Criminalized for Defending Nature

Criminalized for Defending Nature

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John Ahni Schertow
December 30, 2007
 

The World Rainforest Movement’s Bulletin for December features an article by Guadalupe Rodriguez, a Campaigner for Tropical Forests and Human Rights, which discusses the ongoing criminalization of anyone opposed to the exploitative activities of transnational corporations in Ecuador.

The article also discusses “the First Summit of Communities Criminalized for Defending Nature”, which was held on November 16th at the Catholic University in Quito, Ecuador.

You can read the full article at World Rainforest Movement website. Here’s an excerpt:

As announced in the call to the Quito meeting, [the Summit] was to be a first step towards “making visible to national and international public opinion the escalade of political, legal and para-legal persecution of social leaders defending nature and life, in opposition to an economist development model, violating rights” and it achieved its purpose. In Ecuador, criminalization of peasants has occurred in the North, in the subtropical zone of Intag and at present in the South of the country, in the Amazon region.

Some of the faces present at the event seemed to show relief, probably because they saw they were not the only ones suffering from this problem. The police, courts, investigations, enquiries, sentences, judges, lawyers, attorneys, doctors. This world came upon them all suddenly. Some have already become experts in law and criminal procedures. This is not surprising when one individual faces ten, fifteen and even twenty court cases.

This is the case of Tarquino Cajamarca, from the Canton Limón Indanza in the Amazon province of Morena Santiago, persecuted by Sipetrol, which manages the Hidroabanico project; of Rodrigo Aucay from El Pangui, also in the Amazon region of Zamora Chinchipe, persecuted by the Canadian-Ecuadorian Mining company, Corrientes Resource; or of Polibio Pérez, from the subtropical Intag area, who has been persecuted by the Canadian mining company, Ascendant Copper. During the event, testimonials were heard about these cases. The greatest crime of these three community leaders, respected and acknowledged in their place of origin, was perhaps to have been among those opposing more energetically the activities of the transnational corporations, affirm the representatives of human rights organizations. Unfortunately, these are not isolated cases.

The costs of defending these and other accused peasants are enormous, both in economic terms and physical and psychological efforts. Not only do they have to pay lawyers fees. The distances these criminalized people have to cover to attend the hearings are enormous. Many live in remote locations, where delinquency was practically non-existent until the intervention of transnational corporations in their area. These people are being made victims of a development model, totally foreign to their way of life and understanding of the world. Some have been in prison, others have had to hide for days or weeks to avoid going to prison, far from their families and daily activities. At the present time, Tarquino Cajamarca from Limón Indanza has an order for arrest hanging over him.

Defence is hard. In many cases, accusations are not made directly by the transnational corporation or by persons openly related to it, but by personnel paid to give false testimony and accuse the peasant leaders of a common crime that they have not committed. During some of the proceedings, identical testimonials made by different witnesses showed evidence of the fact that they were merely repeating a script that had been handed to them in advance. The Ecumenical Human Rights Commission (CEDHU) and the Regional Foundation for Human Rights Advisory Services (INREDH), both located in Quito, possess full documentation on many of these cases. According to a member of INREDH, the peasants are being linked to black lists. Tools of the trade, such as computers are stolen off them as part of a strategy to immobilize social rights organizations. CEDHU’s Investigation Unit also reports numerous cases of aggression by staff of the extractive companies or by personnel paid by these companies, including death threats, persecution, physical aggression, harassment, slander and many other actions.

However, there is an increasing number of people accused of some common crime they have not committed, making it necessary and urgent to take measures. The number of community leaders and peasants that are being criminalized by the companies in response to the resistance put up by some communities to their oil, mining or other extractive activities in tropical forest areas is alarming. According to the CEDHU Investigation Unit, there are over 100 accusations and there are many more people accused, taking into account that many of these processes are multiple, that is to say, more than one person is accused. All of them are well aware of the reason for their opposition to these economic activities. “Who has benefitted from 30 years of oil exploitation? The streets of the countries in the North are increasingly enhanced and illuminated, while at Lago Agrio (an oil city in the Ecuadorian Amazon) the streets are still in darkness and, even worse there are people suffering from cancer and contaminated” says Humberto Cholango, President of the Ecuarunari. Many peoples have stated that they do not want to end up under similar conditions and for this reason reject the extraction of natural resources in their areas. There is clear resistance to mining in Intag, Pacto, El Pangui, Napo, Machala and other places in the country.

You can contact Guadalupe Rodriguez at: guadalupe@regenwald.org, www.salvalaselva.org, www.activistas.nireblog.com

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