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Indigenous peoples and direct environmental action

Indigenous peoples and direct environmental action

By Ekintza Zuzena

Destructive developmentalism does not take into account the rights of native peoples since they often clash with it: access to land, resources, etc. Their condition is that of second-class citizens, uncensored citizens, without access to the administration and the media ... Peoples who only know how to defend themselves with arrows and bows or who are duped by unscrupulous multinationals. But these peoples are in many cases the only guarantor for the conservation of such fundamental habitats as the Amazon rainforests of Peru, Colombia, Ecuador, Brazil, Bolivia, Papua, Congo, etc.


Native peoples are often idealized as models of democracy or full collectivism. We are not going into that matter here. What we can accept is that they are primal peoples and, at the same time, vulnerable both culturally and physically. They are peoples that hardly have defenses when it comes to facing multinational corporations and the entire capitalist apparatus (military, police, judges, etc.).

Destructive developmentalism does not take into account their rights as they often clash with them: access to land, resources, etc. Their condition is that of second-class citizens, citizens without a census, without access to the administration and the media ...

Peoples who only know how to defend themselves with arrows and bows or who are duped by unscrupulous multinationals: there is still the idea of ​​giving t-shirts or flags of the mother country to an Indian to make him happy, or throwing boots and axes from a helicopter prior to a visit from the coaching staff or the alcohol with which so many native peoples have been destroyed.

All these are current methods in Ecuador, Colombia, Brazil, etc. To this is added the activity of evangelization practiced by from Catholics to Protestants and many other sects often linked to the multinationals themselves. Or having contracts signed without knowing what they are saying, like that blind Mapuche whom Endesa forced to sign the concession of their lands without being able to read or write and whom the Spanish firm had no scruples to throw away his house and leave him homeless.

Or their lands are simply invaded, by heavy machinery well equipped with police or military devices. Even in those territories already established by the governments themselves for the exclusive use of native peoples - such as nature reserves - it is shown that agreements mean nothing when it comes to capitalist interests. Once assimilated, they are not aware of the rules to follow in order to make their voices heard or they are repressed (like everyone else) for claiming things in the simplest way. So when these people take more forceful and radical forms of protest than the traditional marches or roadblocks, we can only have words of praise. To this we must add that, although without falling into idealizations, native peoples have developed a greater respect for resources and habitats and in many cases they are the only guarantor for the conservation of such fundamental habitats as the Amazonian forests of Peru, Colombia, Ecuador, Brazil, Bolivia, Papua, Congo, etc.

Faced with this, there are those who surrender their hands to multinationals and governments without knowing what awaits them when they lose their way of life and their space and habitat. There are also those who predict it and declare open war on anyone who dares to enter their territory. This is the case of the Tageri and the Taromenane (subgroups of the Huaoranui ethnic group in Ecuador). The Tageri are known to us for having killed Monsignor Lavaca, the Basque priest who believed that he could channel these uncivilized people and came to their territory with Sister Inés.

These towns have seen their people murdered by the hundreds and also killed by the introduction of contagious diseases to which they are not immunized, such as a simple cold. They have been against the entry into their territories of oil companies such as Repsol YPF and Petrobras that operate in their territory, but these persist. Many other peoples have demanded the removal of the oil companies from their territories and threatened to take more radical actions. Like the Kichwas, who on May 31, 2006 held a historic assembly attended by 9 indigenous communities to ratify their total opposition to the entry into their territories of the PERENCO oil company. The Huaorani have also demanded the departure of Repsol and Petrobras. In May 2006, the government of Ecuador broke the contract with the American company Oxy and requisitioned its facilities for crimes against the environment and 42 violations of the law. The Shuar and Achuar had been demanding the exit of this oil company for years.

But in addition to the declared war, other groups decide to stay out of the system by taking other pressure measures with which to attract publicity and measures against multinationals. An example is the famous threat of collective suicide of the U’wa (Colombia) harassed by the oil company Occidental Petroleum (Oxy) (replaced by Repsol YPF) is one of these. For the U’wa, oil represents the blood of Mother Earth and its extraction would mean her death and also that of her people.

But indigenous action and courage go far beyond the simple (and necessary) protest (I was thrilled to see Huaorani with their typical outfits, their feather headdresses, their bare torsos and even their spears and blowguns attending demonstrations in the city against the oil companies).

Many have used direct action and other deterrent methods in the same way that concrete transport cables for the Itoiz swamp were cut here.


At the end of August 2006, the Guaraní from Bolivia occupied the Repsol YPF plant in Parapetí. Although this is one of the companies that was affected by the pseudo-nationalization of hydrocarbons promoted by the government of Evo Morales, the situation for many (especially for indigenous people) has not changed. Some 300 Guaraní from 7 communities peacefully occupied the plant and set up a camp. They threatened to close the valves of a gas pipeline that transports gas to Brazil if the company did not accept their demands. They had previously been instructed not to be in danger by their action when manipulating the valves.

In June, another 350 indigenous people from Xingú (Mato Grosso, Brazil) belonging to the Kamaiurá and Xavante ethnic groups occupied a hydroelectric plant under construction and threatened to blow it up with dynamite. The activists retained 300 workers and smashed part of the hydroelectric plant under construction. The Paranatinga II reservoir is located in a sacred place by the original peoples and is home to numerous archaeological sites. This will contain the waters of the Cululene, the main tributary of the Xingu that irrigates the reserve of its name where 5,000 people belonging to indigenous peoples live.

