A group of Ecuadorian environmental activists travelling to the UN Climate Change conference in neighbouring Peru were stopped and harassed at least six times by police who eventually seized their bus, members of the group have told the Guardian.
The activists claim that they have been obstructed because the Ecuadorian president Rafael Correa wants to avoid potentially embarrassing protests at the climate conference over his plan to drill for oil in Yasuni, an Amazon reserve and one of the most biodiverse places on earth.
“We believe our presence in the summit would not benefit Correa, because we will question and denounce what he’s doing with Yasuni,” said Mateo Martínez, a member of the Yasunidos campaign group, who was on the bus.
The bus, carrying 17 activists, was first stopped by the police at about 2am on Tuesday morning while it was travelling from the Ecuadorian capital Quito to Guayaquil. The stops continued throughout the day with the involvement of customs officers, transit police and immigration officials, said Patricio Chavez, who was also in the group.
Chávez said the second time they were stopped was outside Guayaquil, where they were expected to give a press conference about their campaign against against oil prospecting in Yasuni.
The heavily-graffitied bus, known as the ‘Climate Caravan’, was then stopped at least three more times before being impounded and towed to Guayaquil, reportedly for not having a licence for be used for private profit.
“The Climate Caravan bus was not stopped once in its 10-month journey from Mexico, even in Ecuador, until we made it public that Yasunidos would be joining the climate change activists to go to the COP in Lima,” said Chavez, part of the Yasunidos campaign group.
“We weren’t given any official explanation only that it was routine procedure but extraofficially police officers told us they said they had been given an order from above.”
“There was no physical mistreatment but our group, especially the women, felt intimidated by the constant detentions,” he added.
“The only possible explanation faced with such absurd and appalling allegations points to Ecuadorian government’s fear of our criticism of its decision to open Yasuni national park up to oil exploration,” the group added in a statement.
The harassment was shared on social networks by activists on the bus, who tweeted updates and shared images of police stopping the bus.
Government officials say they stopped the bus because the driver did not have the correct documentation. The country’s interior minister tweeted an image of the driver’s US license, with the comment: “We will not allow vehicular movement of passengers without professional licenses. The responsibility belongs to everyone.”
The Yasuni activists responded by posting a copy of a document granting the driver permission to drive in Ecuador.
Last August, Rafeal Correa scrapped a pioneering scheme, the Yasuni Ishpingo-Tambococha-Tiputini (ITT) initiative, to keep oil in the ground under a corner of the Yasuni national park in return for donations from the international community.
He said only $13 million of the $3.6 billion goal had been given, and that “the world has failed us”, giving the green light to drilling.
Credit: The Guardian, http://www.theguardian.com