Ecuador Internacional

Was this indigenous leader killed because he fought to save Ecuador's land?

The Guardian 02/06/2015

Foto: The Guardian

Foto: The Guardian

Dark clouds loom over the Tundayme bus station where José Isidro Tendetza Antún said goodbye to his family for the last time.

The moody skies above the Cordillera del Condor would have been a familiar sight to the indigenous leader as he set out on 28 November to join a protest meeting against a huge Chinese-backed mine being carved out of his ancestral homeland.

He never arrived. Four days later, his son Jorge found Tendetza’s body in an unmarked grave, showing signs of torture and strangulation.

Six months on, that murder continues to reverberate among the residents of this jungle mountain range straddling Ecuador’s Amazon frontier with northern Peru.

Ecuador indigenous leader found dead days before planned Lima protest

Tendetza was a prominent critic of President Rafael Correa’s government, which he accused of making a U-turn on its pledge to respect nature and indigenous lands. In 2008, Ecuador became the first country in the world to legally recognise the rights of nature in its constitution, but it has since approved a series of mega-projects, including large-scale mines and hydroelectric dams – mostly in Chinese hands.

One of seven siblings, José Tendetza grew up in the Cordillera del Condor, learning to farm, hunt and fish just as his forefathers had. This biodiverse cloud forest is the home of the Shuar, Ecuador’s second-largest indigenous group who fought both the Incas and the Spanish conquistadors, but are now struggling to cope with the arrival of El Mirador – a $1.4bn gold and copper mine.

Locals say the community has experienced a surge of conflict since work began at El Mirador, which has been owned by Chinese company EcuaCorriente SA – a subsidiary of CRCC-Tongguan Investment – since it was bought from a Canadian firm in 2010.

Shuar families have already been displaced by the project, which if completed will result in the destruction of 450,000 hectares of cloud forest.

Tendetza’s family, supporters and lawyers suspect that his opposition to the mine led to his death – the third violent death of a Shuar leader in six years. (Freddy Taish was shot during a military operation against illegal mining in 2013 and Bosco Wisum died from gunshot wounds in clashes with police in 2009.)

Tensions are still high. On a recent visit to the Shuar territory, the Guardian was followed and filmed by men who locals identified as employees of the mine’s security detail

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