Ending a two-week trek from their native rain forests, hundreds of indigenous Ecuadorians marched into the nation’s capital Thursday, demanding that the government halt plans to bring large-scale mining to the Amazon.
It’s been six years since Ecuador’s indigenous population helped elect the country’s president, Rafael Correa. Now the same communities are up in arms over his plans to mine the country’s vast mineral resources, which have so far been left largely untapped. They worry that such mining will not only lead to deforestation, but that the extraction process could pollute watersheds and thus threaten their survival.
At least 1,500 indigenous people marching from the north and the south of the country convened in the capital to hold a rally and deliver a petition to parliament. The president, who has been adamant about the need to develop mining in order to boost the economy, called for a counter-rally that was attended in similar numbers. “We can’t be beggars sitting on a sack of gold,” Correa said earlier this month, when Ecuador signed its first major mining deal with a Chinese-owned company. It plans to begin copper mining in the southern Zamora Chinchipe region. The government hopes to attract 2.7 billion euros in new mining deals by next year.
While Correa currently enjoys a popularity rate of over 70 percent, losing the votes of the indigenous people, who represent 7 percent of the population, could still hurt him in next year’s presidential election. Their anger also brings a greater worry – indigenous protests had a major role in the fall of the country’s former president Jamil Mahuad in 2000. Similar protests recently forced neighbouring Bolivia to cancel plans to build a road through indigenous lands.
Protesters in Quito on Thursday.
Protesters on their way to Quito, on Wednesday.

"The indigenous people won’t be intimidated by the government"

Ricardo Buitron leads a project calling for water to be recognised as a human right.
This march, organised by both indigenous people and Ecuadorian social rights groups, was named ‘The March for Water, Life and Dignity’ because, first of all, mining threatens watersheds, notably in the south of the country, where most of the mining is set to take place. This march is also about life and dignity, because the indigenous populations run the risk of having to leave their lands.
The march was very difficult for the protesters. Local authorities along the way did all they could to stop them from reaching Quito. For example, those on foot were forbidden to walk through certain towns. Other activists who were heading to Quito by bus to join the rally were forced to stop outside the city and continue on foot.
This project is anti-constitutional, because the right to clean water and the protection of our ecosystem is written into our constitution. [Correa initially won support from indigenous people in large part by including the “Rights of Mother Nature” into the country’s constitution. This stipulates that citizens have a right to healthy and ecologically-balanced environments.] We’re determined to stop this project, because we’ve already seen what awful effects mines can have on the environment. Oil mining by Chevron in the north of the country, which lasted for four decades, not only contaminated watersheds but also forced indigenous people to leave their lands. One tribe, the Tetetes, has entirely disappeared. And it’s no coincidence that the cancer rate in that area is much higher than the national average.
President Correo has promised that 10 percent of the revenue that comes from mining will go to help indigenous populations, but what is this money worth to a population if it has to leave its land? Those of us who stand with the indigenous people won’t let ourselves be intimidated by the government. We will fight this with all the legal means at our disposal, and will call for civil disobedience if necessary. In fact, civil disobedience is also protected by our constitution.