Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Conflict Over Mining Deepens Between Correa Government and Indigenous Peoples and Environmentalists

Ecuador Anti-Mining Blockades Met With Repression, National Mobilization Called for January 20 Print E-mail
Written by Daniel Denvir, Photographs by Ximena Warnaars
Friday, 09 January 2009

ImageThe ongoing conflict over mining in Ecuador escalated this week as blockades shut down highways throughout the country’s Southern Andean highlands and Amazon rainforest, while nationwide protests have been called for January 20.

The government of President Rafael Correa has assumed an aggressive posture, insulting indigenous and environmental activists and pledging to secure approval for a controversial new Mining Law. Canadian companies hold the majority of mining concessions in Ecuador and are pressing for a new law that would allow for large-scale, open pit metal mining.

ImageA number of leaders have been arrested and other protesters were beaten and shot at by police. Campesino and indigenous protesters, who depend on clean water to farm and for drinking water, are demanding that the government shelve President Rafael Correa’s proposed Mining Law, saying that it would be a social and environmental disaster. The rural blockades follow months of regular protests in Quito and other parts of the country

Protesters also argue that the law contradicts important provisions of the new constitution protecting water, the environment and indigenous peoples’ rights. The document drew international attention for awarding legal rights to nature. The new constitution, approved by popular referendum in September, is the centerpiece of Correa’s first term.

After emergency meetings on January 7, the Confederation of Indigenous Nationalities of Ecuador (CONAIE) called for a national mobilization on January 20, calling the government “dictatorial.” It is unclear whether the January 20 mobilization will spread road blockades to other provinces in central and northern Ecuador. Protesters are demanding a dialogue with central government leaders and for a broad national discussion on mining before any legislation is passed.

Some protesters in the Southern provinces of Zamora Chinchipe and Morona Santiago suspended their blockades for 24 hours in response to the provincial governor’s promise to reach out to Francisco Cordero, the President of the Congresillo, Ecuador’s interim legislature. Other blockades were suspended in anticipation of the nationwide actions.

The blockades began on Monday January 5 in the Southern province of Azuay, cutting off much of the traffic into and out of Cuenca, Ecuador’s third largest city. Over the next few days, the protests spread to the neighboring Andean province of Loja and to the Amazonian provinces of Zamora Chinchipe and Morona Santiago.

ImageIn Giron, Molleturo, Tarqui (Azuay), Limon Indanza (Morona Santiago) and in El Pangui (Zamora Chinchipe) protestors have been beaten or shot by police. Police officials and journalists were released after being briefly detained by campesinos.

On January 6, campesino leader Vicente Zhunio Samaniego was arrested in the Southern province of Morona Santiago, showing up 16 hours later in a hospital with bullet wounds to the head. On January 7, protest leader Miguel Ángel Criollo and his son Orlando were arrested in an early morning raid on the village of Pueblo Nuevo in Azuay province. The newspaper El Universo reports that over fifty police officers from the Special Operations Group (GOE) took part in the raid. When villagers tried to defend the Criollos from arrest, police fired tear gas, forcing the evacuation of a local school.

In the city of Cuenca, police violently repressed protests at the Court of Justice. As six leaders began a hunger strike inside the building, the police attacked a press conference taking place outside the building, arresting Water Board leader Carlos Pérez Guartambel. Police used tear gas to disperse protesters attempting to defend Pérez. Police then forced hunger strikers and four women supporting them out of the Court building, dragging them by their necks. The governor of Azuay denied that Pérez was arrested, and he was freed later that day. The six hunger strikers are now in Cuenca’s San Roque Church.

According to the newspaper El Comercio, Minister of Mines and Petroleum Derlis Palacios said that the government would push forward with the Mining Law. Palacios said that Ecuador “was a poor country that could not afford to just sit on these large resources.” He added that protests were the result of manipulation by indigenous leaders who mislead community members by claiming that mining would harm their access to clean water. Palacios said that the new law would ensure that water sources are protected. Congresillo President Cordero told El Comercio that protesters were using the demonstrations to advance electoral ambitions.

The CONAIE condemned the government’s description of protesters as “criminals and subversive terrorists,” saying that “the only thing we are fighting for is life and dignity for all of Ecuador’s citizens.” The CONAIE that such comments are aimed “to stigmatize [protesters] and prepare public opinion for even more severe repression.”

Correa is coming into increasing conflict with social and indigenous movement activists. On Thursday January 8, the United Labor Front (FUT), Ecuador’s largest labor federation, announced mass protests for a higher minimum wage increase for January 15. They say that Correa’s proposed increase of $18 a month, to $218, is a step back and fails to meet provisions in the new constitution ensuring that all Ecuadorians are paid a living wage.

