Ecuador’s indigenous await government pardon for jailed activists

Ecuador's new President, Lenin Moreno, has promised to open dialogue with indigenous leaders. (Credit: Andes/César Muñoz)

Advocates for indigenous people in Ecuador have appealed to the government to pardon and release more than 177 activists and leaders who were arrested last month for participating in protests.

Indigenous peoples face the highest levels of poverty in Ecuador, with little access to health care, justice or education. In Latin America overall, the World Bank says poverty rates among indigenous populations are higher and are decreasing more slowly than in the population as a whole, while human development indicators (education, health, and access to water and sanitation) are still lagging far behind.

The organization, called the Confederation of Indigenous Nationalities of Ecuador (Conaie), has given the government a month to respond to its request to not prosecute activists at a special assembly that took place on Saturday in the Amazonian city of Puyo, Conaie leader Katty Betancourt told EFE news.

“We believe that this is a prudential time” for the government to “come up with the political will” to reach out and work with with all social sectors, Betancourt said.

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The indigenous group submitted a 8,800-signature petition at the end of last month to request amnesty for 177 activists and pardons for another 20.

Many of the activists were indicted over the last few years while protesting against the previous government of President Rafael Correa, which they had denounced for inadequately protecting indigenous rights. Many protests targeted international mining companies, which have increasingly encroached upon indigenous territories across the region.

Some of the protests became violent, and activists were arrested for crimes such as injuring police, damaging property, crippling public services and inciting public unrest.

Indigenous leaders hope that President Moreno, who took office on May 24, will follow through on his promise to engage in open discourse with indigenous groups. Although Conaie has yet to accept or reject Moreno’s offer of dialogue, some see the group’s appeal for amnesty as the new government’s first chance to begin rebuilding trust with Ecuador’s indigenous population.

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One of Conaie’s leaders, Severino Sharupi, said in a statement published by El Telégrafo that the government’s decision to pardon “would demonstrate the commitment and responsibility of the new president to dialogue and consensus with all sectors of the country and sanitize the wounds caused by disagreements with the previous government.”

Conflicts over land have become increasingly hostile in recent years between extractive industry leaders and Ecuador’s indigenous. One activist, Luis Sanchez, told Humanosphere that his people from the Tundayme region of southern Ecuador have suffered numerous human rights violations after gold and copper mining companies polluted rivers and forced them to flee their lands.

“The animals have fled because they no longer have a home, the rivers remain contaminated so we can no longer fish and bathe,” Sanchez said.

In spring 2014, he said state police officers entered the Tundayme territory and destroyed the community’s church, school and local mine.

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Lisa Nikolau

Lisa Nikolau is a Madrid-based reporter for Humanosphere, covering gender equality, indigenous rights and poverty in Latin America and worldwide. Find her on Twitter at @lisanikolau, email lisa.nikolau@humanosphere.org or see her latest work at www.lisanikolau.com