A bold action by indigenous peoples in Ecuador is providing a stark contrast to the situation of Native Americans over the Dakota Access Pipeline.
The Kichwa de Sarayaku indigenous group has detained 11 government soldiers who were traveling through their territory in northeast Ecuador. The soldiers were going by canoe along the Bobonaza River, were not on duty and had not asked permission to enter the territory, according to the Kichwa.
“For security reasons we have been obligated to isolate them to consult them about their purpose and where they were headed. Sarayaku guarantees their Human Rights,” a Kichwa statement read. Pictures of the soldiers sitting on benches inside a camp were also posted.
The detainment comes as tensions flare once again over government-enabled corporate exploitation of native lands.
A Chinese mining site was attacked by another indigenous group, the Shuar, who say the mine encroaches on their territory. This prompted the government of Rafael Correa to declare a state of emergency, which the Kichwa say “threatens the existence, peace and liberty of indigenous peoples.”
In August, indigenous protesters briefly detained 27 soldiers and demanded the release of dozens of demonstrators who had been arrested. The protests reflect growing anger among indigenous Ecuadorians who say the government won’t allow them more control over land and water resources.
The protesters have every reason to be concerned.
The Kichwa de Sarayuka endured a 17-year struggle to defend their land from attempts by corporations and the Ecuadorian government to drill for oil. Since 1960, oil activity has had notoriously damaging effects on the environment and resources of indigenous peoples in Ecuador.
The Kichwa fended off several illegal moves and bribery attempts by an Argentinean oil company, as well as attacks on camps by government forces using tear gas.
The Inter American Commission on Human Rights (CIDH) found that Ecuador had violated its duty to consult with the Kichwa before signing contracts for mineral extraction.
“From May 2003 to early 2006, the CIDH tried to implement court injunctions and urge expanded measures including removal of explosives, facilities and machinery from the Sarayaku community.
The Ecuadorian government failed to comply.”
Instead, the government raided a Kichwa community and arrested five members they claimed were terrorists. This, despite that fact that the entire resistance had always been peaceful. In 2009, Ecuador allowed the oil company to resume operations on indigenous land.
Resistance only grew, and with the help of social media gained the attention it needed.
“On 25 July 2012, the Court found that the Ecuadorian State failed to consult with the Sarayaku community prior to signing a contract with CGC, in accordance to international regulations. Further, the government was found responsible for human rights violations and failure to protect the people of Sarayaku whose lives were at risk during CGC operations.
The Sarayaku community’s campaign against CGC and the State of Ecuador is considered a milestone: a victory for the human rights movements for indigenous people of Ecuador, after 17 years.
If some elements of this story sound familiar, they should.
The Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL) in North Dakota is being built to enrich oil investors, with the unflinching support of armed government agents from multiple states. The “contract” or permit was given to Energy Transfer Partners in violation of long-held treaties with the Standing Rock Sioux.
Sacred sites and burial grounds have already been destroyed by the oil company, and the pipeline is planned to be installed under Lake Oahe, threatening the water source of the Standing Rock Sioux.
Militarized cops have used tear gas, water cannons, rubber bullets, LRADs and other riot gear to crack down on the massive protests that have taken place to resist DAPL. Protesters have set up camps, as the Kichwa did in Ecuador, for a more permanent presence.
But in the corporate oligarchy of the U.S., even the enormity of the protests are not enough to stop fossil fuel interests from getting their way. As we reported on Dec. 6, DAPL is not even necessary for transporting oil from the Bakken fields, as 60% of existing transportation infrastructure is underutilized and production is steadily declining.
DAPL is just a high-risk investment by oil barons, and the rights of Native Americans – as well as the rights of other landowners who’ve had their land taken for the project through eminent domain – mean nothing to the corporatocracy.
States and local government are eager to begin receiving their millions in taxes once the oil begins flowing. After all, they have to be paid back for the millions they are shelling out to act as militarized protection services for the company behind DAPL.