• Indigenous peoples in Ecuador

    Indigenous peoples in Ecuador

    Ecuador’s indigenous population numbers some 1.1 million peoples composed by 14 indigenous nationalities. Ecuador voted in favour of the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples and has ratified ILO Convention 169.
  • Peoples

    1.1 million peoples in Ecuador are indigenous peoples.
  • Geography

    24.1 per cent of the country's indigenous population live in the Amazon
  • Organisations

    14 indigenous nationalities grouped into local, regional, and national organisations can be found in Ecuador

Indigenous World 2019: Ecuador

The indigenous population of Ecuador is close to 1.1 million, out of a total population of 17,200,000 inhabitants. The country is inhabited by 14 indigenous nationalities, joined together in a series of local, regional and national organizations. 24.1% of the indigenous population lives in the Amazon and belongs to ten nationalities.

60.3% of the Andean Kichwa live in six provinces of the Central Northern Sierra; 78.5% of them still inhabit the rural sector and 21.5% inhabit the urban sector. 7.3% of the Andean Kichwa inhabit the Southern Sierra, and 8.3% inhabit the Coastal region and the Galapagos Islands while the remainder are spread across Ecuador.

The Shuar, who comprise a nationality of more than 100,000 persons, have a strong presence in three provinces of the Central Southern Amazon, where they represent between 8% and 79% of the total provincial populations; the rest are dispersed in small groups throughout the country.

There are several nationalities with a very low population who live in a highly vulnerable situation. In the Amazon, they are the A’i Cofán (1,485 inhabitants), the Shiwiar (1,198 inhabitants), the Siekopai (689 inhabitants), the Siona (611 inhabitants), and the Sapara (559 inhabitants). On the Coast, they are the Épera (546 inhabitants) and the Manta (311 inhabitants).

More than a decade since the new Constitution went into effect and twenty years since the ratification of ILO Convention 169, Ecuador still has no specific public policies that prevent or neutralize the risk of disappearance of these peoples, and no effective instruments that ensure the prevailing of collective rights already extensively set forth in the current Constitution.

Ecuador in 2018

The situation and enforcement of the rights of the indigenous peoples in Ecuador in 2018 was marked by a political and economic turn towards an overtly neoliberal model. That change in direction was the fruit of negotiations and pacts between the present government of Lenín Moreno; various opposing fractions of the agro-export ownership class; the commercial, banking, and financial class; certain indigenous and trade union organizations; and the Embassy of the United States of America, in a zealous endeavor to neutralize and overcome the “Revolución Ciudadana” [Civilian Revolution]” model led by Rafael Correa that had dominated Ecuador’s political scene for almost a decade.1

The result of this coalition’s agreements, led by the government, consisted of two central measures: the approval of certain constitutional reforms by way of a referendum, and the enactment of the Promotion of Production Act.2

The referendum, even though it failed to meet basic legal requirements, including authorization by the Constitutional Court, was held in February 2018. Its outcome led to the approval of certain provisions, including the suspension of indefinite re-elections for positions filled by a popular election and the restructuring of the Council for Civic Participation and Social Control (CPCCS)3. The first of these changes was aimed at eliminating the possibility that in the future, Correa might once again participate in the elections. The second change was aimed at coopting the judicial and control system in order to prosecute high-ranking members of the former administration for corruption.4

In addition, the referendum granted two demands of indigenous and environmental organizations. The first was a prohibition against mining for metals in protected areas, untouchable zones and urban centers, as well as a 50,000 hectare extension to the Yasuní National Park, inhabited by the Tagaeri and Taromenane, two peoples living in voluntary isolation. The second was a reduction from 1,300 to 300 hectares of the hydrocarbons operations area in that zone.

