Indigenous Indignation In Ecuador's Amazon
The current march by indigenous Amazonian activists in Ecuador, in protest at a large-scale mining project, throws into sharp relief the main issue facing the Amazon region, namely the forces of economic development against those defending the cultural and ecological integrity of this rich area.
The protesters have set off from the jungle town of El Pangui, located in South East Ecuador, not far from the Peruvian border - and the remote, little-explored Condor Mountain Range National Park – and plan to walk to Quito over the course of two weeks, picking up supporters along the way.
The catalyst for this march was an agreement signed by the Ecuadorean government, on 6th March, with Chinese mining company Ecuacorriente to invest $1.4 billion in a copper mining project near El Pangui. The natural fear is that this mine will contaminate water and force people off their land, while the economic benefits will not be enjoyed by the people most affected.
The rhetoric on both sides of the argument is all too familiar. Ecuador's President, Rafael Correa, sees foreign investment in mining as vital to the future of Ecuador's economy, which currently largely depends on oil exports. He therefore states that theEcuacorriente project will help fund much-needed development; and has hailed the agreement as marking the start of a "new era" in Ecuador.
He says royalties and taxes from the mine and similar projects will fund roads, schools and hospitals and that local people will benefit from a generous share of the revenues.
On the other hand, CONIE - the Confederation of Indigenous Nationalities of Ecuador - says mining will damage the environment and displace entire communities. It also says indigenous rights to be consulted about development on their ancestral territories have not been respected.
This is an argument that has been repeated, in essence, over time and distance throughout the Amazon region, since the Rubber Boom of the late 19th Century and early 20th Century first exposed the people and resources of the Amazon Rainforest to the demands of industrialized nations.
Nor is it an argument that is going to be resolved any time soon. However, it reinforces Rainforest Cruises’ belief that the only economic activity that brings financial wealth to the Amazon, at the same time as having a vested interest in maintaining its biological and cultural wealth, is responsibly-managed tourism. Yet another reason to take an Ecuador Amazon River cruise!