Josefina Tunki, 59, lives and commutes in the heart of the Cordillera del Cóndor, where thousands of tons of gold and copper are extracted. She is the first president of the Shuar Arutam people. Photos: Luis Argüello / Plan V
Josefina Tunki asked those attending a press conference not to worry about her bare feet. The Shuar leader traveled to Quito, which received her with rain and less than 50 degrees Fahrenheit, this Tuesday, June 15. She headed the table of defenders threatened and criminalized for their struggle against extractivism and in favor of Nature.
Wearing typical Shuar women's clothing, the indigenous leader told the press conference in Quito about the threats and shortages her people are going through.
In this space, the Alliance of Organizations for Human Rights presented the results of an investigation of 22 cases and revealed that 449 people have been threatened, harassed and systematically persecuted for the custody of their territories. Of these 22 cases, 16 correspond to mining exploitation contexts.
The report "Situation of human, collective and natural rights defenders in Ecuador" was the work of 19 organizations.
One of them is Josefina. The weather in the capital did not daunt the Shuar leader, who preferred to appear before the press wearing the traditional blue sleeveless dress of the Shuar woman, a sash and anklets made of seeds. "I have walked through mountains," Josefina said to explain that her feet have withstood difficult journeys and a Quito rain was not going to be the exception. Her life, full of shortages and needs, formed her to become the first woman to preside over the Shuar Arutam People (PSHA) in 2019, which is made up of 47 communities and 12,000 inhabitants.
The territory of the PSHA covers 230,000 hectares in the Cordillera del Condor, Morona Santiago province, in the south of the Ecuadorian Amazon. Despite their demands to remain free of mining, the majority of that extension has been concessioned to international companies such as Lowell-Solaris Resources Inc. (Canada), SolGold (Australia), EcuaSolidus S.A. (Canada) and the Chinese Explorcobres (EXSA), concessionaire of Mirador, the project that inaugurated mega-mining in Ecuador in July 2019. In none of these projects, says this defender, there was prior, free and informed consultation, a constitutional right that indigenous peoples living in the areas of impact have.
"No Ecuadorian should be persecuted by any foreigner," claimed the leader when she mentioned that she was intimidated by one of these companies. The report - which was elaborated by 19 organizations - narrates that, on November 6, 2020, the vice president of operations of Solaris Resources Inc, Federico Velásquez, threatened Josefina and her communication collaborator, Tania Laurini, by telephone. According to the report, he told them: "If you keep bothering me with national and international complaints, one of these heads will have to be cut off". The Prosecutor's Office is investigating this complaint.
(Editor's note: In a letter addressed to PlanV, Diego Chimbo, lawyer of the businessmanVelásquez, referred to this report and said, "The investigation notes Josefina Tunki, as a leader threatened with death by Federico Velásquez, which is absolutely false, because Josefina Tunki has never been threatened with death; unfortunately she decontextualizes words to victimize herself and does not mind lying to fulfill her objective." In the letter, she also added: "Solaris Resources and its subsidiary Lowell Mineral Exploration, has always reiterated its respect for the Shuar Arutam People, to whom the Shuar Centers of Warints and Yawi belong, where the Warintza Project is being developed, and always keeps the door open for good faith dialogues with their authorities")
This leader also gave her testimony before the Constitutional Court, last April 15, in a lawsuit against the State. In 2017, the Shuar Arutam People denounced the Ministries of Environment and Mines for not complying with a 2013 report by the Comptrxoller's Office that recommended reversing EXSA concessions in Shuar territory. But the Comptroller's Office, eight years later retracted and faded its own report, as PlanV told in a previous report. Josefina, in that hearing, called the officials of the control entity "liars".
Josefina, in her speech in Quito, said that her fight is to defend an Ecuadorian heritage and mentioned the Santiago and Morona rivers, which cross the Cordillera, from which thousands of tons of copper and gold are now being extracted. This detail is not minor, as Josefina grew up next to a river. She was born in Chichis, a small Shuar community that now gathers 60 families, in the Tiwintza canton, in the province of Morona Santiago. This town is a neighbor of the river that bears the same name and this is one of the tributaries of the Santiago River, today affected by large-scale mining where Josefina claims to have seen dead fish.
This 59-year-old leader lives and travels in the heart of the Cordillera del Cóndor. She considers herself a hiker. According to her, she likes to walk in the forest. She has a plot of land where she observes a diversity of large and small animals, and medicinal plants that have strengthened her.
Josefina Josefina grew up without a father. She was orphaned at the age of two. She lived in a humble home with her mother and grandmother. Due to economic difficulties, she finished high school at the age of 24, at the Salesian school of Sevilla Don Bosco. She was a missionary of this religious congregation and later a primary school teacher in several communities.
"But I saw that still that was not my mission," Josefina recalls about her years prior to her election as a women's leader in the Shuar Federation and to that of her selection as PSHA education leader. In 2019, she assumed leadership of PSHA after a fellow Shuar teacher of hers was unable to accept that position. "Gender equity for me is not for revenge, but an exchange of activities between men and women."
