Ecuador’s Indigenous Protest Water Privatization

By Sovereign Hager

Impunity Watch Reporter, South America

QUITO, Ecuador-The Confederation of Ecuadoran Indigenous Nationalities (CONAIE) are expressing opposition to a new water law by protesting and blocking roadways. The movement argues that the Hydraulic Resources Law allows for the development of mining projects in areas occupied by springs that are major sources of water. Leaders also argue that the law ensures water provisions for mining companies but not for indigenous and campesino communities and does not attend to the issue of contamination of waterways.

Under the new plan, all water systems in Ecuador will be brought under centralized state authority, thus ending a system of community control over water resources. Ecological Action, a non profit organization, found that the law “contains elements of privatization for both water and land usage in as much as those resources become the sole property of the benefiting industry or business for other uses.” This is because the law allows for water resources to be acquired in the purchase of land and permits the owner to use the water however he or she sees fit.

Forty-five percent of water resources have been privatized through legal concessions, but one percent of those using water resources consume sixty-four percent of the water available and eighty-six percent of Ecuadorians consume just thirteen percent of the country’s water. Critics argue that the new law “does nothing in regard to these points and the National Development Plan favors the mining companies and flower growers.” There are no sanctions in the law for contamination or water quality control.

Indigenous communities have played a large role in the construction of water system networks, constructing irrigation canals and consumer water systems. They view the new “sole authority” provision as a direct threat to their water council system.

Responses to protests resulted in the death of a bilingual professor, who was shot by police when he joined a group of 500 that blocked a bridge over the Upano River. Protesters argue that it was a “trap” because the leaders were called to a dialogue “in order to distract the leadership and the local media.”

Currently, CONAIE has suspended protest actions because the government has opened a negotiation period. The government and indigenous leaders agreed to six points during their most recent negotiation. This included, permanent duologue between the parties, government consideration of the CONAIE water initiative, and the government will receive a mining law proposal from the indigenous movement.

Other grassroots movements continue to stage road blocks and to shut down markets. There is disagreement among grassroots organizations on what is the best strategy. While the CONAIE and Euarunari have called off protests, the Shuar and Achuar people of the southern Amazon continue to demonstrate against mining. One indigenous lawmaker remarked, “the dialogue doesn’t go anywhere. I don’t believe in them anymore.”

For more information, please see:

AP-Indian Political Awakening Stirs Latin America-2 November 2009

Daily Press-Bolivia the Standard-Bearer as Latin American Natives Fight to Protect Lands, Culture-2 November 2009

Latin American Press-Indigenous Movement Continues to Weaken-23 October 2009

Author: Impunity Watch Archive