A temporary replacement for Wachapá was put in place after he was detained on December 21 during a raid on his organization’s headquarters.
Wachapá is accused of inciting discord with a Facebook post in which he criticized President Rafael Correa, called for the departure of the military, and the mobilization of the Amazon and the country.
Organizations have called on the UN and the Vatican to intervene in the conflict over large-scale mining, but President Correa has made it clear there will be no dialogue until the person responsible for the death of police officer José Mejía is captured.
Wachapá’s detention has caused unrest among the Shuar people and has increased the abyss with the national government. According to temporary Shuar leader Tsanimp, the liberation of Wachapá is necessary to ease the conflict’s tension.
SAN CARLOS DE LIMON, Ecuador – The San Carlos-Panantza mining project has been hampered by the opposition of Shuar communities in the area, who, supported by indigenous, regional and national organizations, claim ancestry of the land. Tension between the government and the indigenous Shuar people began last August when a massive police and military operation evicted eight families, a total of 32 people. Since then, a series of confrontations, raids and detentions have been unleashed, one police officer has died, and the area has been militarized.
Unlike the community landholders and settlers living in the concession area of the San Carlos-Panantza project, the Shuar people of Ecuador’s Morona Santiago are fairly organized, according to Ruperto Tsanimp, president in charge of the Inter-Provincial Federation of Shuar Centers (FISCH).
Ruperto Tsanimp, who served as a land leader, is the temporary replacement of Agustín Wachapá, president of the Federation detained since December 21 after a raid on the organization’s headquarters in Sucúa, north of the province. Wachapá is accused of inciting discord with a Facebook post in which he disregarded President Rafael Correa, called for the departure of the military and the mobilization of the Amazon and the country.
“The Shuar and Achuar Nationalities will never surrender,” stated part of the post.
In a recent interview in the FISCH president’s office, Tsanimp said the aftermath of the police raid on December 21 can still be seen. There’s a still-broken door, and an empty where a computer clearly used to be.
“They forced [open] all the gates and took away other computers,” Tsanimp said. According to him, in the Shuar’s Morona province there are 500 communities and 46 associations, which constitute 120,000 residents affiliated with the FISCH. They form the basis of the Inter-Provincial Federation of Shuar Centers and are the decisive voice in every position adopted by the organization. But they cannot come together. The government’s current State of Exception restricts the right to freedom of movement and assembly, the inviolability of the home, and freedom of expression and information. The essentially prevents a large assembly that would gather more than 600 of the leaders.
The release of Wachapá
The lack of direct communication between the FISCH board and its offices has led to misinformation and mistrust in the Shuar communities in the area of influence of the San Carlos-Panantza project since Wachapá was detained. According to Tsanimp, they fear that informants will infiltrate. One of the FISCHs delegations that visited some of the communities located in the project area in December even explained that they should not give in and be in favor of the government.
“They say, ‘We are guardians of the Amazon forest, we have to defend our territory,’” Tsanimp said. When asked about the assassination of policeman José Mejía, whom the government attributes to an armed Shuar group, Ruperto Tsanimp said that the board is unaware of the matter, although he doubts that the indigenous people of his nationality are guilty, since they do not handle large-caliber weapons.
Tsanimp does not comment on the detention of two soldiers in the Shuar parish of Taisha, north of Macas, the provincial capital. Officers Luis Rodríguez and Paúl Pazmiño were detained for eight days by “a small irregular armed group,” according to Ricardo Patiño, Ecuador’s Defense Minister, who wanted to exchange them for a detainee. After the government’s offer, the word came out that they were looking for an exchange of the elect president of the FISCH Agustín Wachapá – although no official said so explicitly.
Both Patiño and Security Minister César Navas said that the group responsible for the kidnapping does not represent the Shuar community. Even Patiño thanked leaders of the Taisha Parish, who served as mediators for the peaceful release of the lieutenants.” Organizations in the area understood that they could not allow this group’s action to be confused with the ones of the whole community,” said Patiño on January 30. “I understand that the prosecution has issued arrest warrants for suspects in this abduction.”
A few days earlier, in a joint press conference with Patiño, Minister César Navas talked about the declaration of State of Exception.
“We have tried to modulate and focus the State of Exception to the areas of greatest impact, with an intervention by the national police and armed forces that recovered peaceful social coexistence in San Carlos de Limón,” Navas said.
Neither Patiño nor Navas referred to the complaints allegations of the indigenous leadership on the displacement of Shuar communities due to militarization.
Organizations such as the Confederation of Indigenous Nationalities of Ecuador (CONAIE) have called for the intervention by bodies such as the UN and the Vatican in the conflict over large-scale mining. But President Correa has made it clear that he will not start any dialogue until they capture whoever is responsible for the death of police officer José Mejía that happened on 14 December 14, 2016.
Two days before the release of the kidnapped soldiers, Mongabay arrived at the Taisha parish, a 54-mile gravel road with its entrance blocked by over one hundred army personnel. This sector and one of the communities of San Carlos were the only militarized sites identified during the tour of the province. On the way to Taisha, several Shuar people from neighboring villages showed their concern about mobilization restrictions.
For example, Samuel Awanch of the Tutinentza community could not find a vehicle to transport him, his wife and baby home, and in torrential rain, he took refuge in the vestiges of an abandoned building.
“Everything is quiet in Taisha; there are no alarms. The only problem is that cars do not enter,” Awanch said, adding that he does not understand the reasons for the capture of the FISCH leader.
Manuel Najandey of the Cuchaentza community said the situation has impacted him personally.
“This state’s militarization is absurd,” Najandey said. According to him, due to lack of transportation, he had to walk three hours in the rain to get off the main road. Likewise, he complained about the detention of Agustín Wachapá. “They have to make the government mindful of the situation so that they release our president.”
The Wachapá detention has caused unrest among the Shuar people. Also, it has increased the abyss with the national government, which has closed any possibility of approach until the perpetrators of the police crime are captured. Ruperto Tsanimp fears that this state’s position will lead to a civil war and asserts that the liberation of Wachapá is necessary to ease the conflict’s tension.
Tsanimp’s appeal has special significance for the family of the detainee, especially for his wife, his four-month-old baby and his mother, who spend their days in uncertainty. Both are sheltered in the premises of the FISCH, in the rooms located at the back of the establishment with just a mattress, plastic chairs, a kitchenette and old pots where they cook the few foods provided by their close relatives.
Agustín Wachapá was her support system. Tania Shiki, Wachapá’s wife, said that they were in the room when a group of heavily armed police officers arrived and entered the premises through the door and window, and handcuffed them both leaving the baby behind lying on the mattress.
“I am not sure why they came in aggressively to take my husband as if he were a delinquent” said Shiki in tears. “He has nothing to do with the Nangaritza (Nankints) case.” Her mother-in-law, a 79-year-old woman who does not speak Spanish, expressed her pain and indignation in her native Shuar language.
“She said that Agustín is her last son and that whenever she has been ill he has been the one who has taken care of her and now she does not count on his support,” she said through a family member who Translated. “She said he is not a criminal or a thief; so why did they have to arrest him? She asked President Correa to be sensitive and give him his freedom.”
Banner image: A military contingent remained at the entrance of the Taisha parish, north of the provincial capital Macas. Photo by Lalo Calle
This story was reported by Mongabay’s Latin America (Latam) team and was first published in Spanish on our Latam site on February 2, 2017.