Indigenous protestors in Ecuador remain wary, despite the agreement which has ended 18 days of strikes in which at least four died.
Asking for his identity to be protected, for fear of being arrested, a high-level indigenous negotiator spoke to Quota exclusively, saying the government had been trying to push through mining and oil deals on indigenous territories without consultation.
The crisis coincides with preparations by indigenous groups for a showdown with fossil fuel companies at Cop27 in Egypt this year.
“I need to be very careful. Not only in my country but in other countries, they are persecuting indigenous leaders,” he says.
“There’s a chance the army are going to come to arrest me to ask me what I’m doing and say I want to destroy this country.
“No, I am just protecting my people and speaking within my rights. But it’s not always well received by the other side.
“Our people are protecting everyone on the planet when we protect our territories”
“The president of Ecuador, he knows we support him. Many of my brothers and sisters gave their vote to him.
“But now we don’t know what deals they want to do. We are asking them to explain this to us and gain our consent. The government has not been honest and transparent with indigenous people. China is a government doing deals, and Canada, in the context of mining.
“Sometimes we wake up one morning and a lot of foreign people are in the community saying they want to do a project.
“They say we have to move out of here, you need to live in another place. I mean please, come on. Maybe 50 years ago or 100 years ago. But not anymore.”
The protests, called by the Confederation of Indigenous Nationalities, saw road blockades that prevented food and fuel from being transported. Protestors argued for fuel prices to be reduced and for health and education spending to be increased, as well as further price controls on some goods.
“Indigenous organisations have been protesting from the Andes, highlands, the Amazon,” the source told Quota. “We are organised because if we lose territory, we lose everything. It’s that simple.
“Our people are protecting everyone on the planet when we protect our territories. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change says indigenous people are protecting the biggest amount of pristine biodiversity today by living on our land. If we go on with this oil and mining, we are killing mother earth.
“This is destruction and we indigenous people are living on the front line”
“We try to present our many centuries of knowledge. But this has a cost for many of our leaders. They are persecuted. They face criminalisation because they stand in the way of egos coming for more resources.
“Those people make bad agreements for concessions without consulting the people who are living in the rainforest.
“This is destruction and we indigenous people are living here on the front line.
“We are connected to the land, we protect the forest. We live here, we eat here. We cannot see multinational companies making deals and concessions about mining and oil, deforestation, illegal logging. Who is going to suffer? My brothers and sisters, the communities.
“We want to be able to drink our water. We want to protect the forest. We have a vision for survival.
“In the Amazon rainforest in Ecuador we have a lot of indigenous groups. We respect the country as citizens, as Ecuadorians, as Peruvians as Colombians. We were here before they created these countries. We were living here for centuries. We don’t have any borders. But somehow we need to respect this new system of countries. We have brothers and sisters living in three countries across the borders.
“There are some indigenous groups living in the rainforest who aren’t in contact with this society. They are living free in the rainforest. We need to protect them. We can’t protect them if we destroy more, to take more oil and mining. They need to live and be free.
“International organisations want loans repaid. But we are not guilty of this. We don’t need to pay for these mistakes”
“Other indigenous people have our own basic rights and necessities.
“People don’t feel safe in their own land. They need the government to be honest and transparent and work with us.
“Any project that you are going to develop in our territory – who is going to be a beneficiary? How are we going to get involved in this project?
“We want the chance to participate, we want healthcare, we want basic medicine, we want kids going to school learning our own language, our own culture, and other cultures.
“But right now we are not safe, we need to protect ourselves.”
Better support for indigenous peoples protecting biodiversity is critical, he said, despite the pressure to develop more extractive industries to help the country’s economy.
“There are a lot of emergencies, we know that. And international monetary organisations want to see loans repaid. But we people are not guilty of this. We don’t need to pay for these mistakes.
“My brothers and sisters and the leaders, we did a lot of dialogue. We were talking to the government for one year, saying we need to resolve this for the people because the people cannot support any more pressure economically.
“At Cop26 the rich countries announced $1.7 billion for indigenous people. That was fake. Where is that money?”
“You go the hospital right now it’s impossible for poor people to get medicines. If you go into the poor communities, there is not any money circulating.
“How can they sell produce proudly?
“It’s not because we were saying these things to the government for just one week. It’s almost one year. This is impossible.
“I really hope advisors, international pressure and some good people in the government – there are good people in the government – we need to combine them, sit down, and figure out how to make a solution.”
The difficulties in Ecuador are compounded by the fact that almost no funding pledged at Cop26 is making its way to indigenous communities on the ground.
“At Cop26 the rich countries announced $1.7 billion for indigenous people and local communities. That was fake,” he said. “We were asking, where are these resources? Why don’t we get any support in the communities?
“Where is the rest of the money? Corruption from the institutions?
“Less than 1% of funding pledged to indigenous communities has been delivered”
“Many of my brothers’ and sisters’ organisations and the territories are protecting natural life. Imagine if we had some more help? We don’t ask for anything unnecessary. But the resources are disappearing before they reach us.”
A study by the Rainforest Foundation has found less than one per cent of funding for climate mitigation has gone to indigenous communities for forest protection over the past decade.
“After Covid, it’s something we can’t forget, what biodiversity loss does to human beings, to everyone. That is one of the lessons we need to reflect on,” our source explains.
“We don’t want to destroy hundreds of millions of hectares of rainforest for soya, to produce monocultures, and to use agro chemicals in the territories.
“We are working towards the place where our knowledge, our contributions, our agriculture is respected. Our territories have water, forest food, medicine, everything. We have our chakra. Chakra means the traditional place where we grow our seeds.
“That is something some governments don’t realise. They are rich, they want to be more rich, but for what?”
The agreement ending the strike was announced at the Ecuadorian Episcopal Conference in Quito. It included:
- The Lasso administration repealing Decree 95, reducing its promotion of international bidding for oil fields.
- Authorities will reform Decree 151, which is related to mining activity in protected environmental areas. The reform is expected to include provisions to ensure that communities are consulted before mining projects are implemented in those territories.
- The national government declaring that the health system is in a state of emergency.
- The price of gasoline being reduced by US$15 cents per gallon. The price of gasoline will be US$2.40 and the price of diesel will be US$1.75.
Dialogue about the agreements will continue over the next 90 days.
The minutes were signed by the president of the Confederation of Indigenous Nationalities of Ecuador (Conaie), Leonidas Iza; of the Council of Evangelical Indigenous Peoples and Organizations of Ecuador (Feine), Eustaquio Tuala; and of the National Confederation of Peasant, Indigenous and Black Organizations (Fenocin), Gary Espinoza; as well as the Minister of Government, Francisco Jiménez.
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