The Pemons have also used sabotage against destructive developmentalism. In October 2000, activists from this town collapsed 7 power lines south of Mapaurí. The fight against the Electric Power Line from Venezuela to Brazil was ignored by Chávez, who criminalized the Pemon communities in resistance. This line crosses Pemon territory already affected by the construction of a highway (Troncal 10) that crosses La Gran Sabana, Canaima National Park and an area also considered by the Pemones as sacred. Now Chávez intends to build a super-gas pipeline from Venezuela to Brazil of more than 8,000 kilometers, once again crossing Pemon territory (same route as the power line project).

The Mapuche (Chile-Argentina) have also used sabotage and direct action, especially against logging companies.

In many cases this has focused on outbuildings or machinery, such as the action of January 5, 2003. In that case, for example, a pine plantation was burned along with the machinery. Pine is planted replacing the pehuen (araucaria) sacred tree and Mapuche food base. For these actions, many Mapuches have suffered imprisonment. To these must be added others who are accused of participating in these acts, but who have not committed them, in a context of indiscriminate repression. The antiterrorist law is being applied to all of them, as well as a new Criminal Procedure System introduced as a pilot project in the 9th Region (Chile).

In the same way that the ELN bursts oil pipelines in Colombia, these are also targeted by the MEND in the Niger Delta (Nigeria), but not for the same reasons. Nigeria has been a country where the demands of environmentalists and ethnic minorities have suffered the most repression, including executions such as those of Ken Saro Wiwa and eight other Ogoni activists in 1996 (another 20 expected the same fate, but their executions were suspended due to to international pressure). Given this situation and the incessant violations of human and environmental rights by multinationals, it is logical that the response would intensify.

The MEND (Movement for the Emancipation of the Nigerian Delta) is made up of ethnic minority groups in the area, such as the Ijaw. MEND has aimed to "totally destroy the Nigerian government's ability to export oil." To do this, MEND carries out sabotage, although they have also armed themselves by stealing weapons from the Nigerian oil army (such as on January 19 and March 23, 2006, when they stole submachine guns and grenade launchers), stating that they do not seek the loss of human life. For this they have also expressed to their communities the abandonment of areas near oil facilities to avoid damage. After an action in December 2005 MEND returned with a major on January 12, 2006 when it blew up 3 pipelines and attacked an oil tanker with grenade launchers. That day MEND also captured 4 mercenaries that he released 18 days later. MEND demanded that Shell pay 1.5 trillion dollars to a community for damages caused by oil leaks. Four days later the MEND destroyed an oil station and two military boats. The activists were intercepted by military boats. In the subsequent shooting, the two military boats were sunk causing the death of several soldiers (unknown figures).

On March 23, activists found themselves in a similar situation, capturing the boat and weapons. As a result, 3 soldiers died and the others escaped. In February 2006 MEND intensified its activity in response to the repression of the Ijaw by the Nigerian army. This consisted of 4 attacks in 5 days against oil pipelines and extraction platforms. MEND also kidnapped 9 Shell workers. In the end, MEND's activism paid off and stopped oil production in the area. As a result of these actions, Shell evicted 330 of its employees for their safety. The last action we know of dates from April 29, 2006 when MEND exploded a car bomb with the effect of blowing up oil tankers. MEND has also threatened to blow up Nigeria's largest gas plant. Shell is the largest company operating in the country with the largest oil production in Africa, all concentrated in the Niger Delta. The oil companies have taken over the land and polluted it, as well as the water and the air. Despite the high profits of multinationals, the local population remains in absolute poverty. The Nigerian military government (formerly a military dictatorship) always supported Shell and other oil companies and repressed and executed those who showed opposition. Native peoples such as the Ogoni or the Ijaw have experienced this repression in their flesh.

Another case of the successful fight against the multinational destroyers was that of the town of the small island of Bouganville, where the RTZ company took over the island to turn it into a large open copper mine: 500 m deep and 7 kilometers long. The mine left the natives without land, without houses and without their habitat and, as if that were not enough, it contaminated everything. In 1988, the natives began to take action on the matter and, after stealing dynamite from the company, they began to blow up power poles, machinery and company buildings. The Bougainville Revolutionary Army (the furthest thing from an army ...) managed to get the company off the island. Since then, they have managed to produce vehicles and weapons for their self-defense using the waste left behind by the company. For fuel, they also use their own biodiesel made from coconut oil.

Another area of ​​great multinational activity is West Papua, an area where there are ethnic and tribal groups that do not know each other due to the topography and low development (industrial-technological). These tribal groups have also engaged multinationals with spears. If the Bouganville mine was large, the West Papua gold-copper mine is even larger (Freeport-McMoRan Copper & Gold Inc-USA). In 1981, for example, activists blew up pipes from this company. Tribal groups are organized to a certain extent under the Movement for a Free Papua (Organisasi Papua Merderka - OPM), a network of tribal warriors. Indonesia has practiced a brutal repression with very summary executions: an estimated 300,000 dead since 1962.

Ekintza Zuzena Number 34. zenbakia http://www.nodo50.org/ekintza


Video: Brazils indigenous population fights back. DW Documentary Environment documentary (June 2021).