The main point of the Promotion of Production Act, approved in August, consisted of dismissing fines and interest and, as a “tax incentive”, waiving income tax payments for up to 20 years on new investments. This goes against express provisions in effect in the tax regime, which had prioritized direct taxes, the fulfillment of redistributive functions and the ensuring of fixed revenues for the treasury.5 In its Article 45, the law makes changes to Article 55 of the Hydrocarbons Act and provides that the state’s share in hydrocarbons shall be adjusted as a function of the reference price and volume of production, but eliminating the guarantee that the government will receive a share if there are surpluses in oil prices. The law directly benefited the country’s 200 most powerful groups in an estimated total of 4.379 billion dollars, equivalent to tax debts, almost half of which are concentrated in a mere 43 companies, including transnational oil corporations, private telephony companies and the largest banks.6

Along with these decisions, the government held talks with multilateral credit institutions such as the International Monetary Fund (IMF)7 and the Chinese government, and has announced negotiations with the United States of America for a trade agreement and entry into the Asia-Pacific Trade Agreement, of which countries such as Peru, Chile and Colombia form a part.8

Towards the end of the year, the government eliminated subsidies on several fuels as part of its economic measures. Certain members of the opposition to the government, such as trade unions, the movement named “Revolución Ciudadana” and several peasant and indigenous organizations at a local level, responded to that change with protests in a number of cities.9 The formal response of national organizations such as the National Federation of Peasant, Indigenous, and Black Organizations (FENOCIN) and the Confederation of Indigenous Nationalities of Ecuador (CONAIE), was late in coming. Moreover, the response was divided. Some questioned the government’s decisions and joined the protests, and others defended the need to strengthen channels of dialogue and negotiation with the central government, while maintaining their distance from groups called “Correa’s People.”10

The march for water, life and against corruption

Heeding a call made by the CONAIE, several indigenous organizations of the Central and Southern Sierra, led by the Confederation of the Quichua Nationality of the Sierra, Ecuarunari, called a “March for water, life and against corruption,” from 4-14 November, which marched from the Tundayme sector in the province of Zamora Chinchipe, to the southeast Amazon.11

In a press release, the organization stated that the objective of the march was to ask President Lenín Moreno to adopt their requests over environmental, educational, political, anticorruption and communication issues. For Yaku Pérez, president of Ecuarunari, it was “a nonviolent march, the idea for which is to arrive in Quito and submit a legislative bill to the Assembly that declares Ecuador as prohibiting mining for metals in the (indigenous) territory.”12

Approximately 300 people marched through provinces from the south of the country until reaching Quito, where they submitted a proposal for an Organic Law Prohibiting Mining for Metals in Ecuador to the National Assembly and to the Comptrollership.13

The demands set forth in a manifesto included urgent reforms to the Law on Waters, Lands, Mining, the Integral Organic Criminal Code (COIP) and others “that allow for monopolization of natural resources, strip away rights, and criminalize social protest.”14

Debate and negotiations around intercultural education

In the context of economic adjustment and the political redirection of government policy, education for the indigenous peoples had a dual significance. On the one hand, the government utilized two demands proposed in this regard by the indigenous organizations as a means of pressure and political conditioning. On the other hand, the government’s promises become untenable when the time comes to find the means necessary to fulfill them.

We are reminded that some years ago (under the Correa government, 2007-2017), several indigenous organizations unsuccessfully demanded the full restoration, with full autonomy, of the Bilingual Intercultural Education System. At the time, they accused the regime of imposing a mono-cultural educational policy, stripping them of the autonomy they had achieved during the 1980s, which included the authority to direct the system and define their own pedagogical model.

Talks between the Moreno government and indigenous organizations associated with CONAIE had the reversal of the Correa government’s policy as a major issue on their agenda. In particular Moreno’s government offered to reopen what were called one-room schools, openly questioning the academic model promoted during the Correa administration around what were called Millennium Educational Units. Support was offered for the Amauta Wasi Indigenous University project, and even included the building where the Union of South American Nations (USAN) is headquartered.15

To a certain extent the offers made by the Moreno administration demobilized a large part of the organizations affiliated with CONAIE in responding to controversial decisions of the government regarding economic matters or international relations, in particular its alignment with the foreign policy of the United States government in the region.

Despite the agreements reached, however, the offers appear to be lacking in actual support. The 2019 pro-forma budget includes a considerable USD 198 million reduction in educational spending for the coming year, along with a USD 221 million reduction in investments, which poses a grave risk for achieving several objectives, among them the expansion of educational coverage for vulnerable populations such as indigenous communities in remote zones, adequate infrastructure maintenance, or wage levels for teachers.

