Leaders of Ecuador’s largest indigenous organization is demanding the government pardon and release 177 activists who are serving jail time for acts committed during protests.
The Confederation of Indigenous Nationalities of Ecuador (Conaie) has given the government a month to respond to its request to not prosecute activists at a special assembly that took place on Saturday in the Amazonian city of Puyo, Conaie leader Katty Betancourt told EFE news.
“We believe that this is a prudential time” for the government to “come up with the political will” to reach out and work with with all social sectors, Betancourt said.
The indigenous group submitted a 8,800-signature petition at the end of last month to request amnesty for 177 activists and pardons for another 20.
Most of the activists were arrested while protesting against the previous government of President Rafael Correa, which they had denounced for inadequately protecting indigenous rights. Many protests targeted international mining companies, which they claim have encroached on indigenous territories.
Some of the protests became violent, and activists were arrested for crimes such as injuring police, damaging property, crippling public services and inciting public unrest.
Indigenous leaders hope that President Moreno, who took office on May 24, will follow through on his promise to engage in open discourse with indigenous groups. Although Conaie has yet to accept or reject Moreno’s offer of dialogue, some see the group’s appeal for amnesty as the new government’s first chance to begin rebuilding trust with Ecuador’s indigenous population.
One of Conaie’s leaders, Severino Sharupi, said in a statement published by El Telégrafo that the government’s decision to pardon “would demonstrate the commitment and responsibility of the new president to dialogue and consensus with all sectors of the country and sanitize the wounds caused by disagreements with the previous government.”
Conflicts over land have become increasingly hostile in recent years between oil and mining interests and Ecuador’s indigenous. One activist, Luis Sanchez, told Humanosphere that his people from the Tundayme region of southern Ecuador have suffered numerous human rights violations after gold and copper mining companies polluted rivers and forced them to flee their lands.
“The animals have fled because they no longer have a home, the rivers remain contaminated so we can no longer fish and bathe,” Sanchez said.
In spring 2014, he said state police officers entered the Tundayme territory and destroyed the community’s church, school and local mine.
Credit: Humanosphere, www.humanosphere.org