José Gualinga: ‘See you in the jungle’

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The oil exploitation of Blocks 79 and 83 of the Ecuadorian Amazon, signed over to Chinese company Andes Petroleum on January 25, “will not happen because it will not happen”. This is according to the leader of the Sarayaku community, José Gualinga, in a quote taken from the following interview with Salomón Osorio of Radio Nina.

Describe the blocks that have been signed over to Andes Petroleum by Rafael Correa’s Government.
Blocks 79 and 83 mainly fall within the Zápara territory, adjacent to the territory of the Kichwa of Sarayaku. Here can be found the headwaters of the Corrientes River in Shiona, parallel to the Conambo and Rutuno rivers. These are areas of black lagoons, where the headwaters of many freshwater rivers are located. This area is also home to a lagoon called Yanacocha.

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Is it a sacred lake?
It is precisely the sacred area, the living zone. Even we do not often enter here. There are approximately 50 lagoons, which were protected by our grandparents, our parents and now by us; and after us, by our children.

How can you legally protect the blocks that have been contracted to oil companies?
The judgment of the Inter-American Court of Human Rights (IACHR) establishes prior, free and informed consultation. This is a crucial point for us. The Government has its own way of interpreting this requirement according to its own interests, seeking to impose by force, without really respecting the constitutional democratic processes. They issue a document stating that a consultation is planned; then they collect signatures and announce to the world that the people have been consulted. This is a sham.

If there is no consent, is it not worth attempting dialogue?
Effectively, if there is no consent, there can be no State penetration. The rest is a violation of the rights of indigenous peoples. There must be consent. At stake is the appropriation or threat to their territory, their culture, their worldview. At stake is the life of the nationalities and original peoples of the Amazon.

The Sarayaku at least have the legal document from the IACHR. Can the Zápara, in whose territory most of the concessioned land falls, also apply the same judgment?
Geographically, the Zápara territory and the Kichwa territory, along with that of the Shiwiar and Achuar, is one.

The judgment of the Commission goes beyond the 6,000 hectares of Sarayaku territory in Block 79 and only in that area the ruling of the Court can be respected. How do the Sarayaku interpret this?
The IACHR ruling not only favors the people of Sarayaku, but all the indigenous peoples of Ecuador and America. It really is a very important instrument that entitles indigenous peoples to defend themselves if they are affected or threatened.

Another part of the IACHR ruling speaks of non-repetition?
The measure of non-repetition applies, for example, to what we have just said about prior consultation. They have to adopt legislative and administrative measures; to create a law for free and informed prior consultation in good faith.

You have said that communities will not sit idly by. Will communities be vigilant, guarding their territory?
The Sarayaku Assembly adopted a resolution which states that we will be vigilant. The resolution also demands the fulfillment of the IACHR ruling and rejects the entire bidding process for Blocks 79 and 83. We have meetings planned with our lawyers and a forthcoming hearing at the IACHR to review the fulfillment of the ruling.

When is the IACHR hearing scheduled?
For the third or fourth month of 2016. The decision is not only the Ecuadorian Government’s; we are talking about the IACHR. This is virgin territory with no presence of communities, so they are really high biodiversity areas. Here there are lakes with piranhas, endemic lizards, black water, unique species. The question is, how they will penetrate? Where they will set up camp? What will the impact be? Yes, there will be conflict, because we will not leave. Then, the armed forces will arrive and there will be a repetition of what happened in 2002 with Block 23.

The only way to enter is to bulldoze everything?
All they can do is open a camp in the Conambo River in Masaramo. I think it’s time to look for new alternatives. It’s been said that oil prices will not improve over the next few years. And if the oil price doesn’t exceed $30 or $40, exploitation is actually uneconomical. And this is when the machines are going to enter virgin territories. The first impact is in the exploration phase. It is important to know that the IACHR ordered the removal of explosives from Block 23, which has not been done yet. It’s really a massive subterranean bombing campaign, affecting freshwater headwaters, roots, burrows; everything pertaining to life underground.

The Ecuadorian State compensated CGC, the operator of Block 23, with a payment of $20 million dollars. Is Andes Petroleum also thinking of a compensation payment?
We all know that investment in oil exploration is linked to corruption, when the price of oil is $20 and will reach $40. The same Government has admitted that the cost of extracting oil is higher than the sale price. CGC declared itself subject to a Force Majeure, due to the impediment of the Sarayaku people. Thus, the Government of the time, with no hesitation, paid $20 million in compensation to CGC, while the people of Sarayaku had to face 10 years of legal proceedings to be compensated with one million dollars.

As the Government says, “we are sitting on a sack of gold,” but the gold has never been for communities. They have never seen it.
What we inherit is destruction, misery, death, the extermination of our survival resources. Here, we’re talking about ecocide. The Government gave a nice speech at the Cop21 in Paris in December, proposing the creation of an environmental justice court for those who act against nature. We must work so that the law is applied within our States, because it cannot be said that only the big transnational or developed countries are to blame, but our own governments, who drive extractive policies, violating and attacking human rights and  the rights of indigenous peoples.

In summary, the point is that Blocks 79 and 83 will not be entered because they will not be entered?
It will not happen because it will not happen. That’s how it is. We will defend the jungle because it is our right. The judgment of the IACHR is clear when there is an impact, when there is a threat. We have the right to resistance and we will base ourselves on that right. And there we shall meet, in the jungle. So it is.

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