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.

Tuesday, October 06, 2009

Ecuador, Indians trade blame for bloody clashes

QUITO, Ecuador — The government and Amazon Indians blamed each other Thursday for a battle in Ecuador's southeastern jungle that authorities said killed at least one Indian and wounded 40 police and nine Indians.

Indian groups have been protesting proposed laws they believe would encourage oil drilling and mining on their lands, and President Rafael Correa stoked their anger earlier this year by calling them "infantile" for objecting to the legislation that would deny them consultation on such projects.

The bloody confrontation happened Wednesday on the Upano River in the province of Morona Santiago — recalling a similar clash in June in neighboring Peru in which at least 33 people were killed when police broke up a roadblock by Indians protesting government development decrees.

"Tremendously violent groups armed with shotguns and rifles waited for police and met them with gunshots," Correa said at a news conference late Wednesday.

Ecuador's Amazon Indian federation said 500 police provoked the violence by attacking Shuar Indians who were blocking roads to protest the resources legislation.

The federation, CONFENAIE, said in a statement that two Indians were killed and nine wounded by gunshots. It said Correa's government "has blood on its hands" and promised international legal action over violations of the Indians' "collective and human rights."

Government Minister Gustavo Jalkh said the wounded police were hit by shotgun pellets. He said police used "progressive force" to clear a highway blockade, but denied they fired guns.

Humberto Cholango, a leader of Ecuador's powerful national Indian confederation, CONAIE, declared a "permanent mobilization." He told The Associated Press that the Shuar "are against the mining law."

"They don't want anything to do with miners."

Correa, a popular leftist president, has angered Ecuador's indigenous peoples, who account for about 35 percent of the country's 14.5 million people, by calling them "infantile minorities" for opposing the draft laws on mining and water management that they fear will despoil their ancestral lands.

The laws are expected to be passed by the National Assembly, which Correa's party and its allies control.

CONAIE launched a nationwide protest Monday against the laws, but called it off after limited turnout. The Amazon federation, however, continued with its highway blockades.

The Shuar, who dominate Ecuador's southeastern jungles, have mounted the fiercest resistance to oil exploration since it began in the region in the early 1970s. Various indigenous groups in the Amazon, led by the Shuar, created CONFENIAE in 1980.

Its sister federation in Peru organized protests that ended in June with the government crackdown at the highway blockade in Bagua. Peru's Amazon Indians were protesting a packet of pro-investment decrees issued by Peru's conservative government to open the Indians' ancestral lands to more oil, mining and logging.

On Thursday, the environmental group Amazon Watch called for a full investigation of the violence in Ecuador and said it indicated a trend in the region "where governments are failing to obtain buy-in from a critical sector of their civil society whose existence predates the nation states and who are providing vital stewardship of forests and biodiversity."

Indian peoples battling development have been increasingly flexing their muscles up and down the Andes ridge after toppling governments in Ecuador and Bolivia beginning in the 1990s.

In Chile, the country's main Indian group is pressing demands for the return of ancestral lands with land occupations that have turned violent, including burning farm machinery.

In Ecuador, CONAIE split with Correa when he refused to grant Indians the right to veto concessions for companies exploiting natural resources on their lands under a constitution approved last year. The Indians are also angry over what they consider government plans to privatize water resources, though Correa says he has no such plans.

So far, this week's disjointed mobilization has paled in comparison to previous CONAIE protests that helped oust Ecuadorean presidents in 2000 and 2005.

Associated Press Writer Frank Bajak in Bogota contributed to this report.

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