|Ecuador: Indigenous Radio Station Spared Closure|
|Written by Jennifer Moore|
|Friday, 29 January 2010 10:09|
On Tuesday, Ecuador's National Telecommunications Commission retracted a December decision to shut down an indigenous radio station. The commission, known as CONATEL, had previously determined that the “The Voice of Arutam” was responsible for inciting indigenous protesters to violence during a strike in September 2009 that cost the life of an indigenous bilingual teacher, Bosco Wisum.
One indigenous politician called the earlier decision “a Christmas present to Canadian mining companies” operating in the southern Amazonian region. Companies hoping to open up the area to gold and copper mining, such as Vancouver-based Corriente Resources, were the focal point of local protests in September. Corriente recently announced its sale for $653 million USD to a Chinese joint venture between the Tongling Nonferrous Metals Group Holdings Co. Ltd. and the China Railway Construction Corporation.
“The Voice of Arutam” is a Shuar indigenous radio station believed to be the only broadcaster critically informing listeners about the possible impacts of projected oil and mining extraction in the southern Amazon. Its bilingual programming in the Shuar language and Spanish has also provided important services to remote indigenous communities for decades. Arutam is the name of the Shuar spiritual guide.
CONATEL modified its position in response to criticisms issued last week by a joint government and indigenous committee that is investigating circumstances leading up to the death of Wisum. The joint committee's public declaration concluded that based upon the available evidence “it is not possible to determine whether or not the editorial line of the radio station has promoted violence.”
The reversal will likely diffuse immediate tensions between the government and the national indigenous movement led by the Confederation of Indigenous Nationalities of Ecuador (CONAIE), which had threatened mobilizations should the broadcaster be closed down. Differences over extractive industry expansion have contributed to friction between the administration of President Rafael Correa and the indigenous movement for the last two years.
CONATEL reports that it is now turning over the evidence to the National General Attorney to consider whether or not Shuar leaders such as Pepe Acacho, President of the Interprovincial Shuar Federation (FICSH) and legal representative of the radio station “The Voice of Arutam,” might personally bear any responsibility for violence which occurred in September.
Lawyer Julio Sarango, who has been defending the radio station, called CONATEL's decision “sensible,” but expressed concern that Shuar leaders might now face political persecution.