Open letter to Joan Kuyek, national Coordinator of MiningWatch Canada, from the Shuar Federation of Zamora Chinchipe in Ecuador.
Dear Ms. Kuyek,
As the President of the Shuar Federation of Zamora Chinchipe representing the political, social, cultural and economic interests of 55 Shuar (Indigenous) communities, 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. As you or may not be aware, the Shuar people have lived within the Amazon Rainforest since time immemorial 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 day, 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 of this, our weary, but very 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 to our families, culture, health and our environment. As the original people of the Ecuadorian Rainforest 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.
Over the past year, I have followed your web-based commentaries on the mining situation in Ecuador particularly comments related to the situation of mining in the Zamora Chinchipe Province. Your postings about mining in our region are appalling, inaccurate and untruthful. 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 and illegal acts towards law-abiding responsible mining companies and towards Indigenous and non-Indigenous peoples in our province.
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 first hand how Canadian Indigenous peoples and natural resource extraction companies have built positive relations which in turn have yielded tremendous benefits for communities and industry. I was also fortunate enough to see a video produced by SanGold Resources (a gold mining operation in Southern Manitoba) where responsible mining is supported by National Chief Phil Fontaine (of the Assembly of First Nations) and other prominent Manitoba First Nations leaders and how over 80 percent of the workforce of SanGold is Aboriginal. This video and examples I saw in Canada clearly demonstrate how industry and Indigenous communities work together for common benefit.
As well, my Indigenous colleagues also shared with me that there are many Canadian non-government organizations 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 where international NGOs such as yours lend support or come to Ecuador and offer little relief from the agonizing poverty that our people have and continue to endure. 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.
As the leader of the Shuar Federation of Zamora Chinchipe, the actions of your organization in supporting illegal and violent activities against the Shuar will not silence our impoverished, but proud people and 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, in despair and without hope. Today our people walk barefoot on immense mineral wealth (75 billion pounds of copper, 12 million ounces of gold and millions of ounces of silver) within our territories, but we cannot access it as your organization continues to actively support illegal activities of organizations and individuals who have and continue to act outside of Ecuadorian law and show little respect and regard for the rights of our people.
On your website, you endorsed, promoted and supported a small group of individuals who marched on the EcuaCorriente S.A. camp (December 3, 2006) with the intention of burning down their exploration camp, yet you failed to report the truth and facts surrounding this unwarranted invasion of the camp and of our Ecuadorian military base. As you are keenly aware, the only access to the EcuaCorriente exploration camp is through the military base (two check points) as there is only one road leading in and one road leading out. In your article, you failed to mention that the attack was by an unruly, heavily intoxicated, well armed mob (who were paid by sources unknown) to attack our military personnel and to destroy the EcuaCorriente camp. As well, you also did not mention that the leader of this mob (Mr. Salvador Quishpe a rogue Deputy from the Province of Zamora Chinchipe) just weeks prior to the invasion was an adamant supporter of EcuaCorriente and the opportunities the company brought to our province.
What our organization has found very questionable concerning Mr. Quishpe is why did he suddenly have a change in heart towards mining? Why did Mr. Quishpe decide to stop a project that has supported the building of new schools for our communities, has provided post-secondary educational scholarships to our children, supported the Shuar virtual marketplace, is assisting in the development of a Shuar radio station, and is assisting the Shuar in protecting our forests from continued and unabated destruction due to poverty? It is indeed very strange to see Mr. Quishpe’s very sudden change of heart in support of mining, 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.
Again, I am appalled and outraged that your organization would present untrue and inaccurate information and criticize the responsible mining activities of EcuaCorriente, who prior to being suspended by the Government of Ecuador (due to the illegal and violent occupation led by Mr. Quishpe), employed over 300 local people and paid more that 4 times the minimum Ecuadorian wage of USD $130.00 per month. These jobs were vital to our workers and their families as over 98 percent of our people live in poverty (less than one dollar per day). It is incredible, irresponsible and criminal for your organization to support and report on such untruthful events relating to the invasion of EcuaCorriente’s properties and to continue to support individuals and organizations who are violent, self-serving and wish only to prevent development and as a result keep our people in the shackles of poverty.
As well, I suspect that under Canadian law, if a group of individuals decided to take it upon themselves to lead an armed and violent occupation against a Canadian military base with the intention to cause physical harm to military personnel and attack the civilian population and private property that the action of the Canadian military would be swift and just in correcting this unlawful and treasonous activity. As well, your web-site articles fail to mention that several military personnel were seriously harmed and permanently injured and that Mr. Quishpe used his congressional immunity from being prosecuted by the Ecuadorian military and the Ecuadorian State. Furthermore, the Shuar people are outraged at this attack on our military that we hold in the highest regard and respect, as they fought shoulder to shoulder with our Arutam Warriors in defending our territories and country from invasion by the Peruvian military in the mid-1990s.
I also think it’s relevant that I inform you and the Canadian people of the realities of life for the Shuar and Ecuadorian people. The Shuar have an infant mortality rate of 3 per 1000, our life expectancy hovers around 50 years of age, the majority of our communities lack basic services and our rain forest (the lungs of the planet) is being destroyed because of poverty in our region. Our people and our Mestizo neighbors understand basic economics – the only way for people to make money is to cut the forest down and produce lumber so that we can feed our families. In our country, 3.5 million Ecuadorian people have been forced to live abroad and send money home to support their families; including over 200,000 Ecuadorians in Ontario alone as our nation’s poverty rate hovers around 70 percent. The sending home of money to our families is the largest industry in Ecuador, accounting for over USD $2 billion per annum. The impact of separation of our family members working abroad continues to increase and cause detrimental, generational and adverse social impacts to our families and culture as we do not have work in Ecuador and now we have less than 12 years of oil reserves left to support what little social programming we have in our country.
From my earlier comments, you are now aware, in the Amazon region alone there is tens of 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 responsible mining companies. At this time, our organization is working on the development and implementation of several Impact Benefit Agreements (IBA’s) which will be closely modeled after those found in First Nations communities in Canada. These IBA’s will ensure that our culture and environment is protected and that our people benefit in terms of employment and procurement from all copper and gold mining projects in our territories. In fact, EcuaCorriente S.A. has been exemplary in ensuring that Shuar people of the Zamora Chinchipe Province have been informed and included in their exploration and construction projects.
In addition to employment, EcuaCorriente S.A. has and continues to support numerous social, cultural, environmental and infrastructure projects within our communities and the region and as a result we are in full support of the USD $340 million dollars they plan to invest in the Mirador copper mining project. As well, your website fails to mention that EcuaCorriente’s Mirador Project will create 1000 construction jobs, 500 direct mining jobs and an additional 3000 in-direct well-paid jobs for our people. The Mirador Project is a hand-up for our people – not a handout and the jobs and opportunities created from this project will go a long way in feeding our very hungry people. We also know that the millions of dollars paid in taxes by EcuaCorriente’s operations will greatly assist our local, regional and national governments in delivering desperately needed health care, social and infrastructure projects.
In closing, your continued support and the raising of funds against the 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. I also think it is very relevant for you to visit our communities if you plan to continue reporting on mining activities in our region. 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 impacted our communities, that you would have immediately stopped your support for the illegal and violent anti-mining activities within our region. Unfortunately for our people, you continue to support these small self-serving groups who do not represent our people and the Shuar Federation of Zamora Chinchipe will ensure that the Ecuadorian Government, the Canadian people, and the Global community know the truth about how your organization supports and aids those individuals who keep our people in crushing poverty.
Tlgo. Ruben Naichap,
Shuar Federation of
Zamora Chinchipe, Ecuador
EDITOR'S NOTE: This column is based on an open letter sent to Joan Kuyek, national Coordinator of MiningWatch Canada, on June 25, 2007 and shared with the government of Canada, Canadian members of Parliament and the Canadian Senate as well as various NGOs, media and other foreign governments.