Gabriela Fraga, Carlos Jipa y Josefina Tunki. The three gave their testimonies about the persecution they have suffered for their struggle against extractivism.
Josefina has had to face the worst time for the Shuar Arutam People and its leadership. Between August and September 2020, the personal Facebook accounts of Josefina and the Communication leader, Eddy Nawech, were hacked. The attackers uploaded content to discredit their organizational process. In May 2020, the Prosecutor's Office directed a midnight raid against Education leader Shirap Pascual Nantip Santiak. According to the report, he and his family received verbal and physical aggressions, which frightened children, a mother in labor and elderly adults. Prosecutor Leslie Silvana Chuqui charged him with sex crimes by electronic means. "In the investigation process, the same prosecutor's office recognized that the leader was unjustly accused, and that he was the victim of a hacking," the investigation says.
Josefina did not waste the opportunity to tell the public officials who attended the event that her people have not received any benefits from the extractive industries. The road is destroyed. The schools and communities, without internet. She herself must carry out her leadership activities from the PSHA headquarters in Maikiuants, in the Limón Indaza canton, in Morona Santiago. From there she attends interviews and meetings with an intermittent connection.
The press conference was attended by Bernarda Ordóñez (in front, black jacket), secretary of Human Rights, as delegate of President Guillermo Lasso. The Human Rights Director of the Attorney General's Office and representatives of the Ombudsman's Office, the Ministries of Labor and Environment and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs also received the report.
This community also experienced pressure from the State. Maikiuants was militarized on November 21, 2020. Two trucks of the Armed Forces entered the place, while women from the village were in a workshop. The ex-governor of Morona Santiago, Juan León Pilco, said that the militarization was due to complaints from the Solaris company, which requested protection from possible threats. Days before, the PSHA Assembly announced that it would go to the International Labor Organization for the Ecuadorian State's non-compliance with Convention 169 on extractive activities in ancestral territory without the consent of the affected communities, explains the organizations' investigation.
For Josefina, however, the worst situation she faces is the division of her people. She explains that former PSHA leaders are now in favor of mining. "We have two fronts: with them and with the company."
In her speech, the Shuar leader asked for an audience with President Guillermo Lasso and said she will go to the office of each competent official. Because if there is one thing she does not get tired of, it is walking.
More human rights defenders criminalized
The report "Situation of human, collective and natural rights defenders in Ecuador: Challenges in the construction of integral and differentiated systems for their protection" recalls that there are three unpunished murders of defenders and anti-mining activists. In the document, the organizations reported that one of their most relevant concerns "is the participation or complicity of the State with companies that violate rights". Most cases, they added, are located in geographically distant areas marginalized by the State. "This reveals that, in addition to the systematic threats to their integrity, the lives of human rights defenders are being violated by other state entities". The following are some of the testimonies of human rights defenders in mining and oil areas who have reported being victims of criminalization in recent years.
Gabriela Fraga, La Merced de Buenos Aires community, Imbabura:
At the press conference, the activist told that she, her family and community have been criminalized. She stated that Buenos Aires has lost its peace, first with illegal mining and now with the presence of the Hanrine mining company, which is at the entrance of the town. Workers of this company have been blocking the town for 56 days. They are on two roads in 25 trucks and 20 vans. The defender explained that Buenos Aires is in resistance for the same amount of time waiting for a response from the authorities. The inhabitants of Buenos Aires have been accused of being illegal miners, but she rejected that claim because her town does not want either illegal or legal mining. There, she mentioned, there are six unconsulted concessions. In October 2020, they were repressed by police and company security personnel, she added. She said that Hanrine employees have gone to protest six times in front of the Governor's Office of Imbabura and carry signs with the faces of community defenders. PlanV covered the current conflict in Buenos Aires and the violence in the area caused by illegal mining in two reports.
On May 10, lawyers for the community and Assemblyman Mario Ruiz filed a protective action, requesting precautionary measures against the Hanrine mining company to remove their vehicles. The request was accepted. On June 7, the Judge of the Multicompetent Unit of the Urcuquí canton gave the company 10 days to remove the camps from the date of notification of the sentence.sa el plazo de 10 días para levantar los campamentos a partir de la notificación de la sentencia.
Last April 23, 18 human rights organizations supported the community and issued a strong exhortation to the authorities:
- We demand that the National Police control and prevent the entry of mining companies and personnel and safeguard the rights of all people in the parish of Buenos Aires. To prevent the spread of Covid-19 in the territory of Buenos Aires and to protect the health of the population, it is imperative to prevent the entry of people who could potentially be contaminated. We remind you that preventing further contagion is precisely the objective of the state of emergency.
- We remind the National Police that they cannot act as private guards for the Hanrine mining company to facilitate its entry into the Buenos Aires territory. There is a serious conflict between the community and the company in which the Police cannot intervene; even less against the community that it must serve and protect in compliance with its mandate.
- We remind the public force that it cannot enter to break up a protest. Protest and resistance are recognized universal rights. The role of law enforcement in public protests is to protect the citizens who participate in them and third parties. According to the Constitution, the control of internal order is the exclusive function of the National Police and, in the case of protests in the context of a pandemic, it must be oriented exclusively to the fulfillment of biosecurity conditions.
