Ecuador: ecology group shut down by government

Ecuador’s government ordered closed the environmentalist Fundaci贸n Pachamama Dec. 4, with the Interior Ministry saying it was “affecting the public peace.” The Environment Ministry issued its own statement accusing of the organization of “interference in public policy.” Plainclothes police were sent to seal off the group’s offices in the morning. The action stemmed from the previous week’s protests at the XI Round for selling oil leases in the Ecuadroan Amazon. President Rafael Correa accused Pachamama and another group, Yasunidos, of attacking the Chilean ambassador, Juan Pablo Lira. Pachamama denies the allegations, saying its members were not even present at the protest in front of the Hydrocarbons Ministry. Fundaci贸n Pachamama plans to appeal the government’s decision.  

“The real reason the government has targeted Fundaci贸n Pachamama is because of the effectiveness of their work,” said Bill Twist of the Pachamama Alliance, the group’s sibling organization based in San Francisco.  “This is an attempt to keep them from doing their work, and chill their rights to free speech and assembly.” 

Yasunidos is a group that is collecting signatures to demand a referendum on development of the Ishpingo-Tambococha-Tiputini oil bloc, located within Yasuni National Park. State company Petroamazonas is set to begin developing the ITT bloc in 2014, and is seeking private partners for production in the zone.

In June, the Correa administration issued a Executive Decree 16, instating new stringent procedures for NGOs to obtain legal status. Human Rights Watch, protesting the closure of Fundaci贸n Pachamama, said the group was the “first victim” of the decree, which it charged “contravenes the rights of free expression and association.”   

In a statement, Fundaci贸n Pachamama accused the Correa government of violating its own constitution: “We have the right to dissent the decision of the authorities, the process that has been implemented and alternatively propose that the oil remain underground to preserve one of the greatest riches of our country, its cultural and biological diversity. The current Constitution obliges the government to find a new development model that respects our country’s Pluri-nationality, Human Rights, Rights of Nature and ‘Sumak Kawsay’ or ‘Living Forest.’… We believe it is illegitimate to implement processes affecting indigenous territories and not include the presidents of indigenous nationalities and peoples…”

The statement also said the group “extends solidarity” to the Development Council of the Nationalities and Peoples of Ecuador (CODENPE), officially empowered to consult on issues affecting indigenous peoples. (Rebeli贸n, Dec. 7; EFE via Ecuavisa, Dec. 6; Pachamama Alliance press releases via Sacramento Bee, Dec. 5, UDW, Dec. 4; WSJ, Dec. 4)

Ecuador’s 2008 constitution includes provisions for consultation with indigenous peoples on development issues, but the Correa government has been repeatedly accused of violating these measures. The constitutional principle of Sumak Kawsay, usually rendered Vivir Bien or Good Living, is a phrase adopted from Ecuador’s indigenous movement.