QUITO, ECUADOR – Indigenous leaders and activists gathered in Quito, Ecuador, last Thursday, March 9, to denounce the Ecuadorian government for its complicity in allowing international mining companies to take over indigenous territory.
The biggest topic on everyone’s minds was the current conflict in Ecuador’s southern Amazon region. In recent months the indigenous Shuar community there has come head to head with Ecuador’s armed forces over a new large-scale Chinese-funded mining project.
“We are being persecuted by the military and the police who are invading the territories of the Shuar communities,” Elvia Dagua, a local indigenous woman who is a member of the Confederation of Indigenous Nationalities of the Ecuadorian Amazon (CONFENIAE), told the media Thursday. “They have destroyed homes. So the Shuar people, women, men, and children have had to flee.”
The Chinese company Explorcobres S.A. (EXSA) installed a camp in the southern province of Morona Santiago in August, preparing to begin construction of a large open-pit copper mine known as the San Carlos-Panantza Project. Hundreds of police officers entered the region of Santiago de Panantza and evicted a small Shuar community called Nankints, saying the property now belonged to EXSA.
Several other Shuar communities have since been affected in the same area of the Cordillera del Cóndor mountains, including San Juan Bosco and San Carlos de Limón. At least 35 families have been evicted from the area, according to Mario Melo, the lawyer who represents them, speaking at Thursday’s press conference. Locals contend that nearly 100 families have been evicted or forced to flee their homes.
In December the conflict reached a peak when the Shuar attempted to take over the mining camp, resulting in a violent standoff with the military and police. As a result, one police officer was killed under unclear circumstances. The national government then imposed a 30-day state of exception across the entire province and reportedly mobilized up to 1,000 military and police to the region.
According to Melo, this increased militarization violates the Shuar’s human rights as it has altered their lives and caused them to live in fear.
The events have created a “state of panic in the region,” said Tuntiak Katan, a Shuar leader and a member of the Coordinator of the Indigenous Organizations of the Amazon Basin (COICA).