Ximena Warnaars is an anthropologist and PhD student from the University of Manchester, UK living in Cuenca, Ecuador. Daniel Denvir is a Quito, Ecuador based journalist in the process of moving to Philadelphia, and a 2008 recipient of NACLA's Samuel Chavkin Investigative Journalism Grant. He is an editor at www.caterwaulquarterly.com.


© 2009 Upside Down World

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Monday, January 12, 2009

Ecuadorian Government Debates Law Favoring Canadian Mining Companies over Constitutional Rights of Nature and Indigenous Tribes

Indigenous anti -mining protests hit Ecuador

By Daniel Denvir, Today correspondent

On Dec. 21, more than a thousand indigenous and campesino activists marched to the Ecuadorian National Assembly in opposition to President Rafael Correa’s proposed mining law. In the Southern Province of Azuay, campesinos blocked a number of highways, resisting police efforts to dislodge them. Protesters said that large-scale mining would damage Ecuador’s environment and pollute rural communities’ water.

The Mining Law, currently under debate in the provisional National Assembly, or Congresillo, would replace the Mining Mandate passed in May of this year. The Mandate froze mining operations and revoked a number of concessions to foreign corporations. The law would create a National Mining Company and increase state control over foreign corporations, which are largely Canadian. But the law would also allow mining to take place anywhere, including in protected areas and sharply limit community input.

In Quito, buses arrived from throughout the country to protest the mining law. Marching to the National Assembly, protesters clashed with police, who used pepper spray to push back activists intent on meeting with legislators. A small delegation was allowed to enter in the afternoon. The protests were organized by the Confederation of Indigenous Nationalities of Ecuador (CONAIE) and the Coordinator for the Unity of the Left and for Life, a new organization dedicated to regrouping social movements to confront Correa.

The march is possibly a prelude to a nation-wide uprising. While the protest was not large by Ecuadorian standards, representatives from many communities were present. Earlier this month, more than 30 organizations gathered in the Amazonian city of Coca and agreed to oppose Correa’s business friendly policies. Former Correa spokesperson and Assembly Member Monica Chuji said, “Today is a first step in a broader process of unifying social movements. Today we don’t have quantity, but we have unity.” Chuji, an Amazonian Kichwa, broke with Correa’s Alianza País Party in September, accusing the president of opposing indigenous rights.

Correa insists that responsible mining is necessary for Ecuador’s development. In November, Correa accused the indigenous movement of “losing their compass and playing into the hands of sectors that they have historically criticized, such as the Right, which the current administration is combating.” Correa has threatened to send the Mining Law to a national referendum if the indigenous movement alters it or blocks its approval, accusing the CONAIE of being anti-democratic.

But Dr. Byron Real López, an expert in environmental law, wrote in a recent report that the Mandate “is concerned with solving important issues. ... such as the corruption surrounding the indiscriminate granting of concessions. But the proposed law ignores the ecological and social conflicts that mining activity causes. ... and thus would tend to aggravate them.” López argues that the proposed law would violate a number of provisions in the new constitution, such as those protecting the rights of nature and indigenous communities.

Juan Francisco, a young Kichwa, traveled from the Southern province of Cañar. “We will never let them into our territory, which provides our water. Responsible mining is a miserable lie that the government wants to sell to us.” Juan Francisco said that the government should instead support sustainable and organic farming.

“We oppose the Mining Law because we love nature. Mining will kill us, it will poison the water with chemicals. We all drink this water and we all will die. Water doesn’t belong to anyone. It belongs to us all.”

Despite Correa’s dismissive comments, it appears that the government is taking the movement seriously. Two days after the protests Ecuador’s interim legislature, the Congresillo, announced that they were considering extending discussion on the law by seven days – potentially pushing back a vote until Jan. 12. On Dec. 26, Congresillo President Francisco Cordero began a series of meetings with social movement leaders opposed to the project. The stated objective is to incorporate critics’ perspectives before the proposal undergoes a second debate, the last step before a vote.

But the CONAIE demands that the law be shelved so that a national debate on mining can take place. And protesters were adamant in their opposition to large-scale mining.

Carmen, a Saraguro Kichwa woman from the Southern province of Loja, said, “We oppose the Mining Law because we love nature. Mining will kill us, it will poison the water with chemicals. We all drink this water and we all will die. Water doesn’t belong to anyone. It belongs to us all.”

Campesino Jorge Marin traveled hours by bus from the Southern Amazonian province of Morona Santiago. “We’re here to stop the Mining Law, a law that will make it impossible for us to be owners of our land. We are here to defend nature and let the Congress know that we depend on the Amazon for life.”

Leaders of the CONAIE were scheduled to meet in a special assembly the first week of January to discuss a possible national uprising.

