Ecuadorean Tribe Will ‘Die Fighting’ to Defend Rainforest

Kichwa villagers from Sani Isla vow to resist oil prospecting by state-backed company Petroamazonas at all costs

Source: The Guardian

In what looks set to be one of the most one-sided struggles in the history of Amazon forest conservation, an indigenous community of about 400 villagers is preparing to resist the Ecuadorean army and one of the biggest oil companies in South America.

The Kichwa tribe on Sani Isla, who were using blowpipes two generations ago, said they are ready to fight to the death to protect their territory, which covers 70,000 hectares of pristine rainforest.

Petroamazonas – the state-backed oil company – have told them it will begin prospecting on 15 January, backed by public security forces.

Community members are launching a last-ditch legal battle to stop the state-run firm assisted by a British businesswoman, who is married to the village shaman, and who was recently appointed to run the local eco lodge.

Mari Muench, who is originally from London, said the community decided at two meetings late last year to reject a financial offer from the oil firm because they were concerned about the long-term environmental impact of mining.

They recently learned, however, that the chief of the village has signed a contract giving the go-ahead for the oil exploration, even though they say he was not authorised to do so.

Earlier offers of a new school, university places for village children and better healthcare were dropped in the document, which provides compensation of only $40 (£24) per hectare, according to copies that the Guardian has seen.

The community secretary, Klider Gualinga, said more than 80% of the village is opposed to the oil deal, but a minority are pushing it through against their wishes and local rules.

“People think it is dishonest and the oil company is treating them like dogs. It does not respect the land or the planet. There is no deal, nothing is agreed. The people do not want the oil company. They’re very upset and worried,” Gualinga said.