Ecuador: ‘uncontacted’ Amazon group kills two

Reprisals are feared in a sensitive part of Ecuador’s Amazon rainforest following an attack by “uncontacted” tribesmen in which two members of the Waorani indigenous people were killed March 5. According to a preliminary investigation by the Orellana province public prosecutor’s office, the victims were speared to death while walking near their village of Yarentaro, located along the Maxus Oil Road—within both Yasuní National Park, and the Bloc 16 oil exploration division, being developed by Repsol. The victims were identified as a Waorani elder and his wife. A statement by the Organization of the Waorani Nationality of Orellana (ONWO) said the attackers were from an isolated band of the Tageiri-Taromenane, which has long had territorial disputes with the closely related Waorani. The Taromenane are said to be a branch of the Waorani who spurned contact with evangelical missionaries in the 1950s by retreating deeper into the forest, and now roam the interior Yasuní as nomads.

ONWO’s statement indicates the victims had previously had encounters with the elusive Taromenane, who reportedly conveyed their growing alarm over an influx of outsiders and extractive activity in the zone. While ostensibly committed to protecting isolated or “uncontacted” peoples within the park, Ecuador is also allowing oil exploration to continue within its boundaries. The government of President Rafael Correa has offered to halt oil exploration in the eastern sector of the park in exchange for $3.6 billion in compensation from the international community, but the deal awaits approval.

ONWO called on the government to immediately implement “precautionary measures” to protect the Taromenane and Tagaeri, and vigorously opposes any efforts to make “forced contact” with the groups, as some authorities advocate. Waorani leaders are meanwhile seeking to dissuade relatives of the victims from launching a reprisal raid. ONWO and the allied Waorani Nationality of Ecuador (NAWE) say that oil exploration and illegal logging in the zone place mounting pressure on the isolated groups. (Naitonal Georgraphic News Watch, March 11; Land Is Life, March 6)

Ironically, oil-rich Qatar is among the top donors to have pledged funds for the Yasuní-ITT Initiative—named for the park and the Ishpingo, Tambococha and Tiputini oil fields that lie within its borders. The plan’s backers plug Yasuní as “the biologically richest place on Earth,” and the Initiative as a “post-fossil fuel model of development” that builds on the sustainability principles of the Millennium Development Goals set out by the United Nations. The Initiative aims to keep reserves of 846 million barrels of oil indefinitely underground, and avoid the emission of 1.2 billion metric tons of carbon dioxide. Ecuador partnered with the UN Development Programme (UNDP) to establish the Yasuni-ITT Trust Fund in August 2010, with the objective of reaching the $3.6 billion target by 2024.

Until then, oil operations continue within the park. Daniel Ortega Pacheco, an adviser on environment and sustainable development to the foreign ministry, insists Ecuador is “doing its best to conserve biodiversity despite pressures from the population for measures to reduce poverty and meet other developmental demands.” He also asserts that President Correa’s government has already reduced deforetsation within Ecuador by 10%, and aims to acheive a 30% reduction. (Gulf Times, Qatar, March 16)