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Indigenous Activists Shut Down Parts of Ecuador Over Land And Water Rights

Indigenous activists and allies have been marching, shutting down highways and staging protests throughout Ecuador for the last three weeks.
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Indigenous activists and allies have been on the march, shutting down highways and staging protests throughout Ecuador for the last three weeks in an effort to stop land and water policies that they assert takes power away from indigenous communities and gives it to large agri-businesses; and they oppose contracts that have benefited extractive industries like mining and oil to the detriment of Indigenous Peoples.

Some of the protests have involved conflicts with police and military and as of August 25, over 100 people have been injured, both protesters and police, with more than 25 people arrested according to various sources. Both sides have accused the other of initiating the violence.

The activists have called on President Rafael Correa to drop the Water and Land Laws being discussed in the National Assembly and to release the 25 activists arrested in August. President Correa has refused to accede to the demands and has charged that his enemies in the Ecuadorean right wing are bankrolling the protests. Meanwhile, Indigenous leaders have denied any connection to the right wing and have used the word ‘betrayal’ when describing their feelings about a president that received a majority of the indigenous vote.

Carlos Perez, President of the indigenous political party Ecuanurari, stated that “after eight years the so-called Citizen Revolution had betrayed its original plans and had delivered the telephone companies to international corporations but had not realized a redistribution of access to water and land.”

Other leaders spoke out against the government at protests and through various media.

“During more than eight and a half years the government has not responded to our historic demands as indigenous people,” said Jorge Herrera, President of the Confederation of Indigenous Nationalities of Ecuador, known as CONAIE, the largest of the indigenous organizations.

“We recognize the infrastructure works that have been done and that are the most visible,” Herrera stated, “but the building of a Plurinational State goes far beyond the building of a road.”

Starting on August 2, the three largest indigenous organizations in the country – led by CONAIE and assisted by the Confederation of Indigenous Nationalities of the Ecuadorean Amazon, known as CONFENAI and Ecuarunari – staged marches and protests in different provinces before arriving at Quito.

The indigenous leaders chose to start the protest in the township of Zamora Chichipe, site of the large-scale Mirador mining project operated by the Chinese-owned Ecuacorrientes. Indigenous leaders have denounced the project and clashes with police have occurred in the last year.

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Along the way to Quito, on August 12 activists shut down the Panamerican Southern highway, a major thoroughfare, with rocks, tree trunks and branches, between the towns of Cotopaxi and Pichincha. On August 13 police and military started firing tear gas into the crowds that included women and children.

One of the headlines in Ecuador on the 13th dealt with the arrest and detention of Carlos Perez, President of Ecuarunari and his paramour Brazlian reporter Manuela Picq who were participating in the protests in Quito. After the arrest Picq asserted that she was beaten by police and, later that same day, she confirmed that her visa had been canceled and she was taken to the Migration department. (Picq has been living in Ecuador for eight years and was a professor in an Ecuadorean university)

On that same day protesters were blocking roads and demonstrating in cities such as Guayaquil and blocking roads leading into the major urban areas. There were also large blockades along major roads in Loja province among others.

Once in Quito the marchers called for a National Stoppage on August 17 and since then there continues to be confrontations between protesters and police and military.

By August 24, United Nations Special Rapporteur on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples Victoria Tauli-Corpuz urged both the Indigenous leaders and the Ecuadorean government to re-establish calm in the country and to investigate the allegations and issues relating to Indigenous rights.

"It is necessary to re-establish calm in Ecuador,” Tauli-Corpuz said. “I am calling on all involved parties to create an institutional space for dialogue in which the demands coming from the national stoppage can be analyzed in a constructive way and in good faith.”

She exhorted both sides that a just and impartial investigation must be made regarding all of the violent acts denounced by both sides and including charges of excessive force made against police and military. Tauli-Corpuz also said that the government should take the necessary measures to sanction those responsible and to make reparations to the victims.

She also expressed great concern over reports of severe violence against indigenous women protesters, many of whom brought their charges directly to the United Nations offices in Ecuador.

As of press time, no announcements had been made regarding negotiations between the Indigenous protestors and the government.