Resistance to mining by the A’i Cofán community of Sinangoe

The A’i Cofán community of Sinangoe, located along the banks of the Aguarico River in the canton of Gonzalo Pizarro, province of Sucumbíos, to the north of the Amazon, is inhabited by approximately 180 persons whose livelihoods depend upon fishing, hunting and the cultivation of small family gardens. Their territory, which measures approximately 35,000 hectares, borders the Cayambe Coca National Park.

Since 2017 this community elaborated an Autonomous Act for Control and Protection of the Ancestral A’i Cofán Territory of Sinangoe, which provided for an Indigenous Guard to take charge of monitoring the territory in the face of any external threat. That same year, the Guard took note of several events, such as the entry of illegal miners into the community’s territory with their machinery. This was reported to the People’s Ombudsman, to the Prosecutor’s Office and to the Municipality of Gonzalo Pizarro, which issued a report which concluded that “illegal mining, hunting poachers, illegal logging of the forest, and nonconventional fishing are severely affecting the lifestyles and survival of the A’i Cofán Community of Sinangoe.” Despite this, the perpetrators faced no sanctions.16

Later, in January 2018, the Indigenous Guard again detected the presence of backhoes for the opening of roads to the Aguarico River. When this was denounced to the Agency for Regulation and Control of Mining (ARCOM) the officials reported that 20 concessions had been granted in the zone and another 30 were being processed for small and medium mining, with permits for exploitation with terms of up to 30 years.17

In March, the Ministry of the Environment inspected the area and determined that one of those exploitations, in Puerto Libre, did not have environmental or water concession permits. It therefore ordered the suspension of the mining concession until it met the requirements. By May, the mining operations had advanced, including the felling of 15 hectares of forest and the opening of a road to the Chingual River, to the north of the concession, without the Ministry taking any action whatsoever to prevent it.

After several denunciations and denials by the Ministry of the Environment, the A’i Cofán community of Sinangoe sought judicial protection in coordination with the Office of the Peoples’ Ombudsman. On 12 July, the community filed an action for protection before the Constitutional Guarantees judge of the Canton of Gonzalo Pizarro for protection from the mining activities and concessions in their territory.

On July 27, the action for protection was initially granted. With that, the extractive mining activities in this territory were suspended, in recognition of the violation of the right to free, prior and informed consultation. All mining activities granted by the Ministry of Mining along the banks of the Aguarico, Chingual, and Cofanes Rivers were ordered to be undone immediately.18 This decision was ratified three months later by the judges of the only courtroom of the Provincial Court of Justice of Sucumbíos.19

According to Mario Criollo Quenamá, President of the A’i Cofán Community of Sinangoe:

Our right to free, prior, and informed consultation was violated, as were the rights of nature, the right to the environment, to water, to health, and to food; all of that was due to the granting, without consultation, of at least 20 mining concessions along the banks of the Aguarico and the impacts generated by this activity inside and outside the limits granted by way of concessions […] We, the Cofán, depend upon those rivers for our lives. If the water of those rivers gets contaminated, that contamination reaches us directly, since we fish from, bathe in, and drink directly from the river.20

Threats against the Kichwa people of Pastaza

Two recent threats have appeared on the horizon of the Indigenous Territory of Pastaza (TIP), a territory measuring nearly 30,000 sq. km2, inhabited by seven nationalities: Kichwa, Shiwiar, Waorani, Andwa, Zápara, Achuar and Shuar. There is the Piatúa Hydroelectric Project, which seeks to exploit the waters of the Piatúa River, located in the Kichwa Territory of Santa Clara, to the northwest of Puyo, at the provincial boundary between Pastaza and Napo, in the Central Amazon. There is also a tender process being promoted by the central government for a new round of hydrocarbons exploitation in what are referred to as the southeast fields, in particular the fields of Blocks 86, 87, and 28.

