Ecuador: Indigenous resistance is the new ‘terrorism’

Source: Al Jazeera

In Ecuador, protesting for the rights of the Earth and trying to preserve natural resources may make you a “terrorist”.

If you thought there was anything romantic about environmental activism or indigenous rights, think twice.  Socialist ideas about nature – such as keeping water a public good – can get you facing charges of sabotage by a leftist government. In the land of the Incas, if you protect the pachamama [“Mother World”], you might just be a “terrorist”.

It’s becoming tricky to identify “terrorists”, at least in Ecuador. They are not members of criminal organisations, they don’t spread fear or target civilians, nor have a politically motivated agenda. According to President Correa, “terrorists” are those opposing Ecuador’s development. So today’s “terrorism” might just look like indigenous peoples peacefully taking over the streets, with their ancestral knowledge and values, to demand environmental and social rights.

In Ecuador, “terrorists” are indigenous peoples from the Amazon and the Andean highlands fighting to preserve access to water in their communities. Old penal codes written in times of dictatorship are being revived by leftist presidents to repress indigenous activists. As “terrorists”, they are labelled as enemies of the state, and arrested – by the very president that claimed leftist credentials and staged his inauguration in overtly ethnic style.

When the Continental Summit of Indigenous Peoples and Nationalities of Abya Yala gathered delegations from the entire hemisphere in Ecuador last month, the focus was on the criminalisation of environmental protest.

Abya Yala, which means “continent of life” in the language of the Panamanian Kuna peoples, refers to the Americas. The summit has consolidated ethnic organising capacity across borders since it first organised in 1990, maintaining a diversity of indigenous voices from Canada and the US all the way to Honduras, Guatemala, Argentina and Chile.  

This fifth meeting was symbolically held in Cuenca, where the last Inca died of smallpox – brought from Europe – years before the Spaniards themselves made it to the Andes. This year’s topic was water – yakumama in Quechua, and the earth – pachamama, echoing the growing environmental pressures on rural communities.

But the week’s true highlight was the establishment of an independent, transnational Ethics Tribunal.

Modelled on a “truth commission”, the Ethics Tribunal was designed as a public court to bring visibility to injustices and foster government accountability towards international human and indigenous rights. It was specifically established to address cases of criminalisation of indigenous protest for environmental justice.

On June 22, a four-judge tribunal heard multiple expert reports – as well as 17 personal testimonies – taking more than four hours on the issue.  

According to Ecuador’s Confederation of Indigenous Nationalities, there are currently 189 cases of people accused of sabotage and terrorism by the Ecuadorian government, for protesting the privatisation of natural resources. The situation is so critical that Amnesty International issued a statement denouncing it as an attempt to silence opposition to government policies.

Cases vary in context, but not in substance. In Cochapata, community members were condemned to eight years in jail on charges of terrorism for opposing mining – the government has so far ignored the amnesty granted by the constitutional assembly. A radio station in the Amazon province of Morona Santiago, Radio Canela, was shut down in April for fueling opposition.

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