Category archive

Citizen Journalism

Viva Rocinha and the Rise of Citizen Journalism in Rio de Janeiros Favelas

in Citizen Journalism/Guerilla Journalism/Interviews by

citizen-journalism-favelaIt’s in disenfranchised communities around the world where citizen journalism over social media is empowering everyday people to write the news and nowhere is this more evident than in Rio de Janeiro.

Here the Favelas have historically struggled against the Brazilian government for the right to receive even basic civic services like sanitation and trash collection and are often victims of innaccurate or misleading reporting by Brazil’s mainstream media.

This I witnessed with my own eyes on the 15th of March, 2010 when 80 heavily-armed and violent military police called the BOPE invaded the Favela Rocinha, home to over 100,000 people, as a test run for its military pacification program during the lead up to the world cup.

What happened on the ground was not what was broadcast on TV.

rocinha favelaA large crowd of Rocinha locals gathered at the bottom of Cachopa Street and chanted: “Policía Roba!” Police Steal!

They were ignored by the embedded Brazilian media, being escorted by the BOPE, whose report that night on TV featured only residents who welcomed military pacification with open arms.

The BOPE however did not ignore the zoom-lense camera I carried and approached me to ask my name and nationality, my reason for being in Rocinha, what Visa I used to enter Brazil, and whether I was a journalist (I told them I wasn’t) and wrote it all down in a little black book before ordering me back to my apartment.

Until that day I had always felt safe as a foreigner living in Rocinha which was then controlled by the bandido drug gang Amigos dos Amigos. I almost always left my apartment in the sector of Paulo Brito unlocked because common crime was extremely rare and I was unaware it’s illegal for BOPE to enter a home without a warrant except in the Favela.

citizen-journalism-favela2As I loaded the photos of the BOPE onto my laptop I wondered what makes someone a “journalist” and if I could honestly call myself one having studied Network Engineering over a more relevent field.

It was then that two BOPE in black flak jackets and balaclavas silently entered my apartment then screamed at me to hold my hands in the air while pointing their machine guns at my head.

They were only there to scare.

Interview with Michel Silva of Viva Rocinha

A year and a half later a citizen journalism platform called Viva Rocinha was founded during the November 2011 military occupation of Rocinha which paved the way for pacification.

Fast forward another three years, a month before the World Cup kickoff, and Viva Rocinha has over 14,800 active members all sharing and commenting on community news as diverse as politics and protests, live updates on traffic congestion, missing persons reports, as well as cautious updates on the conduct of the “UPP” – Pacifying Police Units – who enforce the law in the Favela once the BOPE flush out the bandidos.

Viva Rocinha was founded by Michel Silva when he was 18 years old and like myself Silva has no formal background in journalism. What he has learnt however in three years running this remarkable community media platform with his sister Michele is much more than what the best universities in the world could ever hope to teach in a journalism degree. I had to reach out and ask a few questions…

Favela Backalley
Rocinha Backalley
Chekhov: Is Rocinha safer since the UPP pacified the Favela?

Michel Silva: I’d rather not answer.

Chekhov Does Brazil’s mainstream media accurately report on the issues facing people living in Rio de Janeiro’s many Favelas?

Michel Silva: I’d rather not answer.

Chekhov: Can you tell us about the “Big Brother Rocinha” ?

Michel Silva: “Big Brother Rocinha” emerged with the entrance of the UPP in Rocinha. There are 80 cameras scattered at strategic points in the community that monitor the streets and entrances to alleyways. They are used to reduce crime or monitor the movement of the police and residents.

Chekhov: How have smartphones changed independent and citizen journalism inside Rocinha?

Michel Silva: A citizen journalist can get lots of content using a smartphone. The new phones have changed our way of action in community journalism and now information arrives faster throughout the community. When I bought my first smartphone it was great because I could provide more info with speed and reliability.

Chekhov: When you started Viva Rocinha at 18 years did you have any formal experience in journalism?

colourful Rocinha resident with cat
colourful Rocinha resident with cat
Michel Silva: I’ve never had experience with formal journalism. I like reading the newspaper and admire journalism. I played an online game called Habbo, through this game I created a news site about this game for users.

I created the site in 2008 and closed it in 2010. After that I studied about WordPress and Blogger and then had the idea of ​​creating Viva Rocinha in early 2011. Viva Rocinha became active in late 2011 with the military intervention in Rocinha.

Chekhov: Why is community important? How does a community media page like Viva Rocinha empower a community?

Michel Silva: I created Viva Rocinha in order to democratize access to information in the community. An efficient vehicle for communication didn’t exist in our community but with the popularization of the Internet in the Favela alternative journalism has grown significantly. Today Viva Rocinha serves thousands of residents over the internet .

Chekhov: Can you explain your first viral post on the 7th of may of a policeman using pepper spray on a dog and afterwards on a girl? Why is important to hold police accountable with community media?
citizen journalism rio de janeiro

Michel Silva: The photo of police firing pepper spray into a dog was taken by a colleague Dominic Peixoto from newspaper O Globo. I was one of the first people who shared the photo on Viva Rocinha. After a few hours the photo had over 10 thousand likes on Facebook, 15,000 shares and thousands of comments. The repurcussions for this case was that this police officer was removed from the service.

