Ecuador’s government is quietly preparing for trouble in the jungle.
As the country auctions several tracts of land for oil exploration and negotiates minining rights with foreign companies, indigenous groups in Ecuador’s Oriente are organizing to oppose what they consider an invasion of their territory.
Dozens of indigenous activists showed up last Tuesday in Puyo to protest the government auction of oil rights in the Amazon jungle in southeast Ecuador. They came in traditional dress, with painted faces, some carrying spears.
The tracts of land up for the oil rights auction are said to contain between 500 million to 1.7 billion barrels of oil.
In June, the Ecuador National Assembly passed legislation intended to encourage new gold, silver and copper mining operations. The government is currently in discussions with several international mining companies about operations in Ecuador.
Franco Viteri, president of the Confederation of Amazonian People, said the indigenous people are defending their land rights. He said the protest, held in Puyo’s Plaza Roja, was just the start of what can be expected. The real resistance, he said, will happen in the different indigenous communities.
Viteri said that the land included in the 13 oil blocks being auctioned is the rightful territory of at least six different indigenous groups.
“We want to remind the world, the country, and the government that we’re on orange alert. Don’t force us to declare a red alert because then there will be consequences. We have jurisdiction and we manage our own territories,” Viteri said.
Jaime Varga of the Achwar Nation joined Viteri in the protest, saying his people will work alongide other indigenous groups in protecting their homeland.
Fernando Santi, president of the Shiwiar Nation, also part of the protest, announced, “Our next protests will be in the capital city, so the government and people know that the whole process so far has been unconstitutional.” Ecuador’s constitution guarantees peoples affected by oil and mining activity to be consulted before decisions are made, and guarantees indigenous rights to their traditional lands.
Ecuador president Rafael Correa has said he will respect the rights of the Amazon indigenous peoples but that the country must use some of its oil and mineral reserves to continue national improvements. “We must continue to utilize our resources to improve our education, health care and infrastructrue. We will be very careful to minimize environmental damage, but the money from natural resources is essential to improve the lives of Ecuadorians.”
Correa often quotes Alexander Von Humboldt, the late 18th century German explorer who mapped much of Ecuador’s highlands and discovered the Pacific Ocean Humboldt Current. Humboldt referred to Ecuador as a beggar sitting on a bag of gold.
Although Correa enjoys high levels of support from Ecuador’s indigenous population in general but people from the Amazonia have consistently opposed him.
As it turned out Tuesday, the government postponed announcing results of the oil auction and said more bids may be accepted.
Photo caption: Indigenous protestors in Puyo sign in with a police officer Tuesday.