Ecuador: Waorani warriors on trial in oil-field raid

Indigenous leaders in Ecuador are calling for the release of Waorani (Huaroani) tribesmen arrested in a raid on a jungle oil-field that left six soldiers injured. In the Jan. 6 raid, tribesmen armed with spears, bows and arrows, blowguns and firearms seized a facility run by Petrobell, a subsidiary of Brazil-based Synergy Group, in Arajuno canton, Pastaza province. The action shut down production at the field, which normally produces 3,200 barrels a day. Six Waorani were arrested in the raid, and denied bail. The Defense Ministry said the detentions were necessary to stop "looting" and disruption of oil production. Franco Viteri of indigenous organization CONAIE is calling for the men to be released, arguing that they were defending their traditional territory from incursions by oil companies. "For 40 years, oil companies, with the consent of the state, have been smashing, looting and sabotaging the good life of indigenous peoples," he said in a statement. (Mongabay, Jan. 15)

Leaders from the Waorani Nationality of Ecuador (NAWE) held negotiations with Ecuadoran officials Jan. 9 in provincial capital Puyo. Delegates from the Ministry of Justice and the Ministry of Non-renewable Natural Resources attended the gathering, and heard a NAWE offer to rein in future attacks in return for the release of the warriors. The offer came from NAWE president Moi Enomenga, who is known internationally for winning a 2011 National Geographic Buffett Award for Leadership in Conservation. The government delegates agreed to the deal in principle, but said it needed to be discussed by national and provincial officials. On Jan. 20, two of the detained were ordered freed by a judge in the jungle city of Orellana for lack of evidence.

According to Eduardo Pichilingue of Ecuador's non-governmental Center for Economic and Social Rights (CDES), this is not the first time the Waorani have attacked oil facilities in the area. Pichilingue said that first Texaco and then other companies would provide money, food rations and housing to indigenous communities in exchange for protecting their operations, but these arrangements did not prevent attacks. In 2011 and 2012 indigenous warriors attacked the facilities, and in 2012 blocked access to one of Petrobel's wells. (La Hora, Quito, Jan. 21; ICTMN, Jan. 15)