It isn’t terribly often that we in the conservation sphere get to celebrate successes in our line of work. While small-scale targets are often recognized – meaning the hitting of fundraising or event-attendance goals – larger, systemic, and long-term changes are fewer and farther in between. But, this holiday season it seems we’ve all been gifted with a truly joyous victory in the fight to preserve tropical rainforests and protect and empower the native peoples within!
Ecuador’s government, previously ruled by Rafael Correa, has for years been ardently pro-oil and pro-mining. After Correa’s administration had pushed to expand oil development into the Ecuadorian Amazon, many indigenous communities found themselves bereft of land and property. (*1) During Correa’s decade-long reign, at least 177 indigenous people were imprisoned for protesting against the government’s land-grabbing – and many of those people remain incarcerated (*2). When in May of this year, Ecuadorians elected President Lenin Moreno into power, the nation stood hopeful for change against a backdrop of politically endorsed environmental destruction and infringements on civil liberties.
This December, over 3000 indigenous peoples throughout the Ecuadorian Amazon assembled before the Presidential Palace in Quito, Ecuador. Many of the marchers had traversed hundreds of miles on foot to make it to the demonstration. (*3) The diverse group, representing dozens of indigenous communities in the region’s rainforest, was united with the mission of holding court with President Moreno to discuss issues of grave importance to their livelihoods. After leaders met with the president for several hours, Moreno agreed to put a halt to the “expansion of new oil and mining activities in indigenous territories.” (*3)
The significance of this victory mustn’t be understated. In a nation where discussion about indigenous rights – including land, property, food, education and water rights – had been stalled for months under the current administration, and for years under the previous one, the positive outcome of the march and meeting with President Moreno is historic. Although the participating communities must wait to see the fruits of their labor (i.e. will Moreno keep his promise), this is still the first step in the right direction for a nation whose relationship with its indigenous peoples for decades has been adversarial, “both figuratively and literally.” (*3)
As we wait to see what comes of this Ecuadorian victory, we must still remain cognizant of the remaining struggles afoot. While Moreno has promised to halt expansion of oil and mining concessions, the damage done by existing operations has yet to be stopped or reversed. Not to mention, the legal rights of the peoples who are fighting so ardently for their livelihoods have yet to be legislatively reinforced. But, that being said, there’s no reason not to take the time this holiday season to be thankful for the joyous development that took place thanks to the determination of those 3000 marchers to protect their rainforest and their futures.