From somewhere in the Cordillera del Cóndor, January 4th 2017
To my Shuar brothers and sisters, to the indigenous peoples of the Amazon and Andes, to the men and women of Ecuador and the World.
As many of you know, recent days have been very dangerous for our people. These days have not yet ended and are, indeed, probably only the beginning of a great territorial dispute initiated by the National Government against the Shuar Arutam People.
Our jungle has been stained with tears, anguish and blood. The paths and trails that we used to travel in peace have now become unsafe and dangerous. Almost 30 years have passed since Ecuadorians spoke of us as the Warriors of Cenepa, the defenders of Ecuador, the country to which we belong.
But now it is necessary for people to know us through our own voice. No one has asked us but many have spoken on our behalf, including the Government and social and political leaders, some with good and some with bad intentions.
We were born here in this immense jungle of the Cordillera del Cóndor and on the banks of the Zamora and Santiago rivers. We did not know barbed wire or private property. The State declared that these were uncultivated lands and organized the colonization of our territory with the same conviction and self-legitimacy of any colonizer. When the settlers came to this land we received them well, because we knew that these were poor and hardworking people looking for an opportunity in their lives. From one day to another, large tracts of land no longer belonged to us because they had been sold to people we had never even met.
In the 1960s, we had to create the Interprovincial Federation of Shuar Centers (FICSH), which even today we refer to as our Mother, so that the State would recognize what has always been ours: the territory, our living spaces and our culture. It was only in the 1980s that we began to legalize our lands with community deeds. We began to be recognized, not only for the Cenepa war, but because we have taken care of these immense millennial forests in peace, protecting the borders.
In 2000, a group of Shuar leaders toured these lands and founded the Shuar Arutam Territorial Area, as provided for in the Constitution. This was not a simple process; there were hundreds of meetings and discussions that allowed 6 associations to unite their 48 centers (communities) and establish a continuous territory of 230,000 hectares in the Province of Morona Santiago on the border with Peru.
FICSH declared us its pilot plan, to test a new form of indigenous government within the Ecuadorian State, like a special regime government in a Shuar territory. In 2003 we wrote our Life Plan, which forms the axis of our organization. This is the guide which tells us which areas we can pass through, for we must navigate rivers, and the areas where we should not even walk. Our Life Plan addresses fundamental issues such as health, education, the economy, conservation and the good management and control of the forest and its resources. We are almost the only group in the country to organize our territory in categories of sustainable use and we leave more than 120,000 hectares under strict conservation, for the benefit of all Ecuadorians.
In 2006 we were legalized by the Development Council of the Nationalities & Peoples of Ecuador (CODENPE) as Shuar Arutam People. Two years later we signed an agreement with the Government to maintain the forest in perfect condition for 20 years and receive contributions that allow us to develop and implement our Life Plan. This agreement is called Socio Bosque (Forest Partner).
In 2014 we updated our Life Plan. Once again our Ordinary General Assembly pronounced against medium-scale and mega-mining within our territory.
Because, as we said to President Correa, do not tell us that you undertake mining projects to get us out of poverty because we, with our way of life, do not feel poor. Instead, tell us how you will protect us as a people and our culture.
In the context of this history comes the conflict in Nankints. Since 2008 we have been requesting an institutionalized dialogue with the national Government but, despite our efforts, we have been unable to establish a serious, sincere, honest and equal conversation within the framework of the Plurinational State. This is the reason for the lack of interpretation and understanding of the requirements of the Shuar people.
In the name of ‘national interest’ and by describing the situation in Nankints as an isolated case, the Government ignores other rights and issues that are also of national interest and enshrined within the Constitution: multiculturalism and conservation. In Nankints the ‘revolutionary’ Government acts like any colonizing government, forgetting even the international agreements it has signed.
The problem is not the piece of land in Nankints that we share with settlers; people think that this never belonged to the Shuar. We never imagined that a mining company would buy our ancestral heritage land from the State and a few settlers. The Government forgets and, with its many methods of making itself heard, imposes its own truth. Our territory is not only Nankints.
In fact, more than 38 percent of our territory has been concessioned to large-scale mining. All the riverbanks of the Zamora and Santiago basins have been concessioned to small-scale mining. A gigantic hydroelectric dam is about to be built. So our question is: where do they want us to live?
That is why, nine years ago, we told the company to leave and we reclaimed Nankints. Nine years later, someone manipulates the President and convinces him to forcibly evict us before the end of his term. We did not leave, so violence came. We have been blamed for the tragedy of our murdered comrade, the police officer, but we have not given any orders to kill anyone. Instead of dialogue, the Government puts thousands of policemen and soldiers into our homes, on our land, to terrorize and threaten our children. As far as I know, no inhabitant of our land is a sniper, nor does anyone possess weapons that can pierce a police helmet. Why not investigate thoroughly before persecuting us and issuing orders to capture the heads of our families? Instead of talking to us to investigate and prevent violence, why condemn us to live in a State of Exception? It is reminiscent of the terrible dictatorships of Operation Condor which, according to the President, is being planned again.
Why do they enter our homes? Why do they not let us live in peace? And the answer we have is that, in the name of the ‘national interest’, we have become a handful of folkloric Indians and terrorists who do not understand what good living is, neither Sumak Kawsay* or, even worse, the project of the Citizen Revolution.**
I do not want to dwell on the details of the President’s weekly public addresses. Instead, let us try to look at the big picture in which we find ourselves, avoiding provocation and primitive discussions that lead nowhere.
With this first communiqué from the forests of the Cordillera del Cóndor, we say to the thousand families that we will not, under any circumstance, allow the violence and force of the Government to destroy our house, your house, the World’s house.
President Rafael Correa must create a climate of peace, withdraw his troops, suspend the State of Exception in our province and cancel the arrest warrants of our leaders and relatives. The only true way to end this path of destruction – which provokes Shuar inhabitants into acts of individual resistance to reclaim their territory – is through conversation, respect and mutual understanding.
All inhabitants of Ecuador and Morona Santiago must join our demand for peace, the end of violence and a serious dialogue with the Government that respects our life as an original people.
—Governing Council of THE SHUAR ARUTAM PEOPLE
Translated directly by Chakana Chronicles from an open letter published by the Confederation of Indigenous Nationalities of the Ecuadorian Amazon (CONFENIAE) on behalf of the Governing Council of the Shuar Arutam People.
*Translating literally as ‘good living’, the Quechua term ‘Sumak Kawsay’ refers to the indigenous cosmovision of living in harmony with our communities, ourselves, and most importantly, our natural environment.
**The so-called ‘Citizen Revolution’ is the political and socioeconomic project of Alianza Pais, Ecuador’s current ruling party