Ecuador: Indians mobilize against oil exploration project

“The forest is our life Stop oil!” : Waorani Indians mobilize in Ecuador against a government project to open their territory, located in the Amazon rainforest (east), to oil exploitation.

With makeup and multicolored feathers, representatives of 16 Waorani communities arrived Thursday in Puyo, the capital of the province of Pastaza (east), on the edge of the Amazon. They have traveled the streets singing in their own language to defend some 180,000 hectares of their territory in the north of this province, AFP reporters said.

Since Thursday, the local justice examines a constitutional appeal filed by these communities to suspend a government tender for an oil project in the area.

The Waorani, who also live in two other Amazonian provinces and whose population is estimated at 3,000 people, left their villages to “demand” that the state respects their territories, told AFP Nemonte Nenquimo, the President of the Council of coordination of the Waorani nation.

The Waorani Indians are mobilizing in Ecuador against a government project to open their territory, located in the Amazon rainforest, to oil exploitation, on April 11, 2019. (AFP - Rodrigo BUENDIA)

The Waorani Indians are mobilizing in Ecuador against a government project to open their territory, located in the Amazon rainforest, to oil exploitation, on April 11, 2019. (AFP – Rodrigo BUENDIA)

“Some came from far away, they walked eight hours, others did three days of canoeing,” she added, pointing out that in the forest the Waorani Indians “live free, healthy and happy” .

The current Constitution, in force since 2008, confers rights on Indians such as “the preservation of the imprescriptible property of their community lands, which are inalienable, unseizable and indivisible” and “the possession of ancestral lands and territories and their free allocation “.

The government of former Social Democrat President Rodrigo Borja (1988-1992) has granted title deeds over a million hectares to indigenous communities, but the wealth of the basements remains the property of the State.

Under the Constitution, any plans to exploit non-renewable resources on Indian lands that may have environmental or cultural consequences must be subject to prior consultation with the communities.

In 2012, the state was successful after a consultation Waorani of the province of Pastaza on the possibility of opening their territory for extraction.

But the Waorani believe they have been “deceived”. “The state (in) 2012 violated our rights to a free, prior and informed consultation (…) The government is trying to sell our territory,” said Oswando Nenquimo, a Waorani spokesman.

The Waorani people comprise two clans and live voluntarily isolated in the Amazon rainforest. Despite their rivalries, the two clans demand that measures be taken to suspend the launch of the call for tenders before the organization of a new consultation.

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