In January 2018 the Ecuadorian Government concessioned off over 30,000 hectares of some of the most bio-diverse rainforest in the Amazon to an array of mining interests, precipitating a gold-mining boom in the ancestral lands of the Kofan people. There were no prior meetings. No consultation. No information provided to the Kofan villagers of Sinangoe. No permission was asked. The arrival of big machinery, water pumps and dozens of miners was the only courtesy the government gave the ancestral guardians of this biodiversity hotspot.
After months of ongoing land patrols, the use of camera traps, drones and satellite imagery, as well as innovative legal strategies and indigenous-driven media campaigns to raise awareness about destructive mining practices, the Kofan people are on the verge of winning a landmark legal battle to protect the headwaters of the Aguarico River and contribute to the national movement to strengthen collective rights to Free, Prior and Informed Consent over any extractive activity in indigenous lands.
Over 30 000 hectares of mining concessions were granted by the Ecuadorian government in the headwaters of the Aguarico River, Ecuadorian Amazon, without any Free, prior and informed consent from the Kofan community of Sinangoe.
The Kofan peoples’ ancestral rainforest homeland is a miracle of biodiversity – a headwater region where Amazonian forest ascends steep mountainous cliffs into the Andean foothills, home to more species per hectare than anywhere else in Ecuador. The Kofan people, recently featured in a Foreign Policy story about the advantages of indigenous land stewardship, are achieving international recognition for their conservation efforts – which combine cutting-edge tech, weekly land patrols, and tenacious legal advocacy.
Yesterday, the Kofan people’s efforts received an additional boost with a strongly worded letter to Ecuador’s president, Lenin Moreno, signed by 55 national and international organizations, including Greenpeace, Hivos, Amazon Watch and Rainforest Fund. The support comes after the community won a first legal battle in court against four Ecuadorian ministries back in July 2018. In this ruling, a regional judge recognized that Sinangoe’s right to free, prior and informed consent had been violated, and suspended all mining operations in the Aguarico headwaters.
“The presence of mining in the headwaters of the Aguarico River represents a threat to the health of the people of Sinangoe and thousands of people who live downstream, exposes this highly diverse primary forest to uncontrolled deforestation and accelerates the global climate crisis.” – Letter to Lenin Moreno, President of Ecuador
The decision in the lower courts was immediately appealed by all the authorities, and then by Sinangoe and their ally in the Defensoria del Pueblo, who seek an even tougher verdict recognizing that rights to health, water and a clean environment had also been violated and also that the concessions be revoked, not just suspended. The case will be brought in front of provincial judges tomorrow, September 5th 2018, where hundreds plan to gather at the Court of Appeals in the amazonian town of Lago Agrio, coming in support of the Kofan Nation and in defense of the Aguarico River, its pristine headwaters and the vital water it provides to thousands of amazonian people. Stay tuned for more on Sinangoe’s struggle.