PUYO, ECUADOR – More than 200 indigenous Waorani people and their supporters marched to the court in the Amazon city of Puyo on Thursday to begin their high-stakes hearing against the Ecuadorian government.
After long protesting oil extraction in its territory, the community are suing three government bodies – the Ministry of Energy and Non-renewable Natural Resources, the Secretary of Hydrocarbons and the Ministry of Environment – for violating their rights and putting their territory up for an international oil auction.
Indigenous protesters carried spears and came in their traditional dress. For the Waorani, this includes clothes made from special palm leaves found in the rainforest, as well as face and arm paint, normally reserved for special occasions and battles.
“I feel a lot of courage today, courage to reclaim our right to our territory. Our territory is not for sale, it’s our decision and [the government] has to respect us,” said Nemonte Nenquimo, one of the Waorani plaintiffs and representative of the Coordinating Council of the Waorani Nationality Ecuador Pastaza (CONCONAWEP).
At the heart of the Waorani lawsuit, filed together with the Ecuadorian Ombudsman, is a consultation process undertaken by the Ministry of Hydrocarbons in 2012, which the community is calling fraudulent. According to both national and international law, governments are required to undergo a free, prior and informed consent process with communities before beginning any extraction projects near their territory to warn them of the negative repercussions and seek their consent.
But the Waorani community say the consultation process undertaken in 2012 was only a series of presentations by the government about how oil money would benefit their community, but said nothing about the negative environmental effects of extraction projects. Following the consultation, the government proceeded to the divide the Amazon into blocks, and put these up for an international oil auction. This includes the Waorani territory, which overlaps with block 22.
Last year, the government significantly reduced this oil auction from 16 blocks to two, removing Waorani territory, but has said the region is not exempt from future drilling plans.