Amazon Indigenous Communities Fight Back – The Organization for World Peace
“Amazonia por Vida,” printed in large green letters, hung in front of a table at the COICA conference in Ecuador last March. (COICA is the coordinator of indigenous organizations in the Amazon basin, and the short phrase written on the banner translates to “Amazon for life” in Spanish.) Underneath it reads “No to mining, no to extraction”. Indigenous leaders have lined up behind the table, having traveled from nine different countries to demand that their governments take action to protect the Amazon rainforest, the wildlife and the sacred lands found there.
Ecuador has the highest rate of deforestation of any country in the entire Western Hemisphere. From the 1990s through 2018, around 2 million hectares (4.9 million acres) of land has been deforested in Ecuador. Between 2016 and 2018 alone, 116,857 ha (288,760 acres) of rainforest was deforested, according to Mongabay News. The main drivers of this deforestation are the extraction of resources, including gold and other precious minerals, in the Amazon, as well as the extraction of oil deposits. As deforestation has intensified, there has been significant outcry and pushback from the scientific community and indigenous communities in the region.
As the Amazon rainforest is cut down, thousands of the priceless species that live there are at grave risk of endangerment and, ultimately, extinction. The Amazon is home to 30% of the world’s species, making it an ecological epicenter with the highest number of animal and plant species of any terrestrial ecosystem in the world. According to the Amazon Aid Foundation, around 100,000 species disappear each year from the world’s tropical rainforests. This loss of biodiversity due to habitat degradation is already having catastrophic effects, ranging from the collapse of ecosystems to worsening climate change and the loss of invaluable resources related to medicine.
Beyond the loss of biodiversity, the destruction of millions of trees deprives the region of moisture that is normally emitted by trees through transpiration. The lack of moisture – and therefore rain – in the region is leading to increased rates of wildfires, drought, dangerous heat and accelerating climate change with rising CO2 levels. In addition to this, a lack of roots to maintain topsoil leads to further erosion and soil degradation. Finally, pollution from mining practices and other machinery seeps into groundwater and rivers that many animals, and many people, count on and call home. Pollution is only made worse by the loss of trees, which naturally filter pollutants.
Unfortunately, deforestation in Ecuador and the Amazon in general is by no means a new phenomenon. Deforestation of the Ecuadorian region of the Amazon dates back to the expansion of the Inca Empire in the 1400s. With the arrival of the Spaniards, colonization and slavery only accelerated the rate of deforestation . The new forms of cattle and livestock that Spain brought contributed to this, while making already cleared areas impossible to re-grow, as their constant foot traffic further deteriorated the quality of the soil. The agricultural and socio-economic structure of Ecuador did not change in the postcolonial era. According to the Rainforest Research Center, feudalism didn’t really end in the country until the land reform laws of the 1960s and 1970s.
Government response to deforestation and pollution in Ecuador has historically been weak or non-existent. The country formed its Ministry of the Environment, which is responsible for implementing environmental legislation and regulations, in 1996. At the time, Ecuador had one of the most advanced sets of environmental policies in the world. ‘Latin America. However, the ministry was severely underfunded and therefore lacked the power to enforce many of its laws. This has led powerful national and international corporations to blatantly carry out illegal operations with little repercussion, including the American company Texaco, which according to the BBC spilled 18 billion gallons of oil in Ecuador between 1964 and 1992. Texaco was able to escape both the cleanup and any major backlash when the Ecuadorian government signed a bill in 1998 exempting the company from further liability for damages. Meanwhile, Indigenous communities in the areas of the spills suffered insurmountably and were forced to sue in US courts. Their own government would not oppose society.
Texaco is just one example of the hundreds of companies that have exploited the Amazon rainforest and taken advantage of weak or indifferent local governments. The history of corporate America operating in South America has been particularly unforgivable and continues today as a form of post-colonial exploitation. Brazil faces enormous danger to its Amazon rainforest. American companies are ready and waiting for the radically conservative Bolsonaro administration to pass two separate bills allowing mining and prospecting in historically protected Indigenous lands, according to UNDark.
As climate change worsens, vampiric societies run rampant, and weak governments refuse to act, Indigenous groups have taken matters into their own hands. Last May, indigenous activists Alex Lucitante and Alexandra Narváez, from the Cofán community in Ecuador, received the international Goldman Prize for Grassroots Activism for their work in fighting mining companies on their ancestral lands using drones. After noticing heavy machinery and other signs of mining on their land in 2017, the 25-member group from Lucitante and Narváez, La Guardia, began documenting and collecting photographic evidence of mining In progress.
Lucitante and Narváez discovered that the Ecuadorian state had issued 20 mining licenses to various companies to mine Cofán lands without Cofán’s approval. 32 additional licenses were still pending state approval. The evidence gathered by La Guardia proved essential to securing a legal victory, which not only resulted in the protection of what the BBC estimates is 79,000 acres of rainforest, but also proves that the people of Ecuador have the power to retaliate at once to his government. inaction and the powerful corporations that exploit them.
An additional unintended result of this operation was the empowerment of local women who got involved in the effort. Narváez recounts the intense rejection and skepticism of her community when she first said she wanted to join La Guardia and his efforts; her community traditionally does not allow women to participate in activities outside the home. However, she was eventually able to win over the doubters and was allowed to join the group as a founding member, finding her own empowerment and inspiring several other women to join the group with her. La Guardia now have six women, including Narváez.
Following this momentous legal victory, COICA organized a conference involving the leaders of nine different groups. This conference served to highlight the progress of La Guardia’s court ruling, but also to demand that the momentum continues to build. One step forward is not enough in a critical and rapidly escalating battle over time.
“If we don’t stop [extractive expansion]virtually the entire Amazon basin will be desert,” Marlon Vargas, head of the Ecuadorian indigenous organization Confeniae, told Reuters, stressing that the decision is useless if the government does not take action on it.
Ecuador, and all other Amazon countries, need to realize that collecting temporary profits by destroying the rainforest will not revive failing economies for long. It’s a death wish, not a solution. La Guardia’s victory shows that people do have power. However, the international community must amplify its voice and hold corporations accountable for their parasitic role in the climate crisis. There is only one Earth. We all have to do our part to protect it.