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Members of the Cofán Dureno Indigenous community in northern Ecuador have suffered numerous health and environmental problems due to oil production on their lands began by Texaco (now Chevron) in the late 1960s. Now the rivers are contaminated, crops don't grow, and new illnesses and cancer have been introduced.
Caroline Bennett / Rainforest Action Network

Indigenous People Just Won a Major Battle Against Mining Companies in Ecuador

After marching hundreds of miles last week, more than 300 indigenous people joined a much larger gathering of native groups in Ecuador’s capital Quito on Monday, according to Kimberley Brown of Mongabay.

They were there to demand concessions from the recently elected President Lenin Moreno. In particular, they wanted to halt mining and other extractive industries from entering culturally sacred parts of the Amazon rainforest.

For hours they chanted, sang, played music, and made their voices heard.

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And then the president did the unexpected: he sided with the indigenous people, according to Amazon Watch.

After meeting with indigenous leaders, Moreno announced that mining contracts in the affected regions would be halted until they fully complied with environmental and social regulations, Brown reports. That means the indigenous groups have to be consulted before any projects are approved and it could lead to fewer mining contracts being awarded.  

The protesters had been calling on the president to act for months, according to Brown. The former president Rafael Correa was largely unresponsive to indigenous demands, she notes.

Read More:  7 Victories for Indigenous People Around the World You Probably Didn’t Hear About in 2017

Land protections were just one of the reasons why indigenous groups came to the capital earlier this week, according to Brown.

Other demands included water rights, access to healthcare, education reform, and amnesty for rights defenders.

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“I’m fighting for the students. The other government closed the schools in the communities and made these millennials schools… but we want schools in the communities,” one protester who identified herself as Luisa told Brown.  

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“Keep the oil in the ground,” she added.

Over the past several decades, deforestation and industrial activity within the Amazon has been an “unmitigated environmental disaster,” according to Vice. Large sections of the forest that used to be rich ecosystems now harbor little life, Vice reports.

More than 300,000 square miles of rainforest have been destroyed across the countries where the Amazon exists.

Indigenous groups have tried to slow industrial activity over the years, but they have largely been overwhelmed, Brown reports.

The large protest on Monday had an impact on government officials, who also vowed to support bilingual education, land restitution, and rural transportation options, according to Brown.

But there’s still a lot more work to do be done to protect indigenous rights.