TSUNTSUIM, ECUADOR – Months after they were evicted from their homes to make way for a mine, almost half the population of an Ecuadorian village is suffering from psychological damage, experts have said.
Psychiatrists found 42% of the indigenous Shuar people of Tsuntsuim village suffering from mental health problems and trauma. Many of the villagers had been involved in violent confrontations with Ecuador’s military as they were removed from their homes.
The mental ordeal has manifested itself in depression, severe headaches, insomnia, tremors and tachycardia (a racing heart rate). Trauma caused by the displacement and anxiety about what would happen to them next were the main triggers for these symptoms, said the authors of the report, which was released by a group of doctors, psychiatrists and indigenous rights activists.
Children were particularly traumatised by the noise of the helicopters and drones that had circled overhead during the eviction, according to medical researchers.
Residents said the soldiers destroyed crops and set animals loose. “They were left without any kind of economic or food options and were pushed into forced migration,” said Fernanda Solíz, one of the report’s authors and a doctor with the Movement for the Health of the Peoples of Latin America. “This is a process of impoverishment and a loss of subsistence and sovereignty.”
Tsuntsuim is one of the latest communities affected by Ecuador’s mining industry, which is being promoted as necessary for growth in the developing nation. According to Ecuadorian law, everything in the ground belongs to the state. The money earned from extracting its bounty – be it minerals or petroleum – funds public services.
But researchers say the opposite is true. “This development model impacts communities,” said Erika Arteaga, a doctor with the Latin American Association of Social Medicine (Alames), a co-author of the report. “The mine displaces people, and the impact is direct. It’s this industry that makes children lack nutrition.”