The people of Ecuador are rising up to refound their country as a pluri-national homeland for all. This inspiring movement, with Ecuador's indigenous peoples at its heart, is part of the revolution spreading across the Americas, laying the groundwork for a new, fairer, world. Ecuador Rising aims to bring news and analysis of events unfolding in Ecuador to english speakers.

Thursday, May 08, 2008

Spearing, Beheadings Reported in Ecuador National Park

Kelly Hearn in Buenos Aires, Argentina, for National Geographic News
May 5, 2008

An illegal logger has been speared to death by Amazon natives in Ecuador's Yasuní National Park, officials say.

The killing, which occurred March 4, reflects mounting tensions between natives and illegal loggers working in one of South America's most prized parks.

It also follows allegations made in February that as many as 15 Amazonian tribal members were beheaded by timber poachers in the region.

The death of the logger was confirmed by a spokesperson at the Orellana provincial police headquarters in Coca, Ecuador (see Ecuador map).

The Ecuadorian newspaper El Comercio published a photograph of the scene, showing the body of the logger, Luis Mariano Castellano Espinosa, riddled with wooden spears protruding from his chest and legs.

The killing appeared to be the work of members of the Taromenane tribe, judging from the type of spear used, police captain Edwin Ruiz told the newspaper.

The attack took place in the rain forest of 1.9-million-acre (758,000-hectare) Yasuní park, which has been designated as a biosphere reserve by the United Nations.

Yasuní is rich in marketable trees such as cedar and contains a quarter of Ecuador's untapped oil reserves. The park is also home to Amazon natives such as the Taromenane and Tagaeri, two tribes living in voluntary isolation within the park's "untouchable zone," where logging and oil exploration are prohibited.

But loggers operate with impunity in parts of the park due to lack of enforcement, critics have charged, and violent clashes have resulted.

The murder is the most recent confrontation in Yasuní, where the government has now established a permanent military presence to stop illegal logging, a move that natives and rights groups had long demanded.

"[There] are powerful economic interests" involved in the park's future, said Diego Falconi, a top advisor to the Ecuadorian police. "[But the government] is committed to resolve it."

Beheadings Disputed

The recent killing comes on the heels of a government probe into an alleged massacre of natives in Yasuní.

On February 6 native groups reported that witnesses in the area had said that between 5 and 15 Taromenani and Tagaeri tribesmen had been killed, possibly beheaded, by illegal loggers when the tribal members raided a logging camp.

A team of Ecuadorian police, soldiers, and officials from the Ministry of the Environment were dispatched to the zone to investigate but said it came up empty-handed.

"No evidence was found of the incident in question," according to the government's official report, provided to National Geographic News by the environment ministry.

The report states that locals found four abandoned tribal spears, but no bodies or other signs of violence were found.

Some native leaders were incredulous of the official account.

"I do not believe the government report," said Enqueri Nihua Ehuenguime, president of the Huaorani Nationality Organization of Ecuador. The Huaorani is another tribe that lives within the park.

"If I had the resources I could prove the deaths," Nihua said.

The government report does document several signs of illegal logging activity in the area, including stacks of illicitly cut cedar and the remains of a camp.

The document suggests that the government build a permanent military police post on the nearby River Shiripuno, a common entry point for illegal loggers into the region.

It also recommends taking "pertinent legal actions against traffickers of wood that have been identified."

Ecuadorian officials have since taken steps to build a permanent post on the river.
"I can report now that we have finally, after overcoming many obstacles, established a permanent control post in the entrance point to the Taromenane-Tagaeri territory in Yasuní National Park," said Falconi, the Ecuadorian police advisor.

"We hope that with this action, further incursions by illegal loggers will be stopped, [along with] the risk to the life and well-being of people in voluntary isolation in that region."
Money to Stop Drilling?

Numerous rights groups have pushed for such protections in recent months, and some activists met the news with cautious optimism.

"The Taromenane and Tagaeri are so isolated that they have vulnerable immune systems and are in danger of coming into contact with outsiders," said Matt Finer, a biologist with the U.S.-based group Save America's Forests.

(Read related story: "Oil Exploration in Amazon Threatens 'Unseen' Tribes" [March 21, 2008].)
"We are pleased that the government finally seems committed to stopping loggers. Setting up the control post on the Shiripuno River was a major first step in cracking down on the illegal logging, since that was the loggers' primary entry and exit point."

Still, others say new threats loom.

The Ecuadorian government is threatening to open parts of Yasuní to oil bidding if the international community does not pay U.S. $350 million a year for ten years.

"Today one of the main threats to the lives of the [Indians living in isolation] is illegal wood-cutting," said Milagros Aguirre, a journalist who was written about tribal conflict in Yasuní.

"But while the oil industry so far is not in the untouchable zone, it will eventually be there."

1 comment:

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