The photo of police firing pepper spray in the face of a girl was in another community. I don’t know who took the photo, but it also resonated. It shows that we have many untrained policemen.

Chekhov: that is the power of citizen journalism. You can follow Viva Rocinha over Facebook and Twitter as well as their website Vivarocinha.org as Michel and Michele provide accurate news from Rocinha during the world cup.

the view from the peak of Rocinha at sunset
the view from the peak of Rocinha at sunset

A Hidden Tragedy Translated: The Censored Book That Broke Ecuador’s Heart

in Corruption & Transparency/Environmental Activism/Human Rights by
Ecuador Censored Book
yasuni amazon
The obscured text on the back cover symbolizes the attempts at hiding this tragedy even before the book was censored.
“At the end of march this year, 2013, in the jungles of Ecuador’s northern orient, a great massacre of uncontacted indigenous was committed.” opens the book A Hidden Tragedy. “Accomplished in a way that was abusive and cruel. Those eliminated, above all, where women and children.”

Seventeen minutes before the book was due to be presented to the Ecuadorian public it was censored from circulation “over any medium” by none other than Judge Hilda Garces of the Judicial Unit of Violence Against Women and Family.

 
The reason: the book contained uncensored photos of two Taromenane girls aged 3 and 6 who had been kidnapped during the massacre of their uncontacted tribe.

Seemingly unbeknownst to the Judge or anyone else who had not yet read the book is that the authors took great care to protect the identities of “C-” and “D-“, as we follow their terrifying journey from the moment their mother is speared to their arrival in the remote Yarentaro outpost inside the oil giant RepSol’s Petroleum Block 16.

The book contained something much worse: a catalog of government incompetence and carelessness in the Ecuadorian Amazon at a time when it was facing a massive public backlash on its decision to drill for billions of dollars of oil in the Yasuní National Park – home of the uncontacted Taromeane tribe now facing the existential threat of genocide.

One thing above all becomes clear: the massacre was preventable.

Knowing this fact makes the reader feel the tragedy all the more deeply as the authors, a Spanish anthropologist missionary and veteran Ecuadorian journalist, scramble to alert the authorities to stop sitting on their hands and do something to prevent a repeat of the 2003 massacre in which between 13 – 26 innocent men, women, and children of the Taromenane were killed.

The book also opens up as many questions as it answers: why did the Governor of Orellana Province celebrate the massacre? Who is airdropping poisoned food onto an uncontacted tribe that happen to live above one of the largest untapped oil reserves on the South American continent?

In Part I of this story we walked through events leading up to the assassination of Ompore Omewey, the flashpoint that triggered the massacre, using photos and information passed to me by a contact inside Block 16 while referencing the first 60 pages of A Hidden Tragedy.

For Part II I have devoted my limited time and resources to translate excerpts from the moment the authors of A Hidden Tragedy uncover why the Waorani elders were assassinated, to give an incomplete, yet very relevant and revealing view, into the massive human and environmental costs associated with the crude profit of petroleum exploitation in Ecuador’s Amazon.

English excerpts from A Hidden Tragedy

NOW AVAILABLE: Censored Book by Miguel Cabodevilla, CLICK TO DOWNLOAD
NOW AVAILABLE: Censored Book by Miguel Cabodevilla
NOTE:The headings, highlights and [comments] are mine to help give context and make the excerpts easier to scan.

The first half of the book is written by Cabodevilla from an anthropological perspective and the second half by Aguirre examines what seems like a government coverup of the massacre. The excerpts are ordered primarily by page number but I have placed parts of Aguierre’s investigation towards the beginning chronologically. All the photos below are in the book.

The version used to translate was una-tragedia-ocultada-corregida.pdf (a hidden tragedy corrected) which you can download here on Chekhov’s Kalashnikov as well as from the blogs, torrents, twitter, dropbox and facebook pages Ecuadorians used to subvert the censorship. 

“I’m not meeting their demands they are going to kill me”


una-tragedia-ocultada-corregida
– Highlight on Page 59 – Miguel Angel Cabodevilla

Two Taromenani veterans had approached [Ompore] various times, with some confidence, asking for axes, machetes, and pots.

una-tragedia-ocultada-corregida
– Highlight on Page 59 – Miguel Angel Cabodevilla

In fact in a Waorani reunion in March 2012, when they filmed this video [of Ompure recounting First Contact with the Taromenane] Ompure told the Waorani assembly about these encounters at his house. He had obtained a few tools from a Waorani employee of Repsol; also Cawetipe, President of NAWE [Waorani Nationality of Ecuador] but it seems this meagre distribution reached only a few [Taromenane] and provoked animosity in others; some of them came to Ompore in a threatening way, demanding tools for everyone.

