Ecuador: armed attack on Amazon indigenous community

On April 29, a group of indigenous Kichwa men from the community of Sarayaku in the Ecuadoran Amazon were attacked with dynamite and firearms by invaders illegally encroaching on indigenous lands. The assailants fired at point-blank range as the Kichwa men were drinking chicha on a jungle trail, and three Kichwa were injured. One, Silvio Malaver, who received the impact of the dynamite, shows signs of brain damage. The three had to be carried through the jungle for 14 hours to the airstrip in Sarayaku, and were then taken to hospital in the town of Puyo by medevac plane.

Supporters in the California-based Amazon Watch and the French Paroles de Nature say the reasons behind the attack have to do with the position of Sarayaku to not allow a group of outsiders to occupy a portion of land, within the territory legally allotted to the indigenous community. Settlers have been seeking to form a "pseudo-community" that they call Kutukachi, in order to negotiate with the oil company AGIP. The portion of the Sarayaku territory that these settlers are seeking to occupy is within Bloc 10, a concession held by AGIP. This intention was clearly demonstrated on April 22, when, in a meeting with the communities within Bloc 10, the Ministry of Non-renewable Resources and the Secretary of Peoples mentioned the request from the "Community of Kutukachi" to be included in AGIP's Community Relations Plan.

The leader of the invaders is identified as Sergio Gualinga, who was born in Sarayaku but left over 25 years ago, and since has lived in the town of Shell as well as spending several years in the US. After returning to Ecuador, he worked during several years for the oil company CGC as a community liaison officer. Sarayaku leaders have requested that Pastaza province authorities deploy police to evict the invaders.

Other oil blocs in the area are also at issue. José Gualinga, a Kichwa representative named by Amnesty International in 2008 as an emblematic human rights defender, warned Paroles de Nature in March that the government had repeatedly announced plans to "enter Blocs 23 and 24." Some 30 Kichwa held a protest in March outside the offices of the Natural Non-Renewable Resources Ministry and the state oil company Petroecuador in Quito to express their rejection of oil drilling on their lands.

But Petroecuador said in a statement that "neither the central government nor Petroecuador had absolutely anything to do with [the conflict], since the oil blocks in question are blocks that were given in concession many years ago to [Argentina's] CGC and [US-based] Burlington Resources." (Amazon Watch, May 2; LAHT, May 1)

See our last posts on Ecuador and the struggle for the Amazon.

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