Minority Rights Group International (MRG) Deputy Director, Claire Thomas, writes this opinion piece for the Thomson Reuters News Foundation.+ LEARN MORE
The Shuar belong to the Jivaroan ethno-linguistic group and live in the upper Amazonian region of Ecuador as well as in Peru. They are the second largest indigenous community in Ecuador.
The Shuar Federation was one of the earliest indigenous resistance organizations in Ecuador, and one whose substantial achievements have made it a model for other groups. The federation was founded in 1964 to defend indigenous communities from the 1964 agrarian reforms that actively promoted the colonization of the Amazonian region. Their education programme has enabled Shuar to reassert themselves and take pride in their cultural inheritance. Strategic adaptation to changing realities gives them an improved chance of long-term survival as a people and their initiative may be followed by other groups.
The Shuar are highly mobilized and communicate through Shuar Radio, a station dating back to the early 1990s. They have been active in political struggles over water-use and in 2004, the Shuar were one of the four indigenous peoples to bring a lawsuit against the oil company Texaco (now owned by Chevron) for reparations resulting from the destruction of ancestral lands.
Conflict between Shuar and mining companies has increased in recent years. Since 2012 Shuar people have been fighting against the planned construction of an open pit copper and gold mine within their territory in the Condor Highlands in South-Eastern Ecuador. The so-called ‘Mirador Mine’ project, financed by the Chinese company Ecuacorrientes (ECSA), risks impacting water sources and land, resulting in significant damage not only to the local environment but also the culture, sacred sites and livelihoods of the indigenous population. The contract to grant licenses to ECSA was pushed through by President Rafael Correa in March 2012 without respecting domestic and international law: no consultation or prior inform consent of the indigenous communities took place before the signature of the agreement. The Confederation of Indigenous Nationalities of Ecuador (La Confederación de Nacionalidades Indígenas del Ecuador, CONAIE) said the project would devastate around 450,000 acres of forest. Campaigns and mobilization to block the project have been organized by indigenous communities in Ecuador and supported also by foreign activists outside the country.
In September 2016, 135 riot police entered the same region in order to destroy Shuar homes for the continued exploitation of the ‘Mirador’ copper deposit. The families affected asserted they received no prior notification of this eviction, which was a direct violation of their rights. Two years prior, in a particularly notable case, the body of Shuar activist José Isidro Tendetza was found near a mining project in the south-east of the Amazon. Tendetza was murdered just days before he was due to appear at a UN climate conference in Peru to denounce the mining activities of Ecuacorrientes. Court proceedings regarding the case were ongoing in 2016 but Tendetza’s family has said they expect justice will never be served. By spring 2017, the Shuar village of El Tink was under siege and experiencing a stand-off with security forces, with only a narrow suspension bridge over the Zamora river separating the two sides. A few dozen Shuar displaced by the autumn violence had taken refuge in El Tink.