12 August 2009

Ecuador: Indian Federation Confronts Threats

Thanks to Indian Country Today's article by David Dudenhoefer "Ecuador’s Amazonian Indian confederation faces varied threats" (10 August 2009), from which the following was derived:

About 100 representatives of Ecuador's Amazonian Indian communities met to celebrate the inauguration of new leadership for the Confederation of Indigenous Nations of the Ecuadorian Amazon (CONFENIAE).

Among their latest concerns are "government’s promotion of mining, oil exploitation and hydroelectric projects in the Amazon threatens indigenous lands and natural resources."
“The spirit of our ancestors is present in all of our nations, and in the common idea that we need to defend our territory – our territory is not for sale. Our territory is protected by all of our nations, because we are part of our territory.”
Throughout the 1990s, CONFENIAE mounted massive demonstrations that led to negotiations. The government then recognized and legalized large indigenous territories in the Amazon. The organization suffered deep internal schisms when some of its leaders joined the government of President Lucio Gutierrez in 2003, later pushed from power from huge popular protests. As a result the group was discredited and its collaborating leaders left it bankrupt.

The new CONFENIAE leader, Tito Puanchir, a Shuar Indian, vows that they will never again form political alliances with ruling groups.

The new leadership notes that Ecuador’s President Rafael Correa is supervising the drafting of a constitution that recognizes Ecuador as a "pluri-national state" – a reference to the country’s 13 indigenous and afro-Ecuadorean minorities – also enshrining the rights of nature. However, Correa has opened the door to oil exploration and mining on or near indigenous land.
“There are plenty of reasons to say no to oil exploration here,” said former CONFENIAE president Domingo Ankuash, Shuar. He said 40 years of oil extraction in the northern Amazon has hardly benefited the region’s indigenous inhabitants, but all of them have suffered from the pollution caused by oil spills and poor disposal of toxic wastes.

“Eighty percent of the money from oil leaves the country, and most of the 20 percent that stays here is robbed by a few corrupt politicians. What little goes to the municipalities near the oil wells is spent in urban areas, so it doesn’t even reach the (indigenous) communities.”
Instead, what indigenous leaders want to promote is a vision of "good living": good health, clean water, a healthy environment and a strong culture.

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