Fifty years ago, the Waorani lived a lifestyle identical to that of an uncontacted, nomadic people. But with the discovery of oil and an onslaught of Christian missionaries in the years following, the Waorani were abruptly dragged into the modern world. Soon after contact, they were put under missionary control–but only for a few short years.
Upon returning to their Ancestral lands, the Waorani, known to be some of the fiercest Warriors in the Amazon, found that they were no longer allowed to live as they did in the past. Rather than just accept that, the Waorani committed themselves to defending their lands and ways of life. After several years of struggle, they formed ONHAE (Organization of the Waorani Nation of the Ecuadorian Amazon) and increased their efforts to secure their land and bring an end to development.
Following this, int he late 90’s the Waroani, along with the Tagaeri, Taromenani, Zaparoan and all other Indigenous people in Ecuador gained political recognition and rights under various national and international laws. The Territory of the Waorani itself became doubly protected, since it fell within the borders of the Yasuni National Park, which is considered untouchable.
However, the oil companies: Skanska, Petrobas, Repsol, Texaco, Encana, and AGIP were permitted to continue their operations. Using a wide range of tactics–from the gentle hand of a long lost friend, to the coercive ways of a seasoned vacuum salesman, and even committing to the ever-popular threats of violence and death, the companies now operate with complete impunity while the Waorani find themselves condemned to live on the edge of extinction. They are criminalized, infantilized, impoverished and worst of all–dependent on the oil companies for help.
Despite this, the Waorani are actively struggling to find a united voice today, to end the siege of development, and to return to their traditional ways.
It’s no easy task, especially since Ecuador–while officially recognizing the Waorani’s rights– maintains a hold on the subsoil, which makes it illegal for the Waorani to impede or obstruct
“mining or hydrocarbon exploration and/or exploitation activities undertaken by the national government and/or legally authorized individuals or companies.”
The companies are more than happy to help enforce that official policy. For example, in a recent article on upsidedownworld, Agneta Enström describes a situation she encountered with political scientist Hanna Dahlström, while investigating how Skanska operates in the Amazon.
She recalls, ” [we] managed to get ourselves invited to one of Skanska’s oil fields (block 18), a site the company shares with Petrobras. We were driven to the oil field in a Skanska jeep, accompanied by regional general manager Milton Diaz and a heavily armed guard (who always joins the Skanska boss on trips to the field). Diaz explained that ‘the Indians can be violent at times’ and that there are ‘rebel groups’ in the area.
While in the jeep, Diaz received important calls telling him that the situation at the oil field was not good. Just when we were about to turn onto the bumpy road to the fields, we were stopped by a homemade roadblock. It was one of the days when local residents stage protests against the exploitation, which they consider immoral, illegal and destructive to their health. Diaz made call after call, explaining to us with irritation that the’ll have to call for reinforcement ‘to deal with the people.’” We returned to Skanska’s administrative base in the oil town of Coca, several kilometres away, where we joined Skanska top brass for wine and food while we waited for news of the tense situation.”
She goes on, “In the evening after our foiled trip to the oil fields, there was a poolside party for Skanska and Petrobras management. Company directors discussed ‘the unreasonable demands’ of the local population and the high taxes companies are forced to pay in ‘these banana republics.’ They compared the local population to developmentally disabled people and apes.
Production at oil field 18 was down for a few days, after which we heard from Diaz that the problem with local people ‘had been resolved,’ and normal operations resumed. What we were not given any exact information about was how the situation was resolved. Later, lawyers with the Amazonian Defense Front (Frente de defensa de la Amazonia, FDA) received a steady stream of eye-witness accounts of violations of environmental and human rights laws from area residents.”
All in all, this is what the Waorani are faced with every day. It’s discouraging and disappointing, but they know full well they have to continue. I mean, it’s not like they’re trying to get some money to go on vacation to luxurious Winnipeg, Manitoba—Rather, they desperately need to secure their most basic rights and in-so-doing, their existence.
If they do not act, then government along with the companies will continue to covet their rights, keeping them twisted as some bizarre justification for unbridled development until the Waorani are little more than a myth that may or may not have the ‘privilege’ of being entered into history as one of the many people lost to the savagery of colonial practice.
To learn more about Ecuador’s indgenous People, you can visit http://www.llacta.org/ (spanish). You can also learn more about the Waorani at http://www.waorani.com. Aswell there’s an ongoing campaign that may of interest, which is aiming to secure the Yasuni National Park…
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