The Waorani say "we are fighting because our territory is not for sale."
Indigenous Waorani are bringing a lawsuit against the Lenin Moreno administration saying the government is illegally trying to drill for oil in the heart of their territory located in the country’s eastern Amazon region.
On Wednesday hundreds of Waorani activists arrived in Pastaza’s capital of Puyo to announce their joint lawsuit with the state public defender against the Ministry of Hydrocarbons after traveling days from their communities within the biodiverse and oil-rich province.
In a press statement released by ally, Amazon Frontlines, the Waorani, organized under the CONCONAWEP (Coordinating Council of the Waorani Nationality of Ecuador-Pastaza) say they filed the legal action because their “rights to free, prior and informed consultation … were violated” when the government announced it would potentially sell seven million acres of their territory to oil companies without holding the constitutionally required public debates on the matter.
They say their case “aims to keep their ancestral lands free from natural resource extraction and to set a precedent for other indigenous nations to do the same.”
The Waorani and several other Indigenous groups in the region, including Kichwa, Shuar and Achuar, say they thought they had reached an accord with Ecuador’s current administration to limit oil drilling in their land last year. At that time all sides agreed the government would auction off only two or the originally proposed 16 land blocks within the Amazon that overlap with large swaths of their virgin “ancestral territories” to potential oil companies.
By October 2018, however, the Ministry of Hydrocarbons suddenly announced that significant portions of Waorani land would potentially be auctioned off in a future round of sales or “handed directly over to the state (oil) company Petroamazonas” all without consulting them.
Lina Espinosa, a lawyer for the Waorani In Resistance, told teleSUR "that there is almost no state that will address these issues with the Indigenous peoples and the interest in extracting non-renewable natural resources persists, with or without the consent of the peoples."
Oswando Nenquimo from the Waorani people and spokesperson for Wao Resistencia (Wao Resistance) stated to teleSUR in an interview that the Waorani people, "struggle for our rights. ... We want to live in the jungle, we want our territory healthy, free and without pollution ... We are fighting because our territory is not for sale."
This particular biodiverse Waorani area has been hotly contested since the 1970s when oil extraction took off in Ecuador, resulting in major deforestation and loss of habitat for flora and fauna over the past four decades.
According to studies, between 1994 and 2001 alone, "29,000 crude oil barrels were spilled across the Ecuadorean Amazon” an occurrence that the Waorani are all too familiar with. They say oil extraction from their territory will “be a colossal environmental disaster ... with devastating impacts on the rainforests and life, culture and wellbeing of those who call the Amazon their home.
There is hope for the Waorani’s case. Back in 2012 the Kichwa Indigenous group in Sarayacu, Pastaza won an unprecedented case against Ecuador’s previous administration under Rafael Correa when the Inter-American Court of Human Rights ruled against the government for failing to provide citizen-state public debates on extraction in the region.