10 years! Support River and Rainforest Protectors in Achieving Justice in Ecuador

Co-Written by: Juli Hazlewood-Williams & Nicolette Nodine

Today marks the 10th anniversary of when the Afro-Ecuadorian community of La Chiquita and the Awá Indigenous community of Guadualito took a courageous step forward in the name of Earth’s jurisprudence. They presented the first constitutional-based Rights of Nature lawsuit in the world to defend the Chocó Rainforest and La Chiquita River. Roots & Routes IC has walked in solidarity with them for their past 10 years of struggle, and we are proud to help visibilize their transformational story.

On July 23, 2010, the people of La Chiquita and the Guadualito, who share the same river in the San Lorenzo Canton (Esmeraldas Province), filed a Civil suit for environmental and social damages and repairs against two oil palm companies, Palma de los Esteros EMA SA and Palmera de los Andes. Drawing on the 2008 Ecuadorian Constitution, they laid out evidence of the oil palm companies violating Nature’s and their ancestral rights due to massive deforestation, widespread biodiversity loss, excessive river pollution, and the subsequent deterioration of health and food sovereignty of the two communities.

To date it has been 10 years! 10 years of communal upheaval, toxic rivers and, and having to buy bottled water in a town miles away. Despite the past decade of organizing to protect the rivers and rainforests, all their efforts have fallen upon deaf ears.

With the Ecuadorian government turning a blind eye to boot, and despite the legal action in process in the Provincial Court, the oil palm companies continue to pollute the river with agrochemicals. Los Andes Palm Oil Extractor continue to dump their chemical wastewaters directly into the river, causing illness and desperation to Indigenous and Ancestral Black ancestral communities downstream.

On January 11, 2017, after six and a half years of the communities’ joint struggles for justice and hope, Ecuador’s Provincial Court in Esmeraldas handed down its decision. Judge Juan Francisco Gabriel Morales Suárez “partially” accepted the communities’ claims, while also evading a determination that the oil palm companies are guilty as charged.

Paradoxically, of the seventeen criteria established by the sentence for reparations of the social and environmental damages, the Los Andes and Palesema Oil Palm Companies were charged with just three responsibilities. Instead, Judge Suárez distributed most responsibilities to remedy the damages in the ancestral territories between twelve State and Provincial institutions, which have historically treated the Ecuador-Colombia border region as a sacrifice zone. Nonetheless, an indubitable victory for La Chiquita, Guadualito, and Nature was that the judge ordered the Ecuadorian State to restrict future oil palm expansion in San Lorenzo Canton.

Even with global eyes upon them, however, the Ecuadorian Government has ignored the landmark lawsuit and the court order from the Esmeraldas Province. In fact, just last week the National Assembly approved the “Law for Strengthening and Development of Production, Marketing, Extraction, Export, and Industrialization of Oil Palm and its Derivatives.” As opposed to restricting the expansion of oil palm, the new law supports the oil palm industries further development throughout the country.

Negative effects of the production and expansion of oil palm in Esmeraldas Province, Ecuador have been well documented. Studies show how palm oil extraction and processing plants lead to deforestation (Minda Batallas, 2013), soil erosion, adverse effects in relation to carbon emissions and the loss of biodiversity in the forest and agricultural lands (Ortega Pacheco, 2009), and has been cultivated irresponsibly to date, contaminating rivers and putting at risk citizens’ access to clean water (Nuñez, 1998; Nuñez, 2004).

In addition, it leads to rashes and diseases, endangers the food security of local communities and their sovereignty, causes psychological stress and cultural disintegration of ancestral, Afro-descendant and Indigenous peoples, and due to greater pressures on land, instigates social conflicts between the communities they face (Carlet and Ferreira, 2018; Hazlewood, 2012). Another critical element around the expansion of oil palm is the impact on national food sovereignty since in recent years, its expansion has largely replaced diversified crops meant for national consumption (Lasso, 2019).

Atop the scientific evidence, the recognition of the Esmeraldas Provincial Court of the violations suffered by La Chiquita and Guadualito and the Community of Living Beings around them, the Ecuadorian government is proceeding with oil palm business as usual.

A decade is a decade too long to wait for justice to be served.

With COVID-19 ravaging its way through Ecuadorian Indigenous and rural communities, the lack of clean water and isolation is all the more dire. In partnership with the two frontline River and Rainforest Protector communities, we’ve set up an Emergency Water and Documentary Equipment Fund.

The Water Fund is to help relieve the financial burden of having to purchase 5-gallon bottles of drinking and cooking water from the city. The Emergency Support Fund is to assure they are able to access support when needed.

The documentary fund is for the youth to document when the river is polluted and other important incidents in these times of EM-URGENCY. Even in times of chaos and pandemic, the Awá and La Chiquita communities refuse to stop speaking out and defending their right to a healthy home.

Beginning years ago, together we have been able to create a documentary team led by the youth and several Awá and La Chiquita community leaders. The youth are at the helm of that produced the teaser featured here.

Hope & Struggle in the Ecuadorian Chocó Rainforest features how the lives of the people from La Chiquita and Guadualito have been completely transformed by the oil palm industry. Their communal health and cultural ways of life are devastated by deforestation and water contamination caused by oil palm plantations and extractors. They also suffer abuses, expropriations, and other violations of their human rights by large oil palm companies.

Today Roots & Routes IC, Selvas Producciones, and the two communities are in the process of completing the film. Getting this film out to the world gives them hope that the whole world will see for themselves how they are unjustly affected by the polluted waters within the toxic reach of the oil palm plantations.

Yet, the youth from Guadualito and La Chiquita share one set of computers and camera equipment between them. Especially under quarantine, the distance between them poses difficulties to transport the filming equipment between the two communities. That’s why we at Roots & Routes IC are casting out this international net of support for both documentary equipment and water.

Justice is long past due and communities on the ground are demanding follow-through from what their government promised: the right to freshwater and freedom from exploitation. The Afro-Ecuadorian community of La Chiquita and the Indigenous Awá community of Guadualito need you!

Donate to our GoFundMe here!

All eyes are on San Lorenzo, a place where the Chocó rainforests and rivers have been ravaged throughout Ecuadorian history, a place where, in the shadows, the exploitation of the people has been invisibilized. In light of the 10 year anniversary of La Chiquita and Guadualito presenting the Constitutionally-based lawsuit and the most recent ratification of a law to expand the oil palm industry, we must respond stronger than before.

The River and Rainforest Protectors of San Lorenzo are demanding follow-through from what their government promised: the right to freshwater, a healthy environment, and to living well. Support the Afro-Ecuadorian community La Chiquita and the indigenous community Awá Guadualito directly by donating whatever you can to the Emergency Water and Documentation Fund.

To stay updated on the most recent developments of the case, join Roots & Routes IC for their first ever webinar with the San Lorenzo community members and lead lawyers of the Rights of Nature case Friday, July 31, 2020.

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