By Michael Melampy, Rainforest Committee Chair
On December 3, 2013 plain-clothes police officers entered the offices of the Pachamama Foundation in Quito, Ecuador and proceeded to shut them down. This was done at the behest of the Ecuadorian government which apparently is upset at Pachamama for its role in helping Amazonian indigenous communities oppose further oil development in the Ecuadorian Amazon. Resistance from indigenous communities is credited with greatly reducing interest on the part of multi-national oil companies in new oil concessions that the government was trying to sell in the south-central part of Ecuador’s Amazon basin. Many companies are acutely aware of the longstanding problems of Chevron-Texaco in fending off a multi-billion dollar lawsuit brought against the company by indigenous communities for serious environmental contamination in northern Ecuador. Pachamama has helped indigenous communities in south-central Ecuador mount protests against further oil development; apparently, its work has paid off. But now, the government, led by President Rafael Correa, is trying to punish Pachamama and prevent the foundation from further obstructing plans for oil extraction in the Amazon.
Unless the Pachamama action receives international condemnation, the government will be encouraged to go after other environmental groups who are opposed to the government’s extractivist agenda. Carlos Zorrilla, director of DECOIN, a grassroots environmental organization in the Intag region of northwestern Ecuador, has already been denounced by President Correa for his opposition to mining and has been blamed for fomenting community resistance to the government’s plans for opening large mines in Intag. While Correa has gained the support of many Ecuadorians for his efforts to improve roads, schools, clinics and other infrastructure, he has become increasingly heavy-handed when it comes to resource extraction policies. The reason is obvious: social programs require money and Ecuador is running out of oil. Mining might replace lost oil revenue for a while but at a huge environmental cost. The environmental costs are very worrisome to rural communities that depend on clean water and soil to support agriculture, the traditional economic underpinning for most of Ecuador.
These recent events in Ecuador should alarm everyone concerned about the global environment. Ecuador is one of the true megadiversity countries in the world with perhaps the highest density of species of any country in the world. It still harbors many pristine natural areas, particularly in its Amazon basin. International environmental organizations, including Sierra Club, should be willing to show Correa that conservation and economic development are not incompatible. For the moment, we need to mount a campaign to dissuade him from further attacks on Ecuador’s environmentalists. For details about the current crisis and information about what you can do, go to the following websites: www.decoin.org or www.pachamama.org. Also, consider attending a meeting of the NEO Sierra Rainforest Committee. Contact Michael Melampy via email or at 440-826-2263 for information about the time and place for the next meeting.