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Rebuilding communities: a type of resistance
Luis Ángel Saavedra*
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Communities in the Amazon resort to constitutional rights to recover territories granted to mining companies.

In Tundayme, a parish located in the Cordillera del Cóndor in Ecuador´s southern Amazon, the indigenous and peasant communities have decided to recover the territories of abandoned or forcefully evicted communities in order to oppose mining megaprojects. The first few steps have been successful, but they fear that the government and the affected companies will respond aggressively.

On May 12, workers from the mining company EcuaCorriente (ECSA), accompanied by some 50 police officers, demolished the church and school in the community of San Marcos, located in Tundayme. With the destruction, the transnational mining company thought it had made San Marcos disappear completely, or at least it appeared so.

Owned by the Chinese company Railway Construction Corporation and the Tongling Nonferrous Metals group, ECSA signed an agreement with President Rafael Correa in March 2012 for the operation of the Mirador Project, located in the Amazonian province of Zamora Chinchipe, which borders Peru. With this contract, ECSA gains access to 5 billion pounds of copper and will be able to process 60,000 metric tons daily as well as invest US$1.4 billion in the first five years. In exchange, the Ecuadorian government will receive 52 percent of the profits, which includes a 12 percent value added tax, rent, utility and royalties. ECSA offered $100 million in advanced royalties, which it has not been made yet.

For more than 10 years, ECSA, protected by an exploration contract, has attempted to erase the San Marcos community, home to Shuar indigenous people and peasant settlers, from the map. The company had no qualms in displacing the population with tricks, forced land purchases and simply evicting those who had land without a title.

According to a Human Rights Commission of Ecuador (CEDHU) report, the company itself recognizes that the procedure of land acquisition was irregular.

“The negotiation records for Proyecto Mirador lands, dated Jan. 28, 2010, prepared by a previous Community Relations manager of the EcuaCorriente company and the coordinator of the affected rural families, states that in the year 2006 the municipal government of El Pangui priced the hectare of land at $1,000, the company negotiated some parcels at $400 per hectare and others at $3,000 per hectare, thus causing friction amongst the families,” says CEDHU, citing statements from ECSA.

“The miracle of San Marcos”
“Only one house remained standing, doña Julia´s house. There we took [the statue of] San Marcos. San Marcos is there, as a refugee. In that house we held the first few mass ceremonies with the bishop of Zamora; with him began the story of land recovery,” tells Luis Sánchez, President of the Cóndor Mirador Association (ASCOMI), to Latinamerica Press.

Indeed, what the indigenous people and peasants now call “the San Marcos miracle” began with the destruction of the church. It was then that they realized that the demolition would not have happened if they had been a recognized indigenous community with collective rights.

With the support of the Regional Foundation on Human Rights Counseling (INREDH), ASCOMI began the process for self-recognition as a Shuar community, complying with all the constitutional requirements regarding self-definition as an indigenous people and considering all of the territory granted to ECSA as historical property of the Shuar nation. Both the indigenous people and the peasant settlers agreed to put their land plots under a collective land title.

“That way the company can no longer negotiate on the side and convince those who are weakest; now it will have to face the community, and the community will say no!,” said Sánchez.
On August 21, the Council for the Development of the Peoples and Nationalities of Ecuador (CODENPE), released the document which legally recognizes the community. Immediately after, the government of the Tundayme parish signed an agreement with the prefect of the province of Zamora Chinchipe, Salvador Quishpe Lozano, to create an agricultural forest nursery and a community garden as part of an agricultural, reforestation and tourism system.

“Agricultural diversity and interculturality are the foundation for food sovereignty in the province, that is why I am happy to be part of this work with the parish government and the farmers. The people are working every day and we have to motivate them,” said Quishpe upon signing the agreement on Sept. 16.

With community work was established the first nursery by doña Julia´s house. They hope to recover the land with community planting. “This is the first miracle of San Marcos. Later will come the other miracles, like the reconstruction of the church and the school,” says Sánchez.

Meanwhile, ECSA has only stated “its concern over the creation of community nurseries,” and has made the same case with the local authorities. Evictions will now become more difficult for the mining company, and the next months will tell if the indigenous people and peasants´ plan will prove successful at halting the company, or if the mining multinational will dispossess the community again through judicial schemes.

The Shuar recover their lands
At the same time, on Aug. 14 the Shuar Numpaim community, also located in the Tundayme parish, decided to resort to the constitutional recognition of indigenous justice and resolved to reclaim their ancestral territory that has been granted to the mining companies named “Patricia” and “Raúl Castro”, which operated in territory granted to ECSA.

Operations of small and medium-sized mining companies in territories concessioned for transnational companies are common. This way, the large companies avoid facing the communities directly. Usually funded by local capital, these small mining companies are set up with the consent of the communities, and later they expand so much that their growth cannot be restrained. The local authorities (mayors, political leaders, etc) yield to the wishes of the mining companies and do not protect the rights of their people.

Ecuador recognizes indigenous justice as a legitimate avenue to solve all types of conflict, except those involving human life. From resorting to indigenous justice and after the various failed procedures to revoke the concessions granted in Shuar territories, the community members decided that their community justice system could emit a resolution to claim their ancestral lands.

Once the resolution was announced, the Numpain community ousted the mining companies and took possession of the territory. The community informed all local authorities of the resolution and its constitutional basis, turning this issue into a debate between ordinary justice and indigenous justice and halting military involvement to recover the territory concessioned to the mining company.

While the military surrounds Numpain and the local mestizo authorities are at a loss about what to do, the indigenous people have already issued multiple resolutions related to returning machinery to their owners, recovering the flora in affected sites and rebuilding the community. These resolutions have received the support of the national indigenous organizations, who consider that “this is a legitimate, not violent, repossession [which is] protected by indigenous justice,” states a statement released on Sept. 13 by the Confederation of Indigenous Nationality of Ecuador (CONAIE) and the Assembly of the Peoples of the South.

Both San Marcos and Numpain have used creative mechanisms of resistance that are guaranteed in the Constitution of Ecuador, something that has surprised the mining companies and the authorities. More confrontations are expected, but this time the indigenous communities and the peasants know that the cards are in their favor.

“Now they cannot react with violent evictions like they did before; now we can defend our rights before the Constitutional Court or before international bodies. It is no longer local, where authorities and judges play by what ECSA says,” ensures Sánchez. —Latinamerica Press.


Gathering of the San Marcos community at the house of doña Julia, the only one remaining after destruction by mining company. (Photo: Dennis de la Cruz)
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