With respect to the Piatúa Hydroelectric Project, according to the Agency for Control and Regulation of Electricity (ARCONEL), it would contribute an average estimated energy production of 172.12 GWh/ year.21 The Piatúa River is located along a flank of the Andean mountain range, to the east of the Llanganates National Park, at elevations ranging between 600 and 700 meters above sea level, in the midst of thick forests of moist subtropical vegetation. It is part of the basin of the Anzu and Napo rivers.22 The Territory of the Kichwa People of Santa Clara, measuring approximately 11,190 hectares, is home to some 320 families, who live in 8 communities. Their central organization is the PONAKCISC. According to Cristian Aguinda, President of the Kichwa People of Santa Clara:

The company in charge of the Piatúa River project is Genefrán S.A., which has come into our territory since 2016, without consultation. And in response to the opposition on the part of the communities that are affected by this project, we, its inhabitants and leaders, have been victims of several forms of intimidation and threats, such as court summons aimed at demobilizing our strong organization.23

Faced with the offensive by Genefrán S.A., in charge of the hydroelectric project, the Kichwa communities of Santa Clara decided to commence direct actions in order to get that company expelled.24 The types of collective actions included demonstrations outside the government hall of Pastaza; the holding of a youth encampment where together the various organizations invited could discuss the impacts or effects of that hydroelectric project25; and finally the taking of the highways and roads that connect Santa Clara, along in the principal roadways between two provinces, Napo and Pastaza.26 The actions of the Kichwa of Santa Clara communities succeeded in having the company temporarily leave the zone.27

With respect to the new round of hydrocarbons exploitation, in the month of February Carlos Pérez, Minister of Energy and Nonrenewable Natural Resources, announced a new round of tenders for hydrocarbons exploitation in the southeast Amazon: “to avoid conflicts with the communities, the Southeast Round will only tender Blocks 86 and 87, which are the closest to the border with Peru,” indicated Pérez at an event with oil companies in Quito.28

In Pastaza, Block 10 has been operating since the year of 1998, operated by the Agip Oil Company of Italy.29 Other hydrocarbons blocks have been suspended over the past 20 years due to the strong opposition of the indigenous organizations. The Kichwa of Sarayaku case was the most emblematic success, as it managed to expel the Argentine Compañía General de Combustibles (CGC) from Kichwa territory.30

