QUITO – Delegates from the Shuar and Achuar Indians delivered to a governmental commission a petition as the Confederation of Indigenous Nations of Ecuador, or Conaie, and the Ecuadorian government are holding discussions, which began because of the Indians’ fears over a bill they say will privatize water.
The government delegation went to Amazonia on Saturday, where the protest has been under way since last Monday, to meet with representatives of the Indians.
The meeting with the Shuar and Achuar tribes took place in the town of Sucua, in Morona-Santiago province.
Miguel Carvajal, the coordinating minister of internal and external security, who headed the government delegation, said that the government complied with what it had offered to do before the meeting, namely to receive a list of the tribes’ demands and construct an agenda for dialogue.
President Rafael Correa said Saturday that Conaie, Ecuador’s largest Indian organization, had requested to meet with him about the water bill, adding that he would receive their representatives “with open arms.”
The government announced Friday that it would receive Conaie leaders that afternoon at the Carondelet Palace, but the meeting was postponed for logistical reasons.
Conaie launched a nationwide mobilization against the water bill currently before Congress, saying the measure could lead to privatization of that valuable resource.
Correa reiterated Saturday that his government has no intention of privatizing water and stressed that the nation’s constitution expressly prohibits such a move.
On Wednesday, an attempt to break up an Indian road blockade in the southeastern Amazon province of Morona-Santiago left one Indian dead – a teacher and a member of the Shuar nation – and 40 police wounded, according to the official tally.
Correa said Saturday that police arrived “unarmed” in Morona-Santiago to break up the protests and that therefore they bore no responsibility for the Indian’s death.
But U.S.-based Amazon Watch, a group that works to protect the rainforest and the rights of indigenous people in the Amazon Basin, contradicted Correa’s version of the events in a press release Thursday, saying law-enforcement officers “backed by a helicopter, opened fire on demonstrators armed only with ceremonial spears.”
The group said that “privatization of water sources, prioritization of water access for industry, loose regulations for water contamination, and lack of community participation in water management were the foremost concerns” the protesters have about the water bill.
Amazon Watch said the Confederation of Indigenous Nationalities of the Ecuadorian Amazon, Conaie’s Amazon arm, also is “calling for the repeal of the country’s mining law and for an end to oil and mining activities in the region.”
Ecuador’s teachers’ union also joined the strike to protest an education overhaul being proposed by the government, the group said.
Amazon Watch said the violence in Morona Santiago was reminiscent of incidents in June in Peru, where protests were launched over pro-investment decrees to “give away (Indians’) resources and their territories to extractive industries and multinational corporations.”
A June 5 crackdown on a road blockade in an Amazon region of that neighboring country left 24 police officers and nine civilians dead, according to official figures.
The protests were called off after the most controversial decrees were repealed.