Shuar indigenous peoples in the eye of the storm
Luis Ángel Saavedra 1/23/2017
On Aug. 11, 2016, the name Nankintz became a trend in the mass media. Before then, only a few people in Ecuador had heard anything about this Shuar community located in Panantza parish, in the Amazonian province of Morona Santiago, in the south of the country.
On that day, eight families — the last resisting the setting up of the “La Esperanza” mining camp, belonging to the Chinese company ExplorCobres S.A. (EXSA) — were forcibly evicted. Police and military personnel destroyed the homes and crops of the families settled in Nankintz; despite this, the Shuar communities in the surrounding villages did not give in to losing their territory.
On Nov. 21 and 22, members of the Shuar indigenous population took back the land that they had been determined to defend from mining exploitation when Nankintz was founded in 2006, after they very similarly expelled the former owner of that mining concession, the Canadian company Corriente Resources Inc., owner of ExplorCobres back then.
The People’s Republic of China complained to the national government and a new confrontation took place on Dec. 14 in an effort to evict the villagers, this time resulting in the death of a police officer, with seven members of the government forces and two Shuar injured.
Far from proposing an adequate solution to the conflict in Nankints, the government answered back by declaring a state of emergency in the province of Morona Santiago, limiting certain rights such as free movement or the freedom of assembly. In a parallel move, the Interior Ministry activated a rewards program of up to US$50,000 for those who provided information on those responsible for the events occurred on Dec. 14. The Government Council of the Shuar Arutam People denied any responsibility for the death of the police officer: “We have been blamed for the tragedy of this officer who was killed, but we never gave any orders to kill anyone (...) None of our people is a sniper or has a weapon capable of penetrating those types of helmets,” they assured in a statement, making reference to the bullet of the rifle that perforated the helmet of the police officer.
The state of emergency allowed for the mobilization of military personnel that bears similarity only to that of the Cenepa war, in 1995, when the indigenous population that is now being persecuted, were considered heroes for defending the Cordillera del Cóndor during the war conflict between Ecuador and Peru. The heroes of times past have been besieged in their communities; the access of reporters and members of the national indigenous leadership is prevented; the paths are controlled by the military and the communities live in permanent restlessness faced with the constant flyovers of helicopters.
The history of mining in the south of the Ecuadorian Amazon region is a history of stripping of ancestral lands of the Shuar nation. At first with the process of colonization with the support of the now defunct Ecuadorian Institute for Agrarian Reform and Colonization (IERAC) from the decade of the 1960’s, which assigned lands to settlers and religious orders without giving proper consideration to the existence of some already consolidated Shuar communities and other dispersed Shuar groups who lived throughout the territory. The establishment of the present Panantza parish, on June 30, 1992, was also done in order to legitimize the colonizing presence, without meeting the necessary requirements and without considering the rights of the Shuar communities.
The lands in the hands of the colonizers turned into merchandise that switched hands many times until the time when Julio Alvarado and his wife, with privileged information on hand, or working as figureheads of the mining company, started buying lands and hoard them to then transfer them to EXSA.
“When the settlers arrived to these lands we welcomed them, because we knew that they were poor and struggling people looking for an opportunity in their lives, but, from one day to the next, large portions of land no longer belonged to us, as they had been deeded in the names of people we had never even heard of before,” says the Government Council of the Shuar Arutam People in a statement they circulated from a secret location this past Jan. 4.
“The indigenous territory is for the ancestral use and possession given to it by the people, and the formalities created in order to legitimize the stripping of their lands lack of any legal value,” said professor David Cordero Heredia, of the Pontifical Catholic University of Ecuador and member of the human rights organization Fundación Regional de Asesoría en Derechos Humanos (INREDH), and adds that “the possession and use equate to ownership, and thus the lands in which the EXSA project has been developing has never stopped belonging to the Shuar nation.
Criminalization of the social movement
The conflict in Nankintz brought on the creation of international solidarity networks, and this community positioned itself as the example of anti-mining resistance, not only in the country, but also in all other countries where mega mining projects that violate the rights of indigenous and peasant communities are being implemented. In order to keep Nankintz from being mentioned, the government opened a new front to deviate the attention: the threat of closing down Acción Ecológica (AE), an Ecuadorian non-governmental organization with a history of more than 30 years dedicated to defending the environment and the indigenous peoples.
On Dec. 20, the Ministry of the Environment notified AE regarding the start of their dissolution for supposedly “deviating from the real purposes for which it was created.” The dissolution had been requested on Dec. 19 by the Interior Ministry pointing out that the organization had expressed its support “to the actions and violent events perpetrated by the Shuar community, making statements regarding the serious impact on the environment and the ecosystem as a result from extractive activities (...), promoting social mobilization and endorsing the hostilities, and in doing so, seriously affecting and causing social unrest within the Ecuadorian society.”
A similar precedent had already taken place in December 2013, when the Ministry of the Environment dissolved the Pachamama Foundation, the environment and human rights defense organization accused of “interference in public policy and undermining the internal security of the state and public peace.” In August 2016, the government ordered the closing down of the Unión Nacional de Educadores (UNE), the largest teachers union in the country, established in 1944, for infringing on regulations of social organizations. Also, Correa threatened to dissolve the Fundación Andina para la Observación Social y Estudio de Medios (Fundamedios), dedicated to the social observation and study of the media, “for being part of a plan to destabilize his government.” The same AE, in 2009, was shut down for 10 days by the current government for the same reasons they are contending now.
Since none of the repressive procedures bore results, as the Shuar nation was not intimidated and did not go against its principles, the government looked to turn the attention from what is taking place in the province of Morona Santiago and isolate the indigenous community that is now suffering the battering from armed entities of the state. The government thought that by forcing AE to defend itself, it would take away from their ability to continue informing on what is taking place and it would slow down the strengthening of the solidarity networks that were being created. The government was very sure that the threat of closing down AE would dissuade other groups from continuing showing solidarity with Nankintz and the flow of information would be stopped.
The government’s objective was partially met, as it was fundamentally able to deflect the international attention and protect the Chinese investments from the prying eyes that began to question them after the violent events in Nankintz. Although the call to dissolve the AE was struck down on Jan. 12 with a favorable resolution for the organization, recover the attention on Nankintz, and to put it again in the media agenda and in the solidarity networks will be very complicated. —Latinamerica Press. Compartir