Salvador Quishpe, a Kichwa leader from the Southern Amazonian province of Zamora Chinchipe, told the crowd that mass mobilization would be necessary to stop the Mining Law. “If we have to celebrate Christmas in the streets to stop this law, we will!” Quishpe said that while it was impossible to bring thousands of people from Zamora Chinchipe to Quito, 1,500 delegates met in his province earlier this month and declared their support for nation-wide mass mobilizations.

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Columbian Tribes Employ Principles of Nonviolence in Midst of FARC Insurgency

Colombia Indians face down violence

Rebels, drug traffickers and soldiers may battle around them and encroach on their lands, but tribes hold on to their peaceful ways to resolve conflicts.
By Chris Kraul
January 11, 2009

Reporting from Jambalo, Colombia -- After word spread across this Indian reservation that seven people had been kidnapped by leftist rebels, the community's unarmed "indigenous guard" sprang into action.

Within minutes, hundreds of men, women and children were out on roads and pathways searching for the hostages, communicating by radio, cellphone and shouts. Many held lanterns that, as the search continued after nightfall, made the rescue party seem an eerily glowing centipede snaking up and down hillsides.

Soon, the guards had found the hostages. The rebels were holding them in a school, which was quickly surrounded by hundreds of Indians, who, lanterns held high, kept a silent vigil. A guerrilla leader threatened violence and fired his weapon into the air, but no one budged.

After a brief standoff, the unarmed Indians secured the hostages' release.

The incident in November was a dramatic example of how many of Colombia's 92 indigenous communities use a common front and an almost Gandhian stance of nonviolence to coexist with, and sometimes prevail over, the rebels, drug traffickers, paramilitary fighters and government soldiers who for decades have battled one another in the country.

"We forbid violence. All we have is the power to convene," Rodrigo Dagua, leader of the Jambalo tribe, said as he held the so-called staff of command, a ceremonial rod that confers authority on its holder. "It's what keeps us alive."

The peaceful approach doesn't always work for Colombia's indigenous people, who number about 1.4 million, or 3% of the population.

For the last decade, the Wayuu tribe in northeastern Colombia has suffered killings and extortion at the hands of paramilitary bands who covet the Caribbean coastline bordering their reservation. Indians in Putumayo state's Sibundoy Valley have been chased off their ancestral lands to make way for coca plantations.

In October, an Indian marcher here in Cauca state in Colombia's southwest was shot and killed by police as he took part in a protest against the government's failure to deliver 45,000 acres to local tribes as promised in a 1991 land reform plan. Cauca's 18 indigenous communities had declared a minga, or collective movement, and had shut down the Panamerican Highway.

Tensions in Cauca rose last month after soldiers killed Edwin Legarda, the husband of minga leader Aida Quilcue of the neighboring Totoro reservation. The military said the shooting at a checkpoint a few miles north of here was an accident. The Indians and some human rights groups contend that it was a criminal attack and an effort to silence Quilcue.

But nonviolence remains the watchword for how the indigenous deal with the outside world, as shown by the foiled kidnapping by the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC, in November.

The kidnapping victims included four consultants from the state capital, Popayan, who had driven up to this isolated town in Colombia's central mountain range to assist Jambalo leaders with administrative and bookkeeping matters.

The consultants were returning to Popayan with three locals when half a dozen guerrillas stopped their van and took them all hostage. The kidnappers and their captives began marching east up a rugged mountainside toward an area where FARC leaders are known to hide out.

One of the victims managed to make a cellphone call to Jambalo leaders, who ordered out the indigenous guards, a 360-member phalanx of mostly young leaders whose job is to spread the alarm at times of crisis and to organize a community response.

Guard leader Fermin Jembuel said the kidnappings violated a tacit decades-long agreement with the FARC that the rebels leave Jambalo alone in exchange for the community's neutrality in the FARC's quarrel with the government.

"We have 36 villages on the reservation, and all were activated under our emergency plan," Jembuel said. "Checkpoints were set up on every road and path."

After the hostages were released, the guerrillas were allowed to flee. All except for one: a member of the Jambalo community who was a FARC collaborator. In a subsequent trial, he was banished from the reservation for 15 years as punishment, said Dagua, the tribe's leader.

"The level of organization and commitment that the communities have, and how much they resist all external threats to their land, is a clear example of strength," said Mario Murillo, a Hofstra University professor who is writing a book on Colombia's indigenous communities.

"But it also points up the challenges they face, surrounded as they are by forces that pose a severe threat."

It was hardly the first time the Jambalo tribe has had to look down the rifle barrels of armed groups encroaching on its domain. Several years ago, tribe members destroyed five "kitchens" set up by drug traffickers on their land to process cocaine. More recently, they repeatedly have escorted army patrols off their 1,500-acre reservation.

"The army offers to come and deal with the FARC and the traffickers, but we don't want them involved," Dagua said, adding that the presence of armed groups would only ignite a cycle of violence. "We'll take care of our problems our way."



Copyright 2009 Los Angeles Times

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