respecto. Nos decidimos a ir a Quito y averiguarlo.

Continuará …

How It All Began

Quito 2009(Versión en Español aquí). To me, Ecuador’s capital city of Quito is a place of bright blue skies; cold crisp nights under heavy woollen blankets; breathless walks up steep cobbled streets; whitewashed walls and junkshop chic.

It was a single day in this beautiful city which led to my friend C and me accepting the most exciting challenge of our lives.

We’d made the long journey to Quito to find the answers to the following questions:

How can we be most useful in the fight against Big Oil in the Amazon? How can we best support the indigenous peoples who are defending their ancestral lands against the invasion of oil companies?

Backtracking a little, what was it that led us to undertake a journey such as this; to ask questions such as these?

Our shared interest in the topic stemmed from watching this eye opening low-budget documentary about oil exploitation in the Ecuadorian Amazon.

As I watched this documentary for the first time, I was horrified to see the terrible social and environmental impact of existing oil exploitation in Ecuador’s rainforest. I was also absolutely shocked by the government’s plans to sell all of Ecuador’s remaining virgin jungle, totalling 8 million acres, to oil companies in an auction known as the XI Oil Round. As I discovered the scope of the calamity, I became increasingly determined to spread the word as widely as possible about this enormous environmental crime.

2013 Rio Napo Spill

2013 Rio Napo Spill

I began by writing articles, one attempting to appeal to a wider audience by comparing the situation in Ecuador to the plot of the movie Avatar.  I sent countless emails to environmental radio stations; local, national and international news outlets; celebrities; and university environmental groups, trying to raise awareness of the XI Oil Round.

The lack of response was such that, at times, it felt like all my messages must be going into recipients’ junk folders. Nevertheless, whenever I felt really discouraged, something would happen to rejuvenate me exactly when I needed it most. At one such moment, Amazon Watch posted one of my articles on their Facebook page, which has 75,000 Facebook followers. At another, a captain of a Greenpeace boat I’d been in contact with, emailing from his boat in the South Pacific, introduced me to the organisation’s Lead Forestry Campaigners with the following words, which brought a tear to my eye:

“When the Earth is beset by bulldozers, drilling-platforms and leaky pipelines and we feel dizzy in the ensuing dust bowl of depravity – we need to put down our maps and look about to track the signs and symbols that are left, to recognise the chance meetings and then to know there is a way out. Above all else we need to recognise the warriors who are making a stand. And so it is that I introduce you to one such person. I do hope you are able to share information or ideas, but also inspiration”.

If being called a warrior by a Greenpeace captain is not incentive to go on, I’m not sure what is.

Blood of the AmazonA major milestone for me was a screening of a film about oil exploitation in the Ecuadorian rainforest called Blood of the Amazon. By a serendipitous stroke of luck, the event was happening during a brief visit to the UK. I ended up speaking at the event and was struck by two things. Firstly, even in that informed crowd, not a single person knew about Ecuador’s impending rainforest auction. Secondly, that a number of people were interested in supporting the indigenous communities resisting the invasion of oil companies into the Amazon. I started to wonder whether my role might be to gather international support for the indigenous resistance, as well as to spread the word about what was happening.

The creator of Blood of the Amazon, environmentalist Nicola Peel, has been working to protect the Ecuadorian Amazon for many years and is involved in some incredible projects, including research into the use of mushrooms to clean up oil pollution (amazingly, 95% effective). I’m a big believer in the universe putting the right people in your path at the right time and so I’d reached out to Nicola before the event and we had a strategy meeting the following day. We discussed plans for gathering support for the indigenous resistance and she subsequently introduced me to some key contacts.

After months of knocking on doors, it was a huge breakthrough when one of Nicola’s contacts responded to one of my emails and I was offered a meeting with a very well respected international organisation with a small presence in Quito.

CarlosPerez

Carlos Pérez Guartambel, President of ECUARUNARI, the Confederation of Kichwa People of Ecuador

The capital city is a hub of resistance in Ecuador and I wanted to make the most of my time there. Through a mutual friend I set up a meeting with Carlos Pérez Guartambel, leader of Ecuarunari (the Confederation of Kichwa people of Ecuador). Carlos is a long-time activist dedicated to the indigenous resistance and I was star struck at the prospect of meeting him (to understand why, read this wonderful interview, which has been a real source of inspiration to me).

A couple of months previously C had happened to watch  “The Dark Side of the Amazon” on the internet and was so moved by it that we began to discuss what we could do about it. We decided to go to Quito and find out.

To be continued …