By Brendan Oliver Bergh
Impunity Watch Reporter, South America
QUITO, Ecuador – On January 15th, the state sponsored Oil Company Petroamazona was set to begin excavating the small island of Sani Isla, a tropical rain forest attached to the nearby Yasuni National Park. However the inhabitants of this bio-diverse forest announced their intentions to fight the oil company to the death. The indigenous Kichwa tribe stated they defend their territory and “stand should to shoulder to prevent anyone from passing.” Human rights activists feared a slaughter as the oil-company has the backing of a private security force and the might of Ecuadorian army. However January 15th, came and went with the Oil Company refraining from landing on the island and beginning their exploration.
The Kichwa Indians one of the last isolated and nomadic tribes left in Ecuador backed up their promise by arming themselves. While only decades ago still using blow guns to fight illegal loggers, they indigenous tribe has since assorted a cache of machetes and machine guns with the intent on using them against anyone they deem to be trespassing illegally on their land. They promised that while they would not initiate the hostilities, they would defend their ancestral home from the oil company’s’ expansion.
Petroamazona claims that they have a legitimate claim on the land. According to the Guardian early offers from the oil company included a new school, increased healthcare and university spots for the villages children. But it seems a vocal minority within the tribe pushed the deal through, with 80% of the 400 villagers resisting the deal. The deal that Petroamazona is relying on was a contract signed by the chief of the village, despite having no authorization to grant the rights. In 2009 the Kichwa community delivered a document to Petroamazonas stating they would never hand over the Sani Isla land for development, a document that would be legitimate under indigenous law. However the Ecuadorian government has claimed that due to changes in the national constitution has rendered it invalid.
Kildar Gualinga, the community’s secretary has stated that “People think its dishonest and the oil company is treating them like dogs. It does not respect the land or the planet. There is no deal, nothing is agreed. The people do not want the oil company. They’re very upset and worried”
While Petroamazonas did not press their confrontation on Tuesday, they are still trying to secure exploration rights to $7.2 billion dollar oil reserves hidden under the rain forest.
For further information, please see:
First Peoples – Kichwa Community’s Fight To The Death On Hold, For Now – 18 January 2013
The Guardian – Ecuadorian Tribe Gets Reprieve From Oil Intrusion – 17 January 2013
Digital Journal – Kichwa Amazon Tribe Fights Big Oil To Keep Rainforest Safe – 16 January 2013
The Guardian – Ecuadorean Tribe Will ‘Die Fighting’ To Defend Rainforest – 13 January 2013