Indigenous Women Resist Against Oil in Ecuador: “We Are Ready to Die For Our Rainforest”

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By: Jaime Giménez, from Puyo / Source: www.biodiversidadla.org / The Dawn News / March 25, 2016.

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At the end of January, the Ecuadorian government granted a Chinese Oil Company the right to explore two more parcels of the Ecuadorian Amazon’s Southern area, which affects the indigenous community of Sarayaku and its territories.

“There are great roads where our ancestors used to live, they haven’t even respected our cemetery”, said Alicia Cahuiya regarding the exploitation of the Yasuní National Park.

Amazonian women have became a key actor against environmental exploitation by multinational companies, as was shown by Berta Caceres’ struggle.

It’s noon in Puerto Canelos, in the southern area of the Ecuadorian Amazon. As the heat rises, tens of women holding their babies, descend from the canoes with which they have crossed the Bobonaza river. They came from Sarayaku, a Kichwa indigenous community that has been resisting those who want to extract the oil that lays under the roots of their majestic trees. 

On January 25, the Ecuadorian executive power granted to the Andes Petroleum, an enterprise formed by to chinese capitals (Sinopec and CNPC), exploitation rights of the 79 and 83 blocks of the southern area of the Ecuadorian Amazon, which affects part of the Sarayaku territory. In the 90s, after interrupting aspirations of the Argentinian Oil Company, CGC, to drilling the forest floor in search of oil, the community is prepared to resist against the new threat.

The Sarayaku traveled for many hours though the river until reaching Puyó, capital of Pastaza, where they held the International Women’s Day march. Hundred of women from different amazonian people as the Sáoara, the Huaorani, or the Kichwa from Sarayaku, gathered to expressed their rejection to the agreement between the Government of Rafael Correa and the Chinese Oil Consortium. Only the Sapara people, which have only a hundred members, will see 40% of its territory affected due to the granted to the Chinese company, putting its survival at risk. “If they extract the oil, it will be the end of all Sapara people”, assured one of the leaders, Gloria Ushigua.

This is one more signal of the already enshrined presence of women in the defense of their territory. Their role in indigenous communities has changed during the past years. From being set apart from the public scene and not talking any part in political communal decision, women have gained their space, turning into a new key actor in indigenous resistance processes.

In Mexico, for example, the role that women had in the building of the zapatista self-governance in Chiapas has been notorious. In Central America, Berta Caceres’ recent murder has given relevance to the important task that indigenous women have been carrying out in the land defense struggle, facing governments and transnational companies.

In Ecuador’s case, the steep that women had taken forward has been relatively recent. In 2013 one of the first mobilizations was carried out directly by indigenous women, marching from Puyo to Quito to protest against the exploitation of the Yasuní National Park.

“Women are defenders of our own Mother Earth. We produce our own food for our sons and daughters and our husbands. We are the watchers of the Living Forest that lives in the Amazon. We are the mothers that fight every day and night carrying our babies to defend our culture, our language and our traditions”, argues Ena Santi, a representative of the Women of the Kichwa of Sarayaku Indigenous People Association.  

An entire village threatened

Gloria Ushinga, leader of the Saparas Women Association, explains that there are hardy around 400 members of this indigenous nationality. Her language, even though it was declared as Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity by the UNESCO, is practically extinct. That’s why, according to Ushingua, the oil project puts at risk the survivence of the Sapara as a people.

 

Gloria Ushinga
Gloria Ushigua

The Sapara people, which is divided between Ecuador and Peru, once had around 20,000 men, women and children in the mid-nineteenth century, but the arrival of logging companies, eager to extract rubber, decimated its population, subjecting them to slavery. Later, Sapara interethnic marriages were used as a survival strategy, which led to the cultural miscegenation and the abandonment of their own language. Today, the few members of this people who survive are again threatened by the arrival of companies that are seeking for raw materials, in this case oil.

“Our territory is threatened by Chinese oil companies. Our nation and families are witnessing the violation of our rights in the loss and pollution of our territory. We are ready to protect, defend and die for our land, families and nation”, explained the Saparas Women Association.

The history of violation of indigenous rights and environmental disasters in Northern Ecuadorian Amazon region is quite extensive. The best-known case is the one of the oil company Chevron-Texaco, that left behind a highly toxic legacy: pollution of rivers, lands, deforestation, diseases and the disappearance of two indigenous people. Even in the Yasuní National Park, which is considered as one of the areas with the greatest biodiversity in the world, oil spills have taken place.

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