An indigenous leader of the Shuar people who was openly opposing a major mining project in Ecuador has been found bound and buried, just days before an environmental protest he was organizing in Peru's capital, Lima.
We here don't really like to tackle politics - unless it directly involves science or the environment... and this is exactly the case. José Isidro Tendetza Antún, a former vice-president of the Shuar Federation of Zamora, had been missing since 28 November. He was killed, found bound and buried, "no name grave". There were also signs that he had been tortured. So what makes this murder connected to science, and more specifically, to the environment?
Tendentza was involved in environmental activism, and was very vocal in opposing a major mining project of the Mirador copper and gold mine, an open-cast pit that has been approved in an area of important biodiversity that is also home to the Shuar, Ecuador’s second-biggest indigenous group. The project will devastate around 450,000 acres of forest, which will be devastating not only for the local ecosystems, but also for the local communities.
“This is a camouflaged crime,” said Ankuash. “In Ecuador, multinational companies are invited by the government and get full state security from the police and the army. The army and police don’t provide protection for the people, they don’t defend the Shuar people. They’ve been bought by the company.
Other members of the community said that Tendetza had been offered bribes to keep quiet and when that failed, his crops were burned and he was constantly threatened. It's not very difficult to read between the lines. Tendentza had a loud voice, and people wanted him to go away. To make things even worse, the government is not especially motivated to bring justice to this case, with accusations of bribe flowing left and right.
“[Tendetza] was not just anyone. He was a powerful leader against the company. That’s why they knocked down his house and burnt his farm. The government will never give us a response, justice belongs to them. They will call us terrorists but that doesn’t mean we are not going to shut up.” Ankuash added.
It's not the first time something like this has happened. Several other Shuar opponenets of Mirador have been killed in recent years. including Bosco Wisum in 2009 and Freddy Taish in 2013, according to Amazon Watch.
Tendetza was also planning to condemn the project at a Rights of Nature Tribunal organised by NGOs at the climate talks which are taking place this week in the Peruvian capital, and this could have raised significant problems not only for the mining project, but also for the Ecuadorian government.
Luis Corral, an advisor to Ecuador’s Assembly of the People of the South, an umbrella group for indigenous federations in southern Ecuador, said that if Tendetza had been able to travel to the COP20 it would have put in “grave doubt the honorability and the image of the Ecuadorean government as a guarantor of the rights of nature”.
“We believe that this murder is part of a pattern of escalating violence against indigenous leaders which responds to the Ecuadorean government and the companies’ need to clear the opposition to a mega-mining project in the Cordillera del Condor,” he said.
There is a long lasting "tradition" of violence and even murders against environmental activists in South America. Almost 500 activists were killed in Brazil alone in the past decade, and the situation isn't really better in Ecuador. Despite receiving huge sums of money as part of a deal to not drill in areas with extremely high biodiversity, Ecuador shows no interest in actually preserving the rainforest. Controversial drilling projects continue to be launched with major negative consequences for the environment and the local populations, and the government shows no interest in actually protecting these parties. Earlier this week, a group of campaigners travelling in a “climate caravan” were stopped six times by police on their way to Lima and eventually had their bus confiscated.
"The activists said they were held back because president Correa wants to avoid potentially embarrassing protests at the climate conference over his plan to drill for oil in Yasuni, an Amazon reserve and one of the most biodiverse places on earth", the BBC writes.
A while ago, Ecuador was considered to be one of the greenest countries in the world - but in recent times, especially after Correa became president, Ecuador’s environmental reputation has dwindled, as more emphasis was put on oil, gas and mineral extraction, especially in partnership with China. Ecuador is one of the countries with the most spectacular biodiversity.