QUITO, ECUADOR – Indigenous communities in Ecuador celebrated this week after President Lenin Moreno announced Monday that the government would come down harder on oil and mining companies that don’t comply with the country’s social and environmental laws.
New mining concessions are now stalled until the companies can prove they’ve complied with all regulations under the constitution. This includes article 57, which states that indigenous groups have the right to free and prior consultation before extractive projects take place near their land.
This was just one of the agreements President Moreno reached with the Confederation of Indigenous Nationalities of Ecuador (CONAIE), the country’s largest indigenous organization.
Indigenous groups like CONAIE and the Confederation of Indigenous Nationalities of the Ecuadorian Amazon (CONFENIAE) seemed content with this new agreement, even though both groups had previously firmly demanded that oil and minerals stay in the ground and that extraction activities in the Amazon stop immediately.
Moreno’s announcement came after his government started receiving more pressure from indigenous groups, demanding it respond to concerns they raised over five months ago.
One of these pressures came in the form of a massive protest on Monday. Over 3,000 indigenous people from across the country gathered in front of the presidential palace in Quito, and banged drums, chanted and shouted anti-government slogans for almost six hours. Most of those present were indigenous nations from the Amazon rainforest, but people came in from all over the country, and included the Shuar, Achuar, Huaorani, Quichua, and Zapara nationalities, among others.
Many carried large hunting spears, wore face paint and dressed in traditional clothing, proudly displaying all elements of their indigenous culture in the capital city. One man from the Amazon even walked around with a live boa constructor around his neck.
The diverse group of protesters had various demands for the government, ranging from protecting the Amazon, land reforms, water rights, education, health care and amnesty for rights defenders.
“I’m fighting for the students. The other government closed the schools in the communities and made these millennials schools… but we want schools in the communities,” said one Achuar protester who identified herself only as Luisa. “And Yasuni,” added Luisa, referring to one of the most biodiverse regions in the Amazon rainforest, and a hot spot for oil.
“Keep the oil in the ground,” she added.
Throughout the day, the president gradually invited specific indigenous leaders into the presidential palace, otherwise known as the Carondelet, to speak directly with him and various ministers about their concerns.
While protesters continued to make noise outside, the leaders took on a meeting that lasted almost four hours. What resulted was a deal to temporarily stop new mining concessions, but the government also promised to build programs for bilingual education, support land restitution for certain select communities, and said there was a potential for state support for rural transportation.
It’s unclear what, if anything, was decided for other major concerns that the indigenous communities brought with them, such as amnesty and pardons for rights defenders and tackling political corruption.
In a tweet late Monday night, CONAIE President Jamie Vargas thanked the “bases of the (indigenous) nationalities and people of Ecuador for the great day of national mobilization that allowed us to reach several agreements.”