Photo: Amazon Watch
Written by Leo Cerda
Last Wednesday Amazon Watch received a very disturbing call: the headquarters of CONFENIAE, the regional organization of eleven indigenous peoples which represents nearly 1,500 communities in the Ecuadorian Amazon, was being taken by storm. The men, women and children staying at the headquarters while participating in collaborative work projects were fast asleep at 5 am when approximately 200 police and riot cops, armed with loaded guns and accompanied by dogs, stormed the headquarters and demanded an evacuation of the premises.
CONFENIAE has long been a partner of Amazon Watch, and it was crucial to show our solidarity and offer support. Extensive mobilizing by CONFENIAE’s local, national and international supporters succeeded in putting sufficient pressure on the police to retreat. But though CONFENIAE won this round, they have no illusions that the fight is over because attacks against the organization have happened before and are expected to happen again.
So why did the police storm CONFENIAE headquarters? According to CONFENIAE, it all comes down to oil. Since Rafael Correa assumed the presidency in 2007, the state has consolidated control over the natural resources, community forest management and intercultural bilingual education that have been managed by indigenous communities.
Case in point: In recent years, the Ecuadorian government has put up for auction at least 29 new oil blocks, covering about 4.9 million hectares and overlapping 76 per cent of the territories of seven indigenous nationalities (Achuar, Andoa, Kichwa, Sapara, Shiwiar, Shuar and Waorani), 100% of the territories of the Achuar, Andoa, Shiwiar and Sapara, and 97% of Kichwa territory. These blocks also affect the territory and mobility of two communities living in voluntary Isolation, the Tagaeri and Taromenane.
The majority of the communities and nations that are part of CONFENIAE are against Correa’s oil development plans in the south-central Ecuadorian Amazon. In response, the Correa administration has instituted a major crackdown on political dissent, free speech, and the right to protest. Indigenous leaders opposing government projects and policies have been targeted and charged for terrorism and sabotage, among other charges, for taking part in protests demanding respect for indigenous rights. Not only that, but the Ecuadorian government has been trying to divide and conquer these indigenous nations so as to continue with plans to expand the oil frontier.
The attempted siege of CONFENIAE headquarters, then, appears to be the latest attempt to divide and undermine the organization. Apparently, the siege was meant to force an unscheduled general assembly of CONFENIAE and secure the election of a government-allied indigenous man, whom CONFENIAE has long denounced as corrupt and has previously been expelled by the organization and his base. The Ecuadorian Government has used the same tactic to divide the Achuar, Shiwiar and Sapara Nations through instigating violence, corruption and sabotage.
Though CONFENIAE succeeded in preventing such an outcome, they know the fight is far from over. Afterwards they claimed themselves in a state of emergency and high alert, and called on all member organizations to send representatives to the headquarters to lend a hand, and well as allies to continue to lend support. For international allies, they have specifically requested support for legal defense, improve communications capacity, and support for direct, non-violent pacific resistance; you can learn more about CONFENIAE and provide direct support at their new website.
As we know, the fight of the indigenous people is the fight for the survival of our planet, and that we need to support indigenous based initiatives to keep fossil fuel in the ground. From the North, with the Standing Rock Sioux’s fight against the Dakota Access Pipeline, to the peoples of the Ecuadorian Amazon in the South working to keep indigenous territories free from new oil concessions, these last few weeks have demonstrated to the world the immense resilience and courage of indigenous movements around the world.
This article originally appeared on Amazon Watch.