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Amazon indigenous groups unite
Luis Ángel Saavedra*
7/19/2009
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Native group launches civil disobedience campaign against Correa’s policies.

President Rafael Correa´s push to increase oil production and new regional boundaries that could cut through native lands has brought together a once fragmented Amazon indigenous group.

The Confederation of Indigenous Nationalities from the Ecuadorian Amazon, or Confeniae, a grouping of 10 Amazonian peoples, has suffered greatly over the past decade, as government after government has tried to fragment the organization, to weaken opposition of indigenous communities, which live in strategic areas that are home to key energy sources, particularly oil, the main fuel of Ecuador’s economy.

In late May, the organization met in the jungle city of Puyo, where 400 delegates participated. The meeting took two years of intense talks with member organizations, after years of deep discord among members.

Three high-ranking members of Amazon indigenous groups were present in the government of ousted ex-President Lucio Gutiérrez who governed from 2003 to 2005.

Antonio Vargas, Gutiérrez´s social welfare minister, and former lawmaker Héctor Villamil, both members of the Kichwa people, and Cofan leader José Quenamá, who also briefly served as an official in the social welfare ministry and had been kicked out of the indigenous movement, had adopted Gutiérrez´s policies toward extractive industries, making a break from the indigenous leaders difficult for community members.

These leaders had lost the trust of the community members, because they served to create a rupture in the indigenous base, a goal of the government.

Indigenous leaders had first supported Gutiérrez, but later held massive protests that led to his 2005 ouster.

“They apparently don´t have power anymore because people have realized of the trickery,” said Paco Chuji, president of Fonakise, the federation representing the Kichwa people of the eastern jungle state of Sucumbios.

Defending land
Following a decade of divisions, the Amazon federation has agreed to make the protection and recuperation of their ancestral lands that are in the heads of oil companies or settlers a priority.

The Confeniae, which maintains ties to the larger Confederation of Indigenous Nationalities of Ecuador, or Conaie, argues that these lands were lost under dishonest agreements or other negotiations that left corporations failing to fulfill their commitments to the communities.

Members are planning a civil disobedience campaign about Correa´s push to auction off new oil blocks in the Napo, Orellana and Sucumbios provinces, including in Yasuni National Park, Ecuador’s largest nature reserve, all areas where indigenous lands are protected by law.

“We´ve already seen the contamination in the Orellana communities, and in our own,” said Jorge Calapucha, president of the Pastaza Indigenous Peoples´ Organization. “We don´t want that on the rest of our lands.”

“We are declaring civil disobedience” for any future decisions by Correa to issue a “state of exception,” in which key rights are curbed, to open up lands “for oil, mining, water and forestry exploitation on our ancestral lands,” said the umbrella federation in a statement.

States of exception, which can suspend the right to assembly, free transit and other rights, has been a reoccurring issue in various governments in Ecuador.

No new regions
The Amazon indigenous organization also decided to take a stand against Correa´s plan to divide Ecuador into seven regions, instead of current four — of coast, highlands, eastern jungle and the Galapagos Islands, which run from north to south.

The new regions, based on horizontal lines running from west to east, would combine some highland and Amazonian lands, and according to indigenous leaders, fragment indigenous communities.

“We´ve spend many years trying to make Confeniae what it was in the 1990s, when the first great demonstration happened,” said Chuji. “When it seemed as if we were going to be able to unite again, the government´s decisions against tries to break us up.”

The National Planning and Development Secretariat, which is overseeing the plan, lacks indigenous community representation, but said indigenous communities will not be divided, but did not go into more details.

Correa´s government, as part of its line to centralize development programs, has begun to eliminate government agencies that ran programs for vulnerable sectors, such as indigenous groups, women, children and others, and spreading them out among several ministries.

The National Bilingual Education Office was absorbed by the Education Ministry in February, for example.

The federation is urging Correa´s government to revoke decrees that eliminated offices such as the Development Council for Peoples and Nationalities of Ecuador, the National Inter-Cultural Health Office and the Indigenous Peoples´ Development Fund, saying that it contradicts a 1992 law that establishes the right of indigenous peoples to designate their own authorities in state agencies related to indigenous development.

Tito Puenchir, the federation´s new president, also warned that the dissolving of the Regional Amazonian Eco-Development Institute, which financed cultural and production projects proposed by the Amazon indigenous communities, would “put us at the will of the oil companies to survive.”

The federation said Correa´s “government of citizens´ repression” started a “genocide and invasion on our ancestral lands.”

Even Correa counts on the diminished political power of indigenous groups in Ecuador, which have shown a growing discontent with his policies, the strengthening of the federation is proving otherwise.
—Latinamerica Press.


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After a decade of division, Amazon indigenous groups have reunited. (Photo: CONAIE)
Latinamerica Press / Noticias Aliadas
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