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OSCAR LEÓN, TRNN PRODUCER: In Ecuador, social and political conflict continues amid a governmental and private push to exploit mining resources, pressured by the need of a high national income to finance Correa’s Citizens’ Revolution, which is supported by a majority of Ecuadorians.
On Friday November 7, 2013, Fredi Taish, a Shuar tribesman, husband, and father of two, was killed, reportedly by the Ecuadorian army, which was raiding the zone looking for small mining operators. According to Taish’s father, he and his family where caught in a crossfire. The army was firing against a group of alleged illegal miners. He claims they were not from the area. There where also nine soldiers injured.
On Saturday, spokespersons from the Shuar tribe made a public announcement:
“We have been accused of being illegal miners. We must make it clear to the country that here the Shuar are not mining small or large; we Shuar are historical owners of the territory, and we have occupied it in comprehensive and respectful manner throughout our history.
“In this regard, it is important to clarify that there has been a commitment by the national government with the Shuar Arutam village.
“And now we are being hunted, while our territory is illegally transferred to Canadian and Chinese companies.”
LEÓN: Bosco Santiak, chairman of Shuar Tribe’s council of government, criticized the military intervention, saying, “it will not go unpunished”. He also called for an immediate suspension of all mining concessions in the zone.
The Shuar are an indigenous tribe living both in Ecuador and Peru. They are members of the Jivaroan peoples, who are Amazonian tribes living at the headwaters of the Marañón River. And while the illegal miners are allegedly not part of the tribe, the conflict caused by mining interest between Ecuador governments and indigenous people is not new.
Rafael Correa is a leader like very few in Ecuador’s history. An economist, he came to power riding a wave of social change. Three previous presidents have fallen from popular coups. He has been in power for almost seven years now.
However despite early pledges to indigenous and ecologist groups, which were an essential part of the popular process of creating Ecuadors’ new constitution, President Correa has now turned to mining and oil extraction as one of the main engines for the economy.
RAFAEL CORREA, PRESIDENT OF ECUADOR (SUBTITLED TRANSL.): Thank you, and welcome, fellows. Rest easy that we are working for us all, for the common good of our country, both from the government and Alianza Pais, the political movement I represent. I can speak for them. We have said yes to mining, yes to that environmentally responsible mining, the one that uses top-notch technology to take care of the environment.
LEÓN: This defense of large-scale mining projects is more understandable knowing that in 2012 Ecuador had signed its biggest mining contract ever.
ARGENTINEAN NEWS CLIP (SUBTITLED TRANSL.): Correa signs record mining contract. Ecuador’s government signed the largest open-ceiling mining contract of the country’s history. Under the agreement with Ecuacorriente, a Chinese venture, Ecuador will cash in more than $5.4 billion.
LEÓN: Interviewed by Carlos Rodriguez Luzuriaga, writing for Punto Por Punto Radio, Jaime Carrera, a fiscal policy monitor, declared: “Two years after reducing its debt, the country has gotten back to the same level of indebtedness than 2008. The difference is that now China is the main moneylender”. Furthermore, according to América Economía, quoting official reports, “Ecuador owes the Asian powerhouse $4.5 billion; however there are also cash advances for oil sales”. Quoting Fausto Ortiz, former finance minister, “just recently we got $1.2 billion for oil pre-sale on an operation which is not reported as debt, but one that can collect interest nevertheless.”
In many parts of the country, opposition to such projects arose, mainly from local indigenous groups, which are organized on larger nationwide confederations, with protest and marches. Conflict soon erupted in many parts of the country.
CORREA: Please, fellow indigenous, change your leaders. They are destroying your organization and they are useless. Please change your leaders so we can work to resolve your real problems, which are not the ones that American-funded NGOs will make you believe.
LEÓN: The conflict to dispute the mining and water law went as far as to sentence an indigenous congressman, Pepe Acacho, to 12 years of prison under terrorism and sabotage charges, holding him and another indigenous leader responsible for the death of a protester when the indigenous groups found themselves in a clash with the police.
On July 17, 2012, Amnesty International reported that “Ecuador’s judicial system is being used by the authorities to clamp down on indigenous and campesino leaders in what appears to be a deliberate attempt to prevent them from protesting against projects that will affect their environment and lands”.
On 2012, President Correa accused the indigenous of being politically manipulated, aiming to harm the Citizens’ Revolution. Soon after that, the mining and water law were passed and the president was victorious, not only by passing these laws, but also by being reelected on February 2013.
Ecuador faces now the reality of having to comply with the compromises with its new creditor China, even under social pressure.
CORREA (COCHABAMBA, BOLIVIA, OCTOBER&NBSP;3, 2013): The dangers to our process not only comes from the outside, but also from the inside, from people that speak our own language. All of our brothers from indigenous movements must be very attentive to that–is very easy to buy the anti-extractive speech. Everybody is an ecologist now, but only to try to harm the progressive governments.
The dangers come from groups that call themselves “left” and organizations allegedly representing civil society, asking for the impossible, which only helps the right, like, for example, demanding from our government to not use our natural resources, despite the fact that we still have a lot of our population in misery and without basic services.
LEÓN: We spoke with Carlos Perez, president of Ecuarunari, an indigenous organization. He has been three times to jail under Correa’s government defending the water in the south of the country:
CARLOS PEREZ, PRESIDENT OF ECUARUNARI (SUBTITLED TRANSL.): Ecuador’s government has a double standard. It says that it protects nature and human rights, but does exactly the opposite. On 2008, when the document was approved, it was said the Constitution was “an ode to life, made to last for 300 years”, that rights to nature were granted, and it was said Ecuador’s was “the greenest constitution of the world”. Collective rights were granted. Our state is also supposed to integrate many nationalities and cultures. Many rights our communities have historically lacked were granted to us, and among those is the right to be consulted before any extractive project.
But enter the extractives projects, a cruel tentacle of capitalism, and now our government is a cheerleader and defender of transnational corporations.
Our (2008) constitution has become this government’s main obstacle. That is why he is talking about reforming it. That is why we the communities are willing to keep resisting.
CORREA: I ask for the citizens and indigenous people to trust his president. I could care less about the transnational corporations. I am with our people, with the small and artisanal miners. But we need to be smart. Let’s use the transnational corporations, not even like partners, but as servants, like Cuba does. You should know that at the moment, Cuba’s main export is nickel, which is obtained from open-ceiling mines, the most destructive ones, by working in alliance with Canadian corporations. But obviously the Cuban people is benefited.
PEREZ: We don’t want richness, technology, oil, cars, pavement, stop lights, or plastic; we want pure air and fresh water, we want our mountains and jungles to hold mega-biodiversity, we want to live in peace; we don’t want to die out of cancer or one of those weird diseases.
LEÓN: On part two of this special report, we will review the case of San Jose de Intag, an area that for 20 years have resisted attempts by transnational corporations to establish open-ceiling mines in the area, but that now faces an unexpected and formidable opponent, Rafael Correa’s progressive government.
Reporting for The Real News this is Oscar León.