By Sofía Jarrín
Upside Down World
The current government of Ecuador, under President Correa, is driving an aggressive development program that is fueling social conflicts all around the country, mostly around mining and oil industries and the control of water sources. Protesters are charged with terrorism, writes Sofia Jarrin.
During three days in the city of Cuenca, Ecuador, hundreds of representatives from several Latin American countries gathered to share experiences and strategies during the Continental Conference in Defense of Water and Mother Earth. The event took place between June 17 and 23, and was organized as an act of resistance against development projects that threaten this vital resource, Yakumama, our mother water. A letter of intention by the organizers reads, “We hope this gathering will become a permanent process of fellowship to protect water and food sovereignty, to create a new social order in harmony with nature, with justice and equity.”
The conference began with a visit to sites where environmental conflicts have taken place, in Cochapata and San Bartolomé, more specifically, in the southern province of Azuay, both areas affected by mining companies. The delegation was composed of the Ombudsman, representatives of national indigenous organizations, the Inter-American Platform of Human Rights, Democracy and Development (PIDHDD), Real World Radio, and a team of FoodFirst Information and Action Network (FIAN) International. There they witnessed cases of abuse of power by developers, often in complicity with state agencies, that are laying out mining projects despite clear opposition from the communities where they plan to implement them.
In Cochapata, for example, a community of about 7,800 people, there has been great resistance against the construction of a dam by the mining company Explorsur SA. Seven community leaders were accused of sabotage and terrorism for engaging in public protest, and were recently sentenced to eight years in prison. This occurred despite the fact that the Constituent Assembly had granted them amnesty in July 2008, recognizing their role as environmental defenders.
Since then, all seven have been in hiding with serious financial and emotional consequences to their families. Unfortunately, like in many other cases, the courts favour private interests instead of communal decisions on how to manage land and water resources. Currently, there are more than 189 pending cases of terrorism and sabotage in Ecuador.
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