—The following is an edited version of an open letter dated June 27, 2007, addressed to Joan Kuyek, National Co-ordinator of Mining Watch Canada, an anti-mining, non-governmental organization based in Ottawa.
As the president of the Shuar Federation of Zamora Chinchipe representing the political, social, cultural and economic interests of 55 Shuar (indigenous) communities in Ecuador, it is with great disappointment, outrage and anger that I write this letter to you and your organization for supporting the cultural, social and economic genocide of the Shuar people.
The Shuar people have lived in the Amazon Rainforest for many generations and since contact with the European and mestizo peoples, we have lived in crushing generational poverty. Since the early days of contact up until the present, our people have been subjected to systemic racism, intense discrimination and have endured all the evils that poverty can force upon a people. As a result, our weary but proud people have raised their voice in support of responsible mining as a tool for development and we stand together against poverty and its dire impacts on our families, culture, health and environment. We want and deserve a better quality of life and we will achieve this goal through partnerships with responsible Canadian mining companies like EcuaCorriente S.A. (Corriente Resources’ Ecuadorian subsidiary).
Over the past year, I have followed your web-based commentaries on the mining situation in Ecuador, particularly comments related to mining in the Zamora Chinchipe province. Your postings about mining in our region are appalling and inaccurate. I am certain that the institutions and Canadian public who support your organization would be horrified if they knew your activities supported the cultural, economic and social destruction of our people. I am also certain that they would be very interested in learning how you and your organization have distorted the facts and continue to support organizations and individuals who actively promote violence towards law-abiding, responsible mining companies and our people.
I recently visited Canada and met with several indigenous organizations and leaders and, as I suspected, there were many positive relationships between the natural resource sector and First Nations communities. As a result of this visit, I was able to see firsthand how Canadian indigenous peoples and natural resource extraction companies have built positive relationships that in turn have yielded tremendous benefits for communities and industry.
As well, my indigenous colleagues also shared with me that there are many Canadian non-governmental organizations (NGOs) that have taken advantage of the lack of capacity of First Nations people and prevented them from building mutually beneficial, respectful and sound economic partnerships with industry and that these same NGOs have offered First Nations communities nothing in return but empty promises and continued poverty. This is indeed reminiscent of our situation.
That said, we have learned, from our own experiences with NGOs and from the experiences of Canada’s First Nations people, to be mindful of the interests of the NGO community as they at times have different motives and agendas from those of our communities.
Any actions in support of illegal and violent activities against the Shuar will not silence our people. We will share the truth about your organization and how it is a merely a tool to keep the Shuar and other indigenous peoples in Southern Ecuador poor and in despair. Today our people walk barefoot on immense mineral wealth (an estimated 75 billion lbs. of copper, 12 million oz. of gold and millions of ounces of silver) within our territories, but we cannot access it as NGOs continue to act outside of Ecuadorian law and show little respect or regard for the rights of our people.
In December 2006, a small group of individuals marched on the EcuaCorriente S.A. Mirador exploration camp with the intention of burning it down. You reported on these events, yet you failed to report all the facts surrounding this unwarranted invasion.
The attack was conducted by an unruly, heavily intoxicated, well-armed mob. As well, you did not mention that the leader of this mob — Salvador Quishpe, a rogue deputy from the province of Zamora Chinchipe — was at one time an adamant supporter of EcuaCorriente and the opportunities the company brought to our province.
But why did Mr. Quishpe decide to stop the project? The project has supported the building of new schools for our communities, provided post-secondary scholarships for our children, supported the Shuar virtual marketplace, is helping in the development of a radio station, and is assisting the Shuar in protecting our forests. It is indeed very strange to see Mr. Quishpe’s very sudden change of heart, but we do suspect that Mr. Quishpe’s interests in becoming anti-mining and his decision to lead this mob was not on behalf of our communities, but rather for his own self-serving interests.
As well, your website articles fail to mention that several military personnel were seriously harmed during he December 2006 attack and that Mr. Quishpe used his congressional immunity to avoid prosecution.
In the Amazon region alone there is thought to be billions of dollars worth of gold, silver and copper, and it is our intention to access these resources in a responsible manner and in partnership with EcuaCorriente and other mining companies. At this time, our organization is working on the development and implementation of several impact benefit agreements that will be closely modelled after those found in First Nations communities in Canada. These agreements will ensure that our culture and environment are protected and that our people benefit in terms of employment and procurement from all mining projects in our territories.
Your continued support and the raising of funds against EcuaCorriente’s Mirador project amounts to nothing more than the continuation of poverty and the social, cultural and economic genocide of indigenous peoples in the Zamora-Chinchipe region.
You should visit our communities if you plan to continue reporting on mining activities here. I am quite certain that if you had visited our communities (prior to issuing your reports) and heard and seen for yourself how the Mirador project has positively affected our communities, you would have immediately stopped any support for anti-mining activities in our region.
President of the Shuar Federation of Zamora Chinchipe