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New indigenous leader sets challenge to end extractivism in Ecuador

The new president of the Confederation of Indigenous Nationalities of Ecuador (Conaie), Jaime Vargas, has set himself the main challenge of his term of office as ending extractivism in Ecuador and promoting new conservation policies.

“We propose from Conaie “no more oil exploitation, no more mining concessions,” because for me that is the end of life,” said the recently elected indigenous leader in an interview with Efe.

Vargas, 38, has been involved in politics since his youth, following in the footsteps of his father, who participated in the struggle for indigenous rights in the 1990s. He has been head of Conaie since Sept. 16, when he renewed the organization’s governing council, which he says “is the one with the greatest consensus” to date.

Since he took office, he has been frantically participating in calls for the rights of indigenous peoples in the countries bordering the Amazon, visiting with Canadian leaders the areas affected by oil spills from the Chevron company, or presenting proposals for the popular consultation that the president, Lenín Moreno, has scheduled.

In this context, a coalition of indigenous groups on Tuesday asked the head of state to include a question related to the banning of mining and oil extraction in natural reserves to avoid cases like the one caused by the US oil company, which contaminated nearly 500,000 hectares in the considered “lung of the planet”.

“Better to look for alternative projects, economic incentives for conservation. That is the great challenge we face. And to generate resources for Ecuadorians,” says Vargas, before pointing out that “at some point oil is going to run out.

“We coexist with nature, they tell us we are enemies of development,” he says, before asking himself, “What development? We live in peace and harmony. We indigenous peoples have enough food and medicine in the same forest, it is our market, our pharmacy”.

Ecuador depends to a great extent on hydrocarbons and oil is one of its main resources, while mining is also an important and developing industry.

Vargas argues that there are alternative projects like the “Sacred Basins” or “Living Forest” that promote the conservation of protected areas, and he proposes tourism as the engine of business.

At the same time, he calls on the “industrialized countries to provide incentives” to put an end to oil and mining exploitation.

“They tell us that in the Amazon the companies enter when they want because there are territories without an owner,” laments this leader of the Achuar community in Ecuador, which represents 14 nationalities and 18 indigenous peoples distributed in more than 3,000 communities, 380 of them in Amazon territory.

Despite the suspicions generated by the previous government of Rafael Correa on this issue, the indigenous leadership has welcomed, and some caution, the call made by the current president to the UN for the international community to ensure the future of the Amazon, given its key role in the global climate dynamic.

“For a president to say that at that level is an important step,” he said before expressing hope that “it is not just a speech. We want action.

The dialogue process promoted by Moreno is interpreted by the indigenous movement as a hand extended after the events that tarnished Correa’s administration with confrontations in some regions.

Disputes that in many cases ended with deaths, detentions, and states of emergency that forced the displacement of hundreds of community members.

According to the figures of the latest 2010 Population Census, a total of 1,018,176 people define themselves as part of the 14 indigenous nationalities that inhabit the Ecuadorian State, representing 7% of its population.

“I believe that we are all Indians, we are human, we have the same characteristics, the same blood,” Vargas concludes in raising his cause: “The indigenous peoples of the world defend the life of humanity so that we can live happily and in harmony with nature.

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