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Our colleagues in Ecuador have sent in this perspective on the “Marcha por la Vida” – a plurinational march across the country for water, life, and dignity for Ecuador’s indigenous peoples – which arrives in Quito this week.

Correa Administration Ressurects Extractive Development Model

In the beginning of his term, Ecuador’s President Rafael Correa upheld a very alternative discourse that proposed a new economic model based on the concept of sumak kawsay, a Kichwa term meaning harmonic living and well-being with, and among, people and their natural surroundings.

Yet, over the years this discourse has changed. Rather than achieving well-being through respect for nature and the plurinational character of the country as advocated in the 2008 Constitution, the “new” development model currently holding sway is based on outdated, destructive paradigms, like extractive activity that exploits Nature instead of sustaining it.

The Correa administration has used legislation over the last four years to change the way the oil and mineral sectors benefit the Ecuadorian state and society. Now a larger percentage of the profits from extraction and exploitation of natural resources are received by the government, used to finance large projects and to support the ruling party’s political ends.

Extractive Development Expands into Untouched Areas

With the legal framework aligned to the economic interests of the government, the exploitation frontier is being expanded into previously untouched areas, for example, the south-central region of the Amazon, home to seven indigenous nationalities and peoples.

In early March, the Ecuadorean government signed a contract with Chinese mining company, Ecuacorrientes, that includes the construction of large-scale open pit mining in the Zamora Chinchipe province.

The National Comptroller General has indicated that this project violates Ecuadorian laws and was approved through oversight by technical and environmental authorities. Principally because of the effects it will have on water sources, the mining activity outlined in the contract is constitutionally illegal.

Indigenous Nationalities Protest Constitutional Violations

Since December of last year, the CONAIE (the national indigenous representative organization) announced that it would carry out a national protest demanding that the principles of the 2008 Constitution be upheld.

The five objectives of this protest are:

  • redistribution of access to water;
  • support for agrarian reform based on food sovereignty;
  • change in the mining extractivism paradigm that prevents the development of a new model based on well-being;
  • refusal of new taxes on small landholders and producers; and,
  • immediate termination of the criminalization of social protests, including dismissal of the cases against 194 indigenous leaders for sabotage and terrorism.

The protest has taken the form of a march that began on March 8 in the southern province of Zamora Chinchipe, and has passed through important Amazonian and highland communities on its way to Quito. In each town, the march has gained followers who support the demonstration’s objectives in defense of water and indigenous territories and against the extractive development model of the government.

Planned Government Response Unknown

The indigenous protestors and their supporters are scheduled to arrive in Quito on Thursday, March 22 to present an alternative proposal to the central government that respects and defends the ancestral territories of the country’s indigenous peoples.

The planned response of the government to the march is unknown; but statements have already been made that suggest possible repression. Efforts have been made to mobilize a “counter” protest of government supporters who have already staked out key demonstration points in Quito, and the municipal government has announced that no protests have been approved for Thursday.

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