Ecuador: Police Attack Indigenous Protesters

  Indigenous Blockades Escalate After Police Violently Attack Protest in the Ecuadorian Amazon

One Confirmed Dead and Dozens Injured in Unprovoked Attack on Demonstrations About Proposed New "Water and Land Rights Laws"

Amazon Watch

Macas, Ecuador (October 1, 2009) – At 4:30 pm Wednesday, the Ecuadorian Police staged a violent raid on indigenous protesters blockading the bridge linking Upano between the provinces of Morona Santiago and Pastaza. According to local communities, law enforcement backed by a helicopter, opened fire on demonstrators armed only with ceremonial spears. The attack has left at least one confirmed dead, a teacher and member of the Shuar nation, and some 49 civilians and police injured.

Tito Puenchir, President of the Confederation of Indigenous Nationalities of the Ecuadorian Amazon (CONFENIAE) said in a statement on Wednesday: "Today, President Correa declared a civil war against nationalities from the Ecuadorian Amazon. Therefore we demand that the OAS and the UN urgently intervene before the Government of Ecuador, to monitor and observe the blatant violations of the rights of indigenous peoples, that is our rights in accordance with all treaties and conventions signed by our country as ILO Convention 169 and the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples."

CONFENIAE is the Amazonian arm of the Confederation of Indigenous Nationalities of Ecuador (CONAIE), which is made up of three regional groupings including CONFENAIE, the Amazon indigenous federation. Initially, CONAIE’s called for national marches was part of a nation-wide protest against a new water law. Several thousand indigenous people had begun protests midnight on Sunday opposing the proposed water law.

Privatization of water sources, prioritization of water access for industry loose regulations for water contamination, and lack of community participation in water management where the foremost concerns of neglect in the water law. The groups are also calling for the repeal of the country’s mining law, and for an end to oil and mining activities in the region. Ecuador’s powerful teacher’s union, (UNE), also joined the strike to protest education ‘reforms’ proposed by the government.

The Correa Government earlier this week postponed all debate on the water law pending the anticipated protests. Faced with continued protests, the order was given for police to "use force in order to clear the entrance and exit routes from the city" according to interior Minister Gustavo Jalkh.

CONAIE had called for a temporary halt to protests in many areas, yet CONFENIAE chose to continue its protests in the Amazon region due to the unaddressed and unique circumstances around the water law in the Amazonia region.

CONFENAIE is demanding that Correa travel to the region and meet directly with local leaders and communities’ representatives. Correa has rejected the invitation, offering to engage in dialogue at the Presidential Palace in Quito, the nation’s capital.

Mitch Anderson of Amazon Watch who is currently in Ecuador said: "One year after Ecuador recognized the rights of nature in its new constitution, one of the most celebrated environmental safeguards in history, President Correa is returning to business as usual."

Kevin Koenig, Amazon Watch’s Ecuador-based coordinator observed: "Correa’s ‘revoluciĆ³n cuidadana’, or peoples’ revolution campaign, recognizes citizens’ rights to protest and resist, which is exactly what indigenous communities were doing. Sending 500 police to violently disperse demonstrators was not only a blatant violation of human rights but also goes against the spirit and the letter of the constitution Correa fought so hard for."

Given the potential for the escalation of conflict, Amazon Watch issued a statement appealing "to Ecuadorian President Correa and government security forces to show complete restraint in the use of force against its own civilian population who may be exercising their democratic rights to peaceful protest and dissent."

Amazon Watch called for tolerance and peaceful dialogue instead of use of force to end the current conflict as well as a full independent investigation into yesterday’s violent incident.

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