Notes and References

  1. Ojeda, G. & Peinado G. Observer. Moreno Is Breaking Ranks with the Correa Administration http://bit.ly/2TdnqXd also in Borón, A. Ecuador: La traición de Lenín Moreno. Available at: http://bit.ly/2Tc7UL9
  2. Organic Law for the Promotion of Production, Attraction of Investment, Job Creation, and Fiscal Stability and Balance. In Official Gazette, Supplement 309 of August 21, 2018. See: http://bit.ly/2Tf28Iy
  3. National Electoral Council (CNE) Referendum and Popular Consultation Available at: http://bit.ly/2TbBSPn
  4. El Universo. Cinco integrantes del Consejo de Participación Transitorio fueron posesionados este miércoles. 28 February, 2018 http://bit.ly/2TdOTrB Also found at Calderón Castillo, El libreto del “lawfare” contra Rafael Correa. July 10, 2018, CELAG. http://bit.ly/2Tdno1x
  5. Paz y Miño, J. Deudores al Estado: perdón y olvido. 4 June, 2018. At: net http://bit.ly/2Th5tap
  6. Salinas , Trole 3: ¿fomento a la inversión extranjera o al lavado de capitales? 5 June, 2018. At: http://bit.ly/2TaQyOE
  7. Expreso, 11 June, 2018. Ecuador se vuelve a acercar a FMI para “mantener un canal de diálogo abierto.” http://bit.ly/2Th5r2h
  8. Gobierno Nacional retoma diálogos con organismos multilaterales, Ministry of the Economy and Finance, 12 June, 2018 http://bit.ly/2Tf1OJQ
  9. El Comercio, 17 January, Los subsidios a cuatro tipos de combustibles se han ajustado. Available at: http://bit.ly/2TcyOm1 ; Trabajadores marchan contra aumento de la gasolina en Ecuador. Telesur, 27 December, 2018. http://bit.ly/2TaeAJL ; Ecuador: Protestan contra políticas de presidente Lenín Moreno en Quito. 13 September, 2018 http://bit.ly/2Teeot2 ; Marcha en Quito y unas 35 detenciones marcan el quinto día de huelga en Ecuador. 18 August, 2018. Available at: http://bit.ly/2Tb6GQi
  10. El Universo. Ajustes y varios pedidos en política económica de Ecuador provoca 30 August, Available at: http://bit.ly/2TcsFGA ; El Gobierno enfrenta el retorno de las protestas. 19 November, 2018. Available at: http://bit.ly/2TaQqPa
  11. Marcha por el agua del movimiento indígena se concentra en Cutuglahua, al sur de Quito. http://bit.ly/2Tfl3TR .
  12. Marcha Nacional por el Agua y en Resistencia al Extractivismodesde el sur del Ecuador. October 2, 2 At: http://bit.ly/2Tccd9s ; The “March for Water” organized by indigenous organization #Ecuarunari arrives in Quito. Available at: http://bit.ly/2Tf1haO
  13. 15 November, 2018. Marcha indígena llega a Quito y presenta proyecto para prohibir minería metálica. Available at: http://bit.ly/2Tcszic
  14. Un año más de diálogo con el Gobierno que no contenta a la 26 December, 2018. At: http://bit.ly/2TaQBKD
  15. Expectativa por la reapertura de escuelas unidocentes y 10 July, 2018. Available at: http://bit.ly/2TbQiPn 
  1. Radio Sucumbíos. Comunidades y organizaciones indígenas denuncian nuevas concesiones mineras en Ai Cofan Sinangoe. 2 May, Available at: http://bit.ly/2TdV7Ih
  2. Hill, 9 April , 2018. The Guardian. Our territory is our life: one struggle against mining in Ecuador http://bit.ly/2TafPIV
  3. 18 July, 2018. Audiencia de protección para comunidad Cofán afectada por actividades mineras en Sucumbíos se realizará este jueves. Available at: http://bit.ly/2Tf46Zs
  4. El Universo. Corte de Sucumbíos ratifica sentencia a favor de indígenas cofanes. 22 October, 2018. At: http://bit.ly/2TdoqdV
  5. Espinosa, Lina And Zúñiga, J. La Barra Espaciadora Los cofán de Sinangoe: el pueblo amazónico que eligió defender la vida. Available at: http://bit.ly/2Tb9UDo
  6. Proyecto Hidroeléctrico Piatúa. At http://bit.ly/2Tf3jYu
  7. Silva, E. (2003) Mushuk Allpa. La experiencia de los indígenas de Pastaza en la conservación de la selva amazónica. OPIP-Comunidec.
  8. See: NotiAmazonía, 5 December, 2018 Pastaza: marcha indígena en protesta por hidroeléctrica se cumplió en calles de Puyo. At: http://bit.ly/2Tf38fM
  9. Pueblo Kichwa de Pastaza respalda a Santa Clara en defensa del Río sagrado de Piatúa. 14 November, 2018 http://bit.ly/2TaSeHW
  10. “Piatúa Resiste”: la lucha contra las hidroeléctricas en la Amazonía. Available at: http://bit.ly/2T94wAC Available at: https://youtu.be/NwxneCTDXwU
  11. Diario de Los Andes, 12 November, 2018. Pueblo Kichwa de Santa Clara exige salida de hidroeléctrica. Available at: http://bit.ly/2TbCPap
  12. NotiAmazonía, 12 November, Pastaza: Comuneros del cantón Santa Clara expulsaron a empresa hidroeléctrica. At: http://bit.ly/2TdoeLJ
  13. La Hora, 23 October, Ronda Petrolera Suroriente se definirá en encuentro binacional entre Ecuador y Perú. Available at: http://bit.ly/2TdFGQ0
  14. For more information in this regard, see: Ortiz-T., (2010). Extracción de Recursos Naturales, Conflictos y Derechos de los Pueblos Indígenas de la Alta Amazonía. Eschborn, Frankfurt ADLAF. Available at: http://bit.ly/2TcdIo6
  15. Rogato, M. (2016) Eriberto Gualinga. My people the Sarayaku’s fight against oil and Lifegate. Available at: http://bit.ly/2TiqrFS

Pablo Ortiz-T. PhD, M.S. in Political Science. Sociologist. Instructor and university researcher. Contact aThis email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.



IWGIA - International Work Group for Indigenous Affairs - is a global human rights organisation dedicated to promoting, protecting and defending indigenous peoples’ rights. Read more.

Indigenous World

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