- The Armed Forces cannot participate in these tasks because they understand protest and resistance as actions of the enemy to be defeated, not as a legitimate exercise of rights. Protest is not a war and people protesting for their rights are not and cannot be considered or treated as enemies. We warn that all members of the community participate in resistance actions, including children, elderly people, pregnant women, all of them subjects of special protection.
Elizabeth Durazno, community of Molleturo-Río Blanco, Azuay:
Activist Elizabeth Durazno said at the press conference that their territory has been militarized and their rights have not been respected. "They have generated environmental damage and division of our communities. We decided to continue with the resistance and we will not allow anyone to violate our rights. We will continue to weave solidarity with Human Rights and Nature Defenders around the world," she said.
She is the sister of the community water defender leader, Andrés Durazno, who was murdered on the night of March 16, 2021 by another community member in the midst of a discussion about the illegal mining project. The organizations maintain that his murder cannot be understood outside of the conflict surrounding mining in Río Blanco. Andrés was an active and permanent part of the resistance to all forms of mining, they state.
The Rio Blanco large-scale mining project is operated by the Chinese company Junefield - Ecuagoldmining South America S.A. It consists of 3 concessions in an area of 6,000 hectares, located in the Molleturo-Mollepungo Protected Forest, a few kilometers from the Paredones archeological site and near the buffer zone of the Cajas National Park. This area is home to approximately 786 lagoons, which are a source of water for local agriculture and human consumption in the province of Azuay.
According to the report, criminalization processes have been registered since October 2017, when the communities held a peaceful demonstration due to the destruction of communal roads. Faced with this action, members of the National Police and private guards of the company responded with physical violence and threats, pointing out "we know where you live and work".
Carlos Jipa and lawyers of the oil spill case, Coca, Orellana:
Since September 2020, Carlos Jipa Andi, president of the Federation of Communes Union of Natives of the Ecuadorian Amazon (FCUNAE); and lawyers Lina Maria Espinosa, Vivian Idrovo, Sylvia Bonilla, Luis Xavier Solis and Julio Marcelo Prieto, face a criminal investigation under the criminal type of instigation, brought by Jaime Oña Mayorga, judge of first instance who knew the jurisdictional guarantee. Judge Oña was in charge of the protection action filed by Jipa and the lawyers on behalf of a hundred communities that were affected by the oil spill of April 2020. On several occasions, the judge was questioned for the delays of months in the process, when it was urgent. The judge argued that the actions of public denunciation carried out through social networks due to the unjustified delays in the process allegedly put his physical integrity and that of his family at risk, thus seeking the imposition of a criminal punishment for the only people involved in the criminal investigation: a leader and lawyers defending human rights and nature.
"While we ask for justice for a dignified life, the judge who denied us the protection action for the damages caused by the spill accuses us of sending a message that indigenous justice will be applied for this sentence", said the indigenous leader in the press conference. "Out of ignorance or bad faith, to consider indigenous justice as a threat is a discriminatory act towards our ancestral practices. What we seek with indigenous justice is to initiate a healing process with the person who has made a mistake, at no time does this represent a threat or intimidation to third parties. The nationalities of Orellana are tired of so much abuse, we will continue this fight to the last consequences".
Mariano Mashendo, Tundayme community, Zamora Chinchipe:
Shuar defender, Mariano Mashendo, lives in the Cóndor Mirador sector, Zamora Chinchipe province. He is one of the people directly affected by the Mirador Project, operated by EcuaCorriente S.A. (ECSA). Since 1998, with the arrival of the mining company, Shuar families have been pressured to sell their ancestral territories, and even violently evicted from their homes, the report explains.
For opposing the mining project, Mashendo has received threats and constant harassment from ECSA employees and military personnel, which put their safety and physical integrity at risk. On November 25, 2020, armed personnel from the mining company came to try to evict him from his property in order to build the dam that will feed the water source project.
Mariano refused. On the night of November 27, 2020, two people approached his home and threatened his physical integrity. To protect his life, Marino fled from his house into the bushes.
Esther Landetta, Tenguel canton, Guayas province:
Photo: Omar Sotomayor
Esther Esther Landetta Chico is a leader of the community organization "Asamblea Pro Defensa de Nuestros Ríos Tenguel, Chico, Siete y Gala", located in Tenguel canton, Guayas province. Esther has led the fight against the pollution caused by mining in the rivers, the main water supply for both human consumption and irrigation of plantations, which are the source of income for the inhabitants.
In July 2020, the Tenguel river was again seriously polluted by a landslide in one of the Ponce Enriquez mines, which, according to the technical report of the Ministry of Environment and Water, caused the spillage of 3,000 cubic meters of chemical and gold-bearing material, as well as the definitive closure of the waste pool of the "Armijos" processing plant of the Austrogold Co. This incident caused the water supply to be affected and the rights of the inhabitants and nature to be violated. Because of her work as a defender, Esther Landetta and her family have suffered threats and intimidation.
Translated by Manuel Novik