Ompore, in turn requested, somewhat distressed (i’m not meeting their demands they are going to kill me) the tools from the assembly and the petrol company RepSol. [they denied the request]  
 
He was terrified. On several occasions [the Taromenane] had robbed his house in the jungle. Following various claims these complaints and intimidations became more often. Not only for tools, but they also complained (as we have seen) about everything that disrespected their territory, for the loud noise of the petrol rigs of the north, for the highways that cut their ancient paths and impeded their passing.

The Waorani elder Ompure Omewey impaled with Taromenane spears
The Waorani elder Ompure Omewey impaled with Taromenane spears

Airdrops of food cause suspected “massive poisoning” of uncontacted Taromenane

una-tragedia-ocultada-corregida
– Highlight on Page 62 – Miguel Angel Cabodevilla

On the 12th of April, the Agency of Official News, ANDES, published a surprising declaration from the Attorney General of the nation. Given the hermetic way in which it had managed itself until then (also before and after this declaration) in light of the subject, emphasizing the complexity of the investigation and therefore the steps which were to occur, their words came as a surprise. “The Attorney General is verifying a testimony given by the [kidnapped Taromenane girls] that an aircraft flew over dropping poisoned food that was eaten by various indigenous Taromenane, producing death in some of them. The Attorney General Chiriboga has left open the possibility that, if the murder is proven and those responsible identified, they will be tried in civil courts.”

una-tragedia-ocultada-corregida
– Highlight on Page 63 – Miguel Angel Cabodevilla

The planes doing flights over the zone, normally leave the airports of Shell and Coca, shouldn’t be that numerous in recent months (or years) to not be able to check them. That which is obvious is to say that the Attorney General signaled, first and foremost, that the Ministry of Justice, charged with ensuring strict compliance with the PMC [Plan of Precautionary Measures] are therefore responsible for all actions that pose a threat to the safety of uncontacted tribes.

However, from the policy portfolio until today there has been no clarification issued on this grave suspicion that came all the way from the Attorney General. The Ministry of Justice is well aware that controls on flights in that area is just as important as on terrestrial entrances. [to the Intangible Zone – territory of the uncontacted Taromenane]

una-tragedia-ocultada-corregida
– Highlight on Page 64 – Miguel Angel Cabodevilla

In our recent interviews with multiple Waorani witnesses of the area that complain and remember helicopter flights, also light planes, over the area. Several of them are members of the expedition organized by Waorani to revenge the death of the elders [Ompure and Buganey]. Their words, and even some of the photographs taken, testify to a large number of canned tuna found in the Taromenane homes. Other strange products found there could perhaps be explained by theft: clothes, liniment, cables for petroleum explosions…
Waorani holds up a t-shirt found in the Taromenane house
Waorani from revenge expedition holds up a t-shirt found in the Taromenane house
¿Could the Taromenane have accidentally opened some out of date tuna can, eaten it, and become victims of food poisoning for example? Are there other ways or risks for this alleged poisoning that has been denounced by the Attorney General? We are waiting for an explanation of the flights, also the possibility of homicide perpetrated from the air. This is something extremely serious.

una-tragedia-ocultada-corregida
– Highlight on Page 65 – Miguel Angel Cabodevilla

Certainly that first interview with the kidnapped girl, made at the beginning of her confinement, surely could not accurately determine the circumstances of these events: date, circumstances of death … In any case it reminds us of another narration we collected from the mouth of Ompure referring to the annihilation of an uncontacted group perhaps prompted by an illness or massive poisoning.

Government compensation for murder: food rations


una-tragedia-ocultada-corregida
– Highlight on Page 68 – Miguel Angel Cabodevilla

What had happened in Yarentaro in legal and political terms was this: people protected by the [Ecuadorian] Constitution (with the government in charge of enforcing it), such as the Taromenani, assassinated two Waorani citizens who must also be protected by the State.

una-tragedia-ocultada-corregida
– Highlight on Page 69 – Miguel Angel Cabodevilla

Meanwhile an endless treadmill of consultations and meetings began from many different government sectors. An unfortunate feature of this way of doing politics. They argued, as is customary, to whomever was playing the lead in resolving the problem. There were meetings with at least two dozen different secretaries and managers. They collided with each other, got into endless speeches or opinions, and whoevers opinion eventually prevailed was less than what was needed, while the police made the case a secret and controlled every aspect of it.

They consulted each other and who knows how many supposed experts in the following days, because after so many years with the problem [10 years since the massacre of 2003] the government team had no one to guide these matters wisely. They lost precious time to react and when they did they incorrectly calculated the internal social composition of the Waorani.

una-tragedia-ocultada-corregida
– Highlight on Page 70 – Miguel Angel Cabodevilla

During those days we cautioned them with incessant communications to different [government] officials: You have to try and talk with those that are preparing the revenge attack! The only way, probably, is that the Government, above all, recognises its error: we have failed in our protection.

Then accept a duty incumbent upon [the government] to recognize its responsibility to help (compensation is a word that officials run away from like cats to water) the family. We encourage them to enter the affected communities with a generous and fair offer, not some insufficient food rations. [“the compensation of beans did not calm the tensions” – page 152 Milagros Aguirre]

una-tragedia-ocultada-corregida
– Highlight on Page 71 – Miguel Angel Cabodevilla

Officