Saturday, November 22, 2008

Ecuador: Mining, debt and indigenous struggles

On November 17, thousands of indigenous and environmental activists rallied across Ecuador in protest against the introduction of a new mining law by the government of President Rafael Correa.

The protests, organised largely by the Confederation of Indigenous Nationalities of Ecuador (CONAIE — Ecuador's largest indigenous federation), marked the beginning of a week of protests by social, environmental and indigenous movements against the potentially environmentally destructive consequences of a number of proposed new laws — including laws relating to mining, water and the introduction of large-scale shrimp farming.

Ecuador's weak economy is heavily dependent upon mineral extraction — especially oil — and this has had a catastrophic effect on the environment and communities in affected areas.

A large part of the Ecuadorian Amazon is now being described as an "Amazonian chernobyl" after 18 billion gallons of polluted water were released into the water system by oil-giant Chevron Texaco. This has resulted in thousands of deaths, cancer, birth defects and massive environmental collapse.

Affected communities are currently pursuing Chevron in court.