On March 22, World Water Day, the “March for Water, Life and Dignity,” more than 1,000 strong, reached Ecuador’s capital after a two-week, 700-kilometer cross-country trek to oppose plans for large-scale mining projects on indigenous lands. Carrying the rainbow-colored indigenous flag, marchers were joined by thousands of supporters in Quito. Some demonstrators clashed with police outside the National Assembly building. Police repelled rock-throwing youth with tear gas, and at one point charged the demonstrators on horseback.
The march began in the Amazon rainforest province of Zamora Chinchipe, lead by the national indigenous alliance CONAIE. Humberto Cholango, CONAIE’s president, called on Ecuador’s President Rafael Correa to “humbly accept the message of this mobilization,” but protested that “everything the president has said during these 15 days is false.”
“The indigenous movement once supported Correa, but his policies have gone too far, and are threating our rights instead of protecting them,” said Cholango. “Against all odds, we made it to Quito, and we want our voice and our demands to be heard, respected, and implemented.” The organizers sent a late-night delegation to meet with the leaders of Ecuador’s National Assembly, with a 19-point list of demands—including no large-scale mining, no expansion of the “oil frontier” in the eastern rainforest, and no hydro-electric “mega-projects.”
Thousands of Correa’s supporters gathered in parks and plazas for a counter-demonstration. The president addressed a crowd of supporters at a park, saying the government is willing to talk with indigenous leaders despite the disagreements: “We’ve told them: They want to talk, perfect, but with the good-intentioned, good people. For that, they don’t need marches. We’re always open to dialogue.” (El Tiempo, Cuenca, Amazon Watch, March 23; AP, March 22)
Leaders of the march did meet with Ecuador’s attorney general Galo Chiriboga, urging him to drop charges against indigenous protesters and not to “criminalize” the movement. Chiriboga received Cholango and Delfín Tenesaca, president of the Amazonian indigenous alliance ECUARUNARI, as well as Salvador Quishpe, prefect of Zamora Chinchipe, who told the press that there is no terrorism in the country, “but when we ask for changes they accuse of terrorism.” (El Universo, Guayaquil, March 23)
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