March 27 2020. Quito, Ecuador – In response to the global health crisis related to the coronavirus pandemic, yesterday indigenous and human rights organizations in Ecuador sent a letter of concern urging the government to implement concrete, culturally adequate and effective protection measures in order to guarantee the fulfillment of Indigenous Peoples’ rights to life, integrity, access to health and self-determination during this health emergency, as well as for rural communities. To date, the country has registered 1 595 cases of covid-19 and 36 deaths. Several cases have been confirmed in frontier towns in the Amazon. Ecuador is currently the second most affected nation in Latin America, preceded by Brazil.
The letter, presented below, outlines the collective concerns of Indigenous Peoples in the face of this national state of emergency, and puts forward a series of measures which should be analyzed and implemented by the government’s corresponding institutions in order to guarantee Indigenous Peoples’ integrity and survival.
Letter: Urgent Action Needed
Ecuador, March 26, 2020
Mr. Lenin Moreno
President of the Republic of Ecuador
Mrs. Alexandra Ocles
Risk Management Secretary
Mr. Juan Carlos Zevallos López
Minister of Public Health in Ecuador
National and International Human Rights Organizations
Due to the health crisis the world is facing during the COVID-19 pandemic, the Confederation of Indigenous Nationalities of Ecuador (CONAIE), the Confederation of Indigenous Nationalities of the Amazon of Ecuador (CONFENIAE), the Federation of Awá Nationality Ecuador (FNAE), the Alliance of Human Rights Organizations, Non-Governmental Organizations and civil society sign this Urgent Action demanding that the Ecuadorian National Government provide urgent, appropriate and culturally appropriate public health resources in the face of this health emergency, and the fulfillment of the rights to life, safety, access to health and self-determination of Indigenous peoples and nationalities, as well as rural communities.
a) Indigenous people of Ecuador, as well as its rural communities, are particularly vulnerable to the scourge of the pandemic due to persistent inequality, exclusion and discrimination in general access to public services, as well as the relative geographic isolation of their territories to those services – especially in the case of indigenous Amazonian and coastal populations.
b) The health of several indigenous people and rural communities is already compromised due to their lack of built up immunity and the introduction of infectious and contagious diseases and chronic non-communicable diseases. Additionally, their socio-economic statuses, and poor access to medical services place them at risk. In the current context, the severity of this pandemic is exacerbated by unrealistic physical distancing advice that fails to acknowledge the geographical and cultural realities of these communities, nor the necessary mobility between and to their territories. There is also an absence of culturally appropriate communication and information strategies readily available in diverse languages and through effective channels that can be accessed by people in remote villages without cellphones, telephones, internet, television, or electricity.
c) While thousands of people have the privilege of staying at home to prevent the spread of COVID-19, in the mountain region indigenous people who depend on commuting daily for work, are forced to go out and risk their lives and health. Many travel to provide food to the city. Hundreds of indigenous people have lost employment due to the pandemic and have been stranded in the city without employment alternatives.
d) Recently contacted indigenous populations and those that remain in voluntary isolation in the Ecuadorian Amazon, are most at risk during this pandemic due to their low immunity; having less genetic diversity, they are more susceptible to any disease. There are historical records of the special vulnerability of indigenous populations to epidemics and this pandemic is not likely to be the exception. There is a possibility of high mortality rates of isolated indigenous populations and we risk the disappearance of groups that remain in voluntary isolation if the pandemic reaches their territories.
e) The latest natural disaster, the flooding of the rivers of the Bobonoza basin, in the communities of the Sarayaku region, of the Pastaza Province, have exposed insufficient and ineffective coverage of the National Risk Management Service and shed important lessons on the need to optimize coordination between the state authorities at various levels and the authorities of the communities, federations and indigenous communities in emergency situations. There is an urgent need to optimize response times and coordinate joint initiatives for the safety of the indigenous and rural population.
f) Indigenous and Afro-Ecuadorian territories, as well as small-scale farmers, continue to face serious threats and pressure due to the persistence of “legal” and illegal extractive activities (logging, illegal mining, etc.) without enforcement by state authorities to preserve indigenous territories. Unfortunately, those extractive activities have not ceased despite the quarantine. The state must guarantee that people affiliated with these activities observe security protocols and sanitary recommendations to protect the indigenous populations in these territories.
g) The situations described in the preceding paragraphs also correspond to other parts of the national territory where indigenous peoples live, in particular we call attention to events denounced by the President of the Federation of the Awá Nationality of Ecuador – FNAE. FNAE had indicated that in the Gualpí Bajo community, parroquia of Chical, county of Tulcan, there is a 14-year-old girl that was bitten by a snake on March 23 and who to this day has not been able to receive medical assistance due to lack of transportation and the fear of COVID-19. This is because information and assistance in relation to the novel coronavirus is not sufficient, timely or culturally relevant. This particular community is 12 hours away from the first populated village where there is medical assistance.
h) The possible militarization of indigenous territories in the name of “the strategy against the pandemic,” to provide humanitarian assistance or for the “protection of the extractive industries” is an additional serious threat to the communities that until now have been able to remain free of contagion because they have voluntarily isolated themselves. Which in epidemiological terms is ideal, considering that many of these indigenous and rural communities, due to the aforementioned problems, have high rates of malnutrition, which directly affects their immune system and makes them more vulnerable to various diseases – including this virus.
i) We still have time to contain a spiralling expansion of the pandemic within indigenous and rural territories, the consequences of which could reach catastrophic proportions in terms of loss of life and the weakening and even extinction of ancient cultures. We note that, so far, the Ministry of Health, the Risk Secretariat and the Emergency Operation Committees at the National and Provincial levels have not deployed coordination mechanisms with organizations of indigenous peoples and nationalities, let alone implemented preventive actions. Until now, it has been the indigenous organizations themselves that have adopted preventive measures and have demanded support to prevent the entry and exit of external actors to their territories.
Therefore, we, the undersigned, urge the National Government to adopt, as an urgent matter, the following health measures and coordination with Indigenous Peoples and Nationalities, in order to avoid a health crisis of incalculable proportions in indigenous and farmer populations and settlements of the Ecuadorian territory, including those towns that have a cross-border nature and on which the Government has stricter obligations.
1. We require the National Government to publicly acknowledge that Indigenous Peoples and Nationalities are a population especially vulnerable to the pandemic – such as older adults and people with decreased immunity – and, in consultation with their mechanisms of authority and representation, take all necessary, culturally appropriate and effective measures to protect the communities and territories on which they depend.
2. The guarantee to life and self-determination of Indigenous Peoples in Voluntary Isolation is understood as a very high duty of results and not only of intentions: not only must the Government refrain from continuing to authorize activities that increase the probability of contact, but also measures must be taken to ensure that this does not occur. One of these measures should be an effective health buffer-zone in coordination with the populations inhabiting the neighboring territories of Indigenous Peoples in Voluntary Isolation.
3. We urge the institutions that are channeling aid, both to the National COE and to the municipal COEs, to include the indigenous people in their contingency plan. Indigenous people living in the cities without the possibility of formal or daily work (as a consequence of the pandemic), such as those who work as shippers and ambulatory vendors, since the crisis has left them in a state of vulnerability, in addition to protecting indigenous farmers who are working to supply Ecuadorians.
4. The National COE IMMEDIATELY establish a high-level technical working group, which includes the participation of professionals specialized in health and safety and which, in an INDISPENSABLE manner, receives permanent advice from Indigenous and Non-Indigenous Organizations with expertise in working with Indigenous Peoples in order to guarantee the appropriateness of their intervention and to minimize potential damages.
This space must guarantee agile and effective coordination between the National COE, the Ministry of Health, the Risk Secretariat, the Police and the Armed Forces, and the organizations and indigenous leaders of the national, regional and community levels to maintain the communities free of contagion and insured of their vital basic needs (food and comprehensive health). Improvisation in these matters kills and, in the cases of indigenous communities, decimates and exterminates, as history has already shown us.
5. Likewise, it is urgent that these institutions coordinate with the indigenous organizations that represent the Bobonaza river communities affected by the floods so that their needs are met and logistical help is provided so that the communities themselves can manage to arrive urgently, putting special interest in the situation of women, girls, boys and adolescents.
6. The food guarantee during the emergency already nationally decreed includes respecting and protecting the survival economy of the producing communities, which does not necessarily require the provision of products but rather the review of mobility measures restricted by the emergency. Communities must continue to produce goods and return to their territories, in safety. Likewise, it must be ensured that the communities have access to their own food sources supplied through fishing, hunting and gathering practices, ensuring that they are not contaminated or affected by non-indigenous third parties, including companies or those who carry out “legal” or illegal mining and forestry activities.
7. The comprehensive health guarantee assumes as preconditions:
a) In agreement and coordination with the organizations and authority systems of the communities and council, culturally appropriate actions are taken of primary prevention (to prevent Covid-19 from reaching the communities), secondary prevention (for early detection of cases) and tertiary prevention (to reduce mortality).
b) Supply the health units, which provide assistance to indigenous people, with the necessary quantity of supplies for individual protection, symptomatic medications, personal hygiene products and to guarantee adequate replacement flow.
c) Repair water supply systems in communities where they are not working and build systems in places where they do not yet exist.
d) Be prepared in case it is necessary to offer food aid in case of epidemics in indigenous and farmer communities / territories.
8. The indigenous movement, in cooperation with the health emergency, has generated an informative and preventive campaign in languages of indigenous peoples and nationalities, therefore it is the State’s obligation to disseminate the generated intercultural content, even more so in a Plurinational state; the Government must guarantee and arrange the wide and permanent dissemination of these contents through all public and private channels, and in all formats: radio, television, written press and digital platforms.
9. That the government intensify surveillance and protection actions for territories invaded by illegal miners, drug traffickers, loggers, settlers, missionaries, tourists, etc. This in agreement and coordination with the authorities and systems of governance and territorial protection of the communities.
Neither the emergency, nor a punitive and military notion of “national security” can give rise to the unwarranted militarization of territories, which is expressly rejected by international and Ecuadorian constitutional law on the rights of indigenous peoples.
10. That particular attention be paid to the indigenous and farmer communities that inhabit the northern border with Colombia, an area historically neglected and affected by the persistence of conflict and the pressure exerted on the communities by regular and irregular armed actors.
11. That the government prioritize the rights to dignified life, health, physical integrity, consent and self-determination of Indigenous Peoples over extractive activities in their territories. The incompatibility between these and the rights of peoples must always be resolved in their favor, particularly in cases where historical experience and the precautionary principle require stopping activities and / or establishing moratoriums so as not to risk the survival of human groups especially vulnerable. Likewise, in protection of indigenous peoples and their rights.
For more information or to coordinate actions, please contact:
Confederación de Nacionalidades Indígenas del Ecuador – CONAIE
Confederación de Nacionalidades Indígenas de la Amazonía del Ecuador – CONFENIAE
Federación de la Nacionalidad Awá del Ecuador – FNAE
Nacionalidad Waorani del Ecuador – NAWE
Nacionalidad Siekopai de Ecuador – NASEPAI
Consejo de Coordinación de la Nacionalidad Waorani de Ecuador – Pastaza CONCONAWEP
La Alianza de Organizaciones de Derechos Humanos, conformada por:
Centro de Apoyo y Protección de los Derechos Humanos “SURKUNA”
Comision Ecumenica de Derechos Humanos – CEDHU
Fundacion Regional de Asesoría en Derechos Humanos – INREDH
Comité Permanente por la Defensa de los Derechos Humanos – CDH
Observatorio Minero Ambiental y Social del Norte del Ecuador. – OMASNE
Red Coordinadora de Organizaciones Sociales del Norte de Esmeraldas -REDCONE
Asociación Latinoamericana para el Desarrollo Alternativo – ALDEA
Land is Life