Ecuador: Amazon indigenous leaders attacked

From FPcN InterCultural, Sept. 6:

Gloria Ushigua and Rosa Gualinga, two indigenous leaders, were attacked on Sunday August 26, after months of receiving death threats for their efforts to protect the territory of the Zapara people in the Ecuadorian Amazon. They were beaten until unconscious, thrown in the trunk of a car, and later, apparently, left for dead.

Both women are internationally known human rights defenders. Gloria Ushigua is a leader of the Zapara people. Rosa Gualinga is of the Andoas people and works closely with the Zapara. The Zapara are an indigenous people in danger of becoming extinct, with a current population in Peru and Ecuador of approximately 650. Gloria is an elected representative of Nacionalidad Zapara de la Amazonia Ecuatoriana (NAZAE), the official representative organization of the Zapara people in Ecuador, which works to promote and protect the lives and lands of the Zapara people. Zapara territory is rich with natural resources, like oil, timber and botanical medicines, and there are varied interests who are trying to exploit them.

In recent years, a group of people who are not Zapara have made several attempts to illegally seize from NAZAE the official right to represent the Zapara people and take control of Zapara land. Several people in this group have been threatening Gloria and Rosa for over a year. In recent months, after NAZAE won a legal victory over the group, these threats have intensified.

On Sunday, August 26th, a woman named Eliza Nango approached Gloria in the street in downtown Puyo. She said that her mother was Zapara and that she had an organization that worked with indigenous communities. She invited Gloria and Rosa to her house to discuss her work and the possibilities of collaboration.

At about 9pm, they were sitting in the patio area outside of Ms. Nango’s house when a man entered the patio, kicked Rosa and sprayed Gloria and Rosa in the face with a large quantity of what appears to have been tear gas. Three other men entered, and the four of them viciously beat Gloria and Rosa with fists, feet and clubs. Gloria was hit on the head with a rock. Witnesses say that the four men threw the two unconscious women into the trunk of a car and sped off.

Gloria and Rosa were found in the middle of the night, still unconscious, in the middle of the road. Gloria’s son got them home, where they regained consciousness at around 4am on Monday. Although they have been to the military hospital in Puyo several times, they have still not been given a proper medical examination. Gloria’s arm is broken and she has a high fever. They are both in need of medical treatment and a complete examination so that they can know the full extent of their injuries.

Gloria and Rosa identify the first man who attacked them as Nelson Santander Viteri. A witness recognized another of their attackers, a police officer named Juan Carlos Freire. Gloria and Rosa went to the police station in Puyo to file criminal complaints against these men but have been largely ignored.

A reliable and credible witness has told Land is Life that Nelson Santander Viteri told him that the reason for the attack was to kill Gloria. Other indigenous women in Puyo have also come forward to tell Land is Life that they have been beaten by Nelson Santander Viteri in the past. We believe that the two women’s lives are in danger.

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See our last post on the struggle in Ecuador.