The Ecuadorian government shut down the non-profit Pachamama Foundation, which advocates on indigenous and environmental issues, on December 4.
The move came just days after Ecuadorian President Rafael Correa publicly accused members of the organization of “aggression” against a businessman from Belarus and Chile’s ambassador to Ecuador during a protest against the government’s granting of petroleum concessions.
In his weekly national radio address on November 30, Correa read a list of names of people allegedly involved in the protest two days earlier, during the auction of 13 oil leases in southern Ecuador. Opponents, including the Pachamama Foundation, say the leases overlap the territories of indigenous communities that were not properly consulted.
Correa said the “real indigenous leaders” supported the auction. His list of protesters, however, included leaders of the Governments of Original Nations of the Ecuadorian Amazon (GONOAE, for its Spanish initials), several Achuar organizations and the Confederation of Indigenous Nationalities of Ecuador (CONAIE), as well as several Zápara people and protesters from Sarayaku, a Kichwa community that has resisted oil drilling in its territory for more than two decades.
“Among indigenous people there are good people and bad people,” Correa said. “There are violent people and others who play the victim, in the guise of indigenous people and women.”
The president singled out members of the Pachamama Foundation and Yasunidos, a group critical of the government’s decision to open part of Yasuni National Park to oil drilling.
That area of Ecuador’s southern Amazon region is also inhabited by the nomadic Tagaeri and Taromenane people, who shun contact with the outside world. The government decided to open it to drilling after it failed to convince other countries to compensate Ecuador for leaving the oil in the ground.
The Pachamama Foundation has opposed drilling in Yasuni. It also supported Sarayaku when the community took its case to the Inter-American Court of Human Rights, which ruled that the Ecuadorian government had violated the community’s right to communal property and cultural identity.
In a statement issued on December 4, the Pachamama Foundation’s president, María Belén Páez, denied taking part in any violence.
“We cannot be blamed for acts in which we have not participated,” she said.
She called the shutdown “an arbitrary act that seeks to repress our legitimate right to dissent from the national government’s decision to grant oil companies concessions in territories of Amazonian indigenous nationalities without respecting their constitutional rights, especially to free, prior and informed consultation.”
She said the organization would continue its work and called the accusations against the protesters an attempt to “distract attention from the underlying issue, which is the violation of the collective rights of Amazonian indigenous peoples and the rights of Nature.”
The November 28 auction of 13 leases, which had been delayed several times, drew only four bids – two from the Chinese-owned Andes Petroleum, one from Spain’s Repsol and one from Ecuador’s state-owned Petroamazonas, as part of a consortium that included companies from Belarus and Chile.