From the Annals of Indigenous Resistance: “Terrorism”

by A. Jay Adler on July 13, 2011
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How, you were wondering, is the field of power like a four-walled racquetball court? Sometimes the strikes are straight on, at the front wall or (oops, sorry) at your opponent’s back. Sometimes – often, in fact – there is the ricochet, off the side wall, angled then low on the back, then low to the floor, and a killer placement back off the front wall. You don’t always see it coming.

War is pretty straightforward: oh, no, you don’t, and you won’t when I’m done with you. Of course, war has ricochets. See: the twentieth century…the nineteenth century…. Let’s move on. Legislation, too, obviously, is a weapon in the field of power, as, too, less clearly are words. See, for this: Democratic, as in People’s – Republic of…. “Terrorism,” too, is a much contested word this past decade, which contest does not make the word meaningless. See, again: democratic.

Nonetheless, we are alerted, via NativeWeb, of this important report from Manuela Picq at Al Jazeera: “Indigenous resistance is the new ‘terrorism.’” In the centuries-old battle over natural resources between external governing powers and indigenous populations, even the Left-leaning president of Ecuador, Rafael Correa, is using legislation from as far back as the 1920s, and from Rightist military dictatorships, to brand and prosecute indigenous opponents as terrorists.

According to Ecuador’s Confederation of Indigenous Nationalities, there are currently 189 cases of people accused of sabotage and terrorism by the Ecuadorian government, for protesting the privatisation of natural resources. The situation is so critical that Amnesty International issued a statement denouncing it as an attempt to silence opposition to government policies.

Cases vary in context, but not in substance. In Cochapata, community members were condemned to eight years in jail on charges of terrorism for opposing mining – the government has so far ignored the amnesty granted by the constitutional assembly. A radio station in the Amazon province of Morona SantiagoRadio Canela, was shut down in April for fueling opposition.

Silencing the opposition

The most prominent cases relate to the accusation and illegal arrest of some of the most visible indigenous leaders in Ecuador – Pepe Acacho, Marlon Santi, Delfin Tenesaca and Marco Guatemal. The four heads of national indigenous organisations were accused of sabotage for participating in marches against laws to privatise water during a 2010 summit of the Bolivarian Alliance for the Americas in the indigenous town of Otavalo, where leftist presidents discussed continental multiculturalism without inviting indigenous organisations.

All cases reveal a state-led effort to silence indigenous protest to protect access to clean water.

Using so-called “anti-terror” laws to silence indigenous struggles over natural resources is not a new strategy. Chile, for instance, has extensively used anti-terror laws created under the Pinochet regime to criminalise Mapuche protests over lumber. Canada has also responded to opposition against resource extraction on native land in Ontario by incarcerating the protesters.

What is news is that a leftist president – who has repeatedly fallen back on ethno-politics to increase his legitimacy – is using forms of martial law inherited from past military regimes to destroy indigenous calls for environmental justice.

The irony is that President Correa, a political ally of Evo Morales and Hugo Chavez against North American hegemony, maintains a strong discourse of environmental justice for the Global South. Not only has his administration pioneered international norms by granting new rights to nature in the 2008 Constitution, but it strongly supported the World’s People’s Conference on Climate Change and the Rights of Mother Earth held in Bolivia in 2010.

Yet President Correa started using laws codified in the 1920s and 1970s, including the Doctrine of National Security designed by the military dictatorship, to persecute indigenous opposition. He created a state of emergency, calling upon the armed forces to intervene when internal security might be threatened, and he has already shown a willingness to use them.

Proposed legislation to increase jail time for stopping traffic is a direct attempt to disrupt traditional forms of indigenous protest, which often rely on marches and road-blocks.

Correa’s government, which was elected under a mantle of social justice, has also silenced his opposition through legal and military violence and manipulating judicial mechanisms to repress dissidents. The most recent referendum expanded the executive grasp on the judicial apparatus, making it even more dangerous to oppose his neoliberal stance on natural resources.

Ecuador’s indigenous movement, often described as the strongest in Latin America, has been strongly targeted as the main opposition to Correa’s neoliberal agenda with regards to water.

Last year’s proposed Water and Mining Laws to further privatise access to water and expand mining concessions was stopped only by indigenous mobilisation. Extractive policies are at a peak, with close to two thousand mining concessions, according to the Ministry of Energy and Mines.

Despite Correa’s best efforts to silence indigenous claims, one cannot but recall Bolivia’s water wars a decade ago. Multinational participation in the privatisation of water led to widespread street protests, and the more the government repressed protest the more tensions escalated until Cochabamba exploded in conflict.

Indigenous peoples have been struggling for survival on their lands for centuries – they are not about to let water go. Instead, the confrontation seems to be worsening.

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