“We Cannot Continue Living This Way”

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Marlon Santi
The Amazon Rainforest is famously known as the “lungs of the earth.” In the Ecuadorian Amazon, indigenous groups have united in an effort to protect our proverbial lungs from multinational corporations who they say have spent many years exploiting these sacred lands for profit and harming the communities that live there.

On Thursday November 5th, 2009, the Center for Justice and International Law (CEJIL), Amazon Watch and the Washington Office on Latin America hosted an event that allowed members of the Ecuadorian Indigenous Rights Movement to share their stories. The following quotes were taken from Marlon Santi’s remarks at that event. Marlon Santi is the President of CONAIE, an organization formed in 1986 as a representative body that voices the needs and goals of Ecuador’s indigenous people. CONAIE has helped to bring the indigenous political voice out of isolation and validate it in Ecuadorian society.

      “The indigenous movement in Ecuador has an agenda focused on defending our rightful territories—the defense of our mother earth, Pachamama…In the past month there has been a mobilization of the indigenous movement…because our rights are being affected by the new laws of the constitution.

      “What is the underlying problem? There is a huge gap between the two sides. The government and the indigenous movement are running parallel and cannot connect.

      “The new constitution in Ecuador says that the power doesn’t lie directly within the hands of the government and recognizes the plurality of races and cultures and the original communities. But after the passing of the new constitution, the government has taken actions that do not show this newfound respect for Indigenous communities by the state…We have participated in the construction of the state. We made proposals. But now, the government tells us, ‘No. We will not speak with the indigenous communities.’ Why?

      “The majority of natural resources are in indigenous territories and the indigenous movement is based on respect of our territory. Our desire to protect our rightful land clashes against the ideology of the government whose development model includes extracting these resources while destroying our environment, society, and culture. In order to enter our lands, the government made laws so that they could do so legally while violating our human rights.

      “The indigenous movement in Ecuador has ten nationalities in the Amazon region, twenty-eight in the Andean region, and four in the coastal area…We say to the government, ‘We do not want you to exploit our territory.’ They respond, ‘No. We have to. How are we going to leave millions and millions of dollars in the subsoil? It would be irresponsible of us, as the government to leave all of that money untouched.’

      “The other nationalities in the central and southern parts of the Amazon do not want the implementation of an oil border in the Amazon region. The indigenous in the Andes do not want their sweet waters, that flow from the high plateaus to be privatized either. Nor do the indigenous on the coast want their mangrove swamps to be handed over to international corporations. But, the Ecuadorian government wants this and this is the major problem that we have at this moment.

      “The indigenous movement is not Ecuadorian. It is spread throughout Latin America. This movement is giving the world the opportunity to reflect upon the importance of the environment. This is the moment to give back to the environment so that we can continue our lives and the lives of our future generations. In the Amazon region, we have endured half a century of oil exploitation. We are the most contaminated region in the continent. Ninety percent of our rivers are contaminated. We cannot continue living this way.

      “The only hope that the indigenous movement has left, is to demand that international institutions advise the Ecuadorian government to respect the collective and individual territory rights of Indigenous communities.

      “The power to create change is in our hands and in the hands of the government. We need to see respect from the government and the international corporations and other countries that come to Ecuador to extract our resources. We need to do a community service project on a continental level, with the help from our brother countries. If not, the situation of indigenous rights in Ecuador will continue to be in crisis.”