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  • Carrying spears & chanting songs about defending the forest, the Indigenous Waorani went into court.

    Carrying spears & chanting songs about defending the forest, the Indigenous Waorani went into court. | Photo: Amazon Frontlines

Published 11 April 2019

Despite promises to limit oil drilling, the state revealed its plans to auction off ancestral land, Waorani say.

Hundreds of Indigenous Waorani People marched Thursday to a court hearing held in Puyo as part of a lawsuit, interposed by 16 communities, against Ecuador’s government for trying to auction off Waorani territory for oil drilling operations without their consent. 

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"A prior, free and informed consultation is a fundamental right of Indigenous peoples. However, the evidence in this case clearly shows that the government used erroneous information, manipulation and bad faith in the violation of the constitution and international law," prosecutor from Amazon Frontlines for the Waorani Lina Maria Espinosa told teleSUR. 

The court hearing began at 9:00 local time in the Amazonian city of Puyo. The Waorani plaintiffs, accompanied by Ecuador’s Human Rights Ombudsmen and attorneys from the NGO Amazon Frontlines, are facing off officials from the Ecuadorean Ministry of Energy and Non-Renewable Natural Resources, Secretary of Hydrocarbons and the Ministry of Environment.

“We are here to demand respect for our rights as Indigenous peoples and to show the world that the government did not consult us about selling our territory to oil companies. They only flew into our communities and stayed half an hour, they spoke in Spanish and our elders did not understand,” Waorani leader and President of the Coordinating Council of the Waorani Nationality of Ecuador-Pastaza Nemonte Nenquimo said. 

The Waorani say they thought they had reached an accord with Lenin Moreno’s 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.

However, by October 2018, the Ministry of Hydrocarbons suddenly announced that significant portions of Waorani land (Bloc 22) 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. This comprehends Waorani Pastaza’s homeland,  spanning nearly 500,000 acres, “one of the last remaining intact forests highly biodiverse primary rainforest,”  the organization stated.

 In February, the judicial system summoned them a hearing to present the case, but were not given the proper notice they requested from the court, at least 20 days notice, in order to gather their elders who are the only ones allowed by their laws to make important decisions, and some of whom must travel long distances.  Instead, the court gave them just two days notice to prepare their defense. Thus that process was held off until April 2019.

This new hearing is expected to last one or two days and may include a judicial visit to the territory, as the plaintiffs have requested. “We expect a resolution from the judge within the next few weeks, and from there either party could appeal to the Provincial Court of Pastaza, which would issue a final sentence,” Waorani attorney from Amazon Frontilenes, Brian Parker, told teleSUR.

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