Anti-mining activist killed and Ecuadorean partners harassed on eve of Lima meetings
I have been in Quito, Ecuador meeting with KAIROS partners Acción Ecológica and the Latin American Council of Churches (CLAI) before heading to Lima, Peru for the Peoples’ summit and the 20th UN Conference on climate change, known as COP20.
Today, I visited the offices of Acción Ecológica. I was anticipating a celebratory mood as the team prepares for the gatherings in Lima, but instead I found a strong, collective feeling of concern and grief over two disturbing and tragic events.
The caravan with members of the movement defending Ecuador’s Yasuni national park against the destructive oil extraction (Yasunidos) was heading to Lima from Quito (about a 4 day journey) in a very visible, colourfully painted bus when it was detained several times by police in Ecuador. The Yasunidos is a movement of mainly young people, students and artists who are committed to protecting the Yasuni and keeping the oil in the ground. They are on their way to Lima to present the Yasuni’s case at a Tribunal on the Rights of Nature on Friday Dec 5.
Being young and savvy in social media, the group disseminated information about their harassment and detention. Esperanza Morales, part of the Acción Ecológica team, explained that the caravan had been detained several times, that the Yasunidos had been harassed, and that their documents and cell phones were confiscated. At about 4am, when the bus was detained for a 5th time and they were forced off course and into a small town, the delegation, still determined to get to Lima, decided to complete the journey on local buses and left two representatives with their beloved bus. Esperanza said the government is trying to prevent the caravan from getting to Lima. “These youth, students and artists are the new political prisoners here,” she added. She shared photos of the students being detained, kneeling with their hands on the bus, and of members of the police and military occupying the bus. Acción Ecológica asked me to share this information widely to protect the caravan. The Yasunidos were shaken and delayed, but thankfully no one was hurt. However, these events demonstrate the lengths to which the government is willing to go to prevent those voices from being heard in Lima, as well as the sheer determination of the students.
The Acción Ecológica team was also reeling from news received that morning of the killing of Shuar leader, Jose Isidro Tebdetza. Jose Isidro was president of a community in the Cordillera del Condor, in southeast Ecuador, that is impacted by the Mirador Copper mine. The mine was owned by a Canadian company, Corriente Resources, until 2010 when it was bought by a Chinese-owned enterprise. Jose Isidro was a visible and outspoken critic of the mine, which generated a lot of tension and conflict in the community. Gloria Chicaiza, coordinator of Acción Ecológica’s mining work, shared the horrific details of Jose Isidro’s death. He had disappeared last Friday on his way to a community meeting. That morning, family members identified his body from photos. His hands were tied and there were signs of torture. Acción Ecológica was working on a bulletin and urgent action and I will circulate this information when it becomes available.
What was meant to be a celebratory launch for Acción Ecológica’s delegation to the Peoples’ Summit and COP20 in Lima had become an emergency meeting as they struggled to respond to these terrible events, which are further evidence of the repression and threats facing the ecological justice movement and Indigenous leaders in Ecuador.
Tomorrow I leave for Lima. I will be joining a delegation of 30 women from Ecuador and 11 from the rest of Latin America who will focus on the gendered impacts of resource extraction and climate change. KAIROS has supported this work through our partnership with Acción Ecológica, and I feel privileged to be able to accompany the delegation. On Friday, I will be participating in the Tribunal on the Rights of Nature in which the case of the Yasuni will be presented. I hope the Yasunidos will arrive safe and sound and on time to share their testimonies.