Sunday, August 4, 2013

A Quick Note from the Ecuadorian Frontlines

Dateline: Tena, Ecuador
July 25, 2013

Pepe Acacho, indigenous leader and a member of Ecuador’s national legislative body, has been found guilty of sabotage and organized terrorism by the nation’s courts. He faces up to 25 years in prison. The charges stem from Acacho’s activities as a Shuar leader and organizer in the nation’s indigenous movement, particularly his position as the head of the local indigenous-run radio outlet, Radio Voice of Arutam. The Shuar are Ecuador’s most politically organized indigenous tribe and they, like other indigenous groups of the Ecuadorian (and Peruvian) Amazon face ongoing threats to their health and their environment from powerful corporate interests seeking gold, copper and oil.

In 2009, as director of the Radio Voice of Arutam, Acacho was one of the organizers of a protest for water rights in which indigenous professor Bosco Wasuma was killed, apparently by friendly fire during a clash with police ( Protest participants maintain that the march was peaceful until police showed up, and they blame authorities for Wasuma’s death. The authorities, conversely, blamed protest organizers for inciting violence, and on January 31, 2011 arrested Acacho along with three other Shuar leaders on charges of terrorism and sabotage. The trial finally came to an end on Friday, July 19, with the conviction of Pedro Acacho and Pedro Mashiant. The conviction is a blow to the indigenous movement and to freedom of speech and assembly in Ecuador.

Here at the field school, two of our students, Lisa and Heather, were visiting the home of Ines Shiguango when the news came out. Lisa had been a volunteer English teacher in the town of Archidona near Tena, and Shiguango’s extended family was her host family.

At the time of Wasuma’s death and Acacho’s arrest, Shiguango was the vice-president of CONFENAIE, the national confederation of Amazonian indigenous groups ( When Acacho and other leaders were arrested, remaining movement leaders went into hiding. Ines didn’t. She became the president pro-tem of CONFENAIE while everyone else went underground. She was stopped, questioned, and searched five times during a subsequent bus trip from Quito to Puyo. And she went on the radio to speak out. (This broadcast is reportedly available on the internet. I wasn't able to find this specific one, but there are several others that look interesting.)

Since Acacho’s arrest, Shiguango has finished her term as vice-president of CONFENAIE, and she has also earned her law degree. She now works in Tena, Ecuador on issues of indigenous rights. She recently ran for a position in the local assembly, but her party was defeated. On Friday, July 19 of this year, Ines was asked to join the government’s party. Later that day, she got the news about Acacho.

“When she heard this news about Pepe,” Lisa said, “She was very upset. She felt it could easily have been her.” Her response: “People aren’t saying anything yet,” Lisa quoted her, “but I am going to the radio on Monday.”

Interesting links for further information:

One of the few news stories (in English) I could find on Acacho's conviction:

There aren't that many stories in Spanish either. Why the lack of international outrage over what appears to be an affront to the freedom of speech and of assembly? Maybe because there are just so many of these cases. As the above story notes, there have been over 200 such arrests since popular socialist president Rafael Correa took office. Perhaps a sign that not everyone is fooled is this graffiti slogan that I saw all over Tena: Correa: 1000 firmas falsas (Correa: 1000 false promises).

Here are a couple of related stories that will be of particular interest to folks in Colorado. Turns out we have a friend in common with the indigenous people of the Amazon: Robert Friedland, CEO of Ivanhoe Drilling, and former CEO of the company responsible for the big Summitville, Colorado toxic mine spill (largest cyanide spill in US history).

A juicy quote from the Men's Journal Story:
"About his Mongolian operation he boasted, 'We've got hot showers in the Gobi Desert. Hot showers in the Gobi Desert! You think that's easy? I mean, who the fuck has a camel polo championship at their company? Nobody!'"

Steve Jobs' take on Friedland, from Jobs' biography, by Walter Isaacson:
"Many years later, after Friedland had become a billionaire copper and gold mining executive...I met him for drinks in New York. That evening I emailed Jobs and mentioned my encounter. He telephoned me from California within an hour and warned me against listening to Friedland. He said that when Friedland was in trouble because of environmental abuses committed by some of his mines, he had tried to contact Jobs to intervene with Bill Clinton, but Jobs had not responded. 'Robert always portrayed himself as a spiritual person. But he crossed the line from being charismatic to being a con-man,' Jobs said. 'It was a strange thing to have one of the spiritual people in your young life turn out to be, symbolically and in reality, a gold miner.'" (p.39-40)

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