May 13, 1992

Ecuador Government Refuses to Fulfill their Promise to Amazon Marchers

(The following information came to SAIIC via phone calls from the organizers of the march in Ecuador. Recent UPI stories have misrepresented the actual outcome of negotiations with the government; please write letters to the editor, or critiques of the wire stories in media outlets available to you. Send copies of letters to the President to OPIP.)

Indian people from the Pastaza Province of the Ecuadorian Amazon marched 300 miles to meet with President Rodrigo Borja. On April 23rd, over 2,000 marchers called on the government to legally recognize their territories, and reform the National Constitution to protect the different nationalities and cultures of Ecuador. The government publicly recognized over two and a half million of the almost five million acres of lands they occupy. After creating a fanfare of publicity about their 'goodwill,' the government is refusing to hand over the land titles to the Indians.

Under very heavy military guard, the government announced that they would legalize and grant the titles to 19 blocks of land to the Indians by Tuesday, May 12th. According to international news reports, the government already granted the lands. But the government is refusing to sign the necessary documents.

The negotiations with the Indian people reached a deadlock over the government's refusal to legally recognize Indian territory which falls within a 25 by 120 mile swath of land along the Peruvian border. The main force blocking the legalization of these lands continues to be IERAC (Instituto Ecuatoriano de Reforma Agraria y Colonializacin - the government branch responsible for agrarian reform and colonization).

Giving in to IERAC's demands, the government claims that this border area, where 35% of the Pastaza Indian communities live, is necessary for "national security."

Although the 19 blocks the government has agreed to grant to the Indians do not fall within the contested border region, Lewis Luna, the head of IERAC, refuses to sign the land titles.

According to the organizers of the march, the police and military are gearing up for a confrontation with the Indian people. They express great concern over the possibility of violence if this confrontation takes place.

The march was coordinated by the Organization of Indigenous People of Pastaza (OPIP) when, after nearly three years of fruitless dialogue with the national Indian federations, the government refused to legalize the Indian territories and continues to give in to pressure from transnational oil, timber, mining and tourism industries to exploit the Amazon rainforest.

OPIP organized the march to prevent the ecological and cultural devastation which they witnessed in the Northern and Southern Ecuadorian Amazon regions. Due mostly to oil development, Ecuador has the highest deforestation rate of any South American country. The Pastaza province contains the largest remaining pristine rainforest in Ecuador. Tito Merino commented on the government's exploitation of the rainforest, ''They treat it [the Amazon] like a box full of resources. They turn it upside down and shake it out and leave nothing for those who live there.''

Along with their demands, OPIP presented a natural resource management plan where they outline their traditional methods of managing the land "not only for short-term benefit, but for the benefit of the children of our grandchildren."

** Please write and fax letters today! **

1. Send faxes, telegrams and letters expressing your support of the Indigenous people of Pastaza and that the government act in good faith by handing over the legal land titles to the marchers. Send to: Dr. Rodrigo Borja Cevallos, Presidente de la Republica del Ecuador, Garcia Moreno 1043 y Chile, Quito, Ecuador. Tel: 593-2-515-408, Fax: 593-2-563-469

Dr. Favian Alarcn, Presidente del Congreso del Ecuador, Palacio Legislativo, Avenida 6 de Diciembre y Pedrahita, Quito, Ecuador, Tel: 593-2-230-330

Send copies to OPIP for their work with the press: OPIP, Accion Ecologica, Madrid 340 y Corua, Quito, Ecuador. Tel: 593-2-547-516, Fax: 593-2-547-516 (call first)

2. Organize solidarity marches and demonstrations in front of Ecuadorian Embassies and consulates world-wide, or in a central location in your town/city.

3. Call the Ecuadorian embassies and consulates and express your concern that the government act in good faith and hand over the titles to the Indian marchers.

4. Help to set the record straight with your local press by notifying them that the Ecuadorian government has not yet legally granted the territories to the Indian people of Pastaza. The lands which they have promised to grant are only half of the lands the Indians occupy.

(Posted in Native-l on May 13, 1992 by SAIIC, saiic@igc.apc.org.)