Ecuador: indigenous leader sentenced to prison for "defamation"
Monica Chuji, Ecuador's former communications minister under President Rafael Correa and well-known indigenous activist, was on Nov. 25 sentenced to one year in prison and a ordered to pay a $100,000 fine for "defamation" of Correa's Minister of Public Administration, Vinicio Alvarado. However, after the sentence was imposed by the court at Pichincha penitentiary, Alvarado exercised his prerogative to pardon Chuji—an implicit admission that the move would have broken the remaining ties between Correa and the country's powerful indigenous movement.
Chuji is a Kichwa from Sarayaku, Sucumbios province, in the Amazon basin, and a leading figure in the Confederation of Indigenous Nationalities of Ecuador (CONAIE). Appointed communications minister by Correa, she became his public spokesperson. But when Correa sent army troops to put down a protest against oil drilling in the village of Dayuma (Orellana province) in December 2007, Chuji protested, called for an investigation, and finally resigned. Her resignation letter decried the government's "criminalization" of social movements. She joined the 2008 constitutional assembly for the ruling party, Alianza Pais, and sat on the commission for Natural Resources and Biodiversity throughout the tense negotiations on water, oil and mining. Chuji left the Alianza Pais as soon as the assembly finished its work—with others following her lead.
The sentence against Chuji came as CONAIE president Humberto Cholango said that Ecuador's indigenous movement "is suffering persecution and political vengeance on the part of the government," which he accused of serving the interests of foreign mineral companies and other resource interests. (Andes, Ecuador, Nov. 27; Andes, RTU Noticias, Ecuador, NTN24, Nov. 25; AlJazeera, Nov. 14)