In opposition to encroachment into their homelands from the oil and mining industries, 100 Shuar, Quechua, Sápara, and Huaorani women have delivered a manifesto to Ecuadorian President Rafael Correa. They walked for five days, covered over 257 kilometers (160 miles), and crossed a mountain range to get to Quito on Wednesday, from Puyo in the Ecuadorian Amazon.
The protest movement explicitly challenges the Ecuadorian government’s policies that “plunder the Amazon territories.” Its leaders add that the operations have disregarded an International Labour Organization Convention law known as ILO-convention 169 — which was ratified by Ecuador and requires consultations with natives before implementing legislation affecting their homelands.
The women oppose mining operations permitted by the government, which they say are threatening the forests, water, and land where they live. According to the manifesto, the activities are also placing stress on their culture and communities, including weakening their social structure and food supplies.
In addition to their list of complaints, the women propose a series of solutions, to resolve the issue and compensate for the hardship caused by mining operations. Among the proposals in the manifesto, the women ask that their region be declared a zone free of petroleum extraction, a sacred territory, and an official heritage and biodiversity area. They also want the annulment of previous judgments against protesting indigenous leaders and a policy promoting the adoption of alternative energy solutions.
The women are asking for a full investigation, with international oversight, into the operations of oil, mining, and logging companies in the region. They have demanded that an ongoing inquiry with Ecuador’s “Ministry of Hydrocarbons” be suspended and replaced with a full democratic process, ensuring that indigenous people in the region are fully involved in future decisions.
This would not be the first time Ecuador prohibited natural resource exploration and operations in the country. In 2007, the government of Ecuador reached a significant agreement to prevent the development of nearly 900 million barrels of oil, in what has become the Yasuni National Park, 241 kilometers (150 miles) east of Puyo. However, in August, President Rafael Correa signed an executive decree that unilaterally ended the initiative. This action also liquidated a trust fund set up to collect donations to support the preservation. In the original agreement, Ecuador was promised over US$3.5 billion over the course of 13 years, in exchange for preservation of the park, through a partnership with international organizations including the European Union.
Correa blamed a lack of international support to fund the park, and went on the offensive politically by suggesting that “mercantilist” newspapers in Ecuador had suddenly become conservationists. Brazenly, he even proposed to eliminate their print versions to avoid “such indiscriminate felling of trees . . . then we’ll see who is who.”
Biodiversity in the Amazon forest is some of the richest in the world, and there is an expectation that there will be a push by locals and conservationists to hold a referendum to counter Correa’s move. The initiative requires a petition to garner the support of 5 percent of the country’s 10 million voters.
This article was originally published at The PanAm Post.