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Are indigenous communities being exterminated?
Luis Ángel Saavedra*
9/14/2006
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Murders of isolated indigenous community members go unpunished.

On May 26, 2003, 26 members of the Taromenani indigenous group were killed in Cuchiyacu, on the border of the lush jungle provinces of Pastaza and Orellana. Nine indigenous Waorani entered the area, located in the Yasuni National Park, and after locating the Taromenani settlement, killing men, women and children. Their huts were torched, and the head of one of the victims was cut off as a trophy. The crime went unpunished.

Isolated indigenous communities in the Ecuadorian Amazon seem to be suffering from attempts to exterminate them while authorities ignore clashes between illegal logging companies or oil companies, and rarely, if at all, visit the sites of the crimes.

The presence of illegal logging companies in the isolated Yasuni National Park presents a constant threat to the lives of the Taromenani and Tagaeri indigenous communities that live.

According to the perpetrators of the 2003 crime, the act was revenge for the 1993 murder of Carlos Ima, a Waorani whose family protected the loggers, by a group of Taromenani. But it was evident that the massacre’s objective was to clear patches of land, all populated by the Taromenani and Tagaeri, for logging in the area.

"The massacre was organized by a group of Waorani, (who are) completely assimilated in Western society, which profits from the illegal exploitation of lumber in the zone occupied by the Tagaeri and Taromenani. There are also suspicions that illegal logging groups pay for these massacres," said Fernando Ponce Villacís, of the Observatorio para los Pueblos Ocultos, a watch group of isolated indigenous communities.

An annoyance for oil companies

According to Capuchin Missioner Miguel Ángel Cabodevilla, the Taromenani and Tagaeri move around the central Amazon provinces of Orellana and Pastaza, where there are three oil fields. The presence of these communities has "disturbed these companies and created clashes," the missioner said.

Cabodevilla says that, besides the 2003 massacre, there has been increased violence in the region. A logger was killed in 2005 in violent clashes, and another clash in 2006 injured one logger.

"There are constant clashes along the Cononaco Chico River," Cabodevilla said. "This has been Tagaeri land since 1963, when the group decided to split from the Waorani, which had begun their initial contact with the Western civilization.

Last April 13, a new clash erupted between loggers and the local indigenous communities. Loggers claim that they were ambushed by the Taromenani, and though shots were fired, there were no victims. After the clash, five armed Waorani, led by Manuel Kahuilla, leader of the Waorani families that trade with the loggers, broke in and robbed a Taromenani home.

The perpetrators at first told the press that 30 Taromenani were killed, but they later said that the house was empty.

Army and judicial authorities say that they "lack proof" necessary to bring about charges because there are no bodies in the local morgue to prove that there had been a murder, but the prosecutor’s final report concluded that there had not even been a clash.

"The official position is indignant, because it states that, as there is no evidence, the reported event didn’t happen. That creates high risk conditions for the survival of these peoples because of the lack of public policies for timely and relevant protection. Everything would have been done to cover up the events, once again, with a veil of impunity and silence," said Ivonne Ramos, president of the nongovernmental organization Ecological Action.

But Ponce Villacís succeeded in having the Inter-American Court on Human Rights (IACHR) on May 10 award protective measures to avoid similar events in these communities.

International concern

The IACHR asked the Ecuadorian government to take the steps necessary to protect the land where these indigenous groups live, including measures to impede the entry of third parties.

Until this moment, the only government response to the IACHR’s recommendations has been the installation of two military checkpoints in Via Auca, which leads to a Waorani-controlled area south of El Coca, but the illegal loggers continue to transport their products on that same road.

"The government is stubborn, it insists on believing that these isolated communities, which don’t want contact with civilization, don’t exist; but they exist and they are increasingly present with their last defensive resources. The last Taromenani will die defending himself," said Cabodevilla, who has spent the last 16 years denouncing the extermination of isolated indigenous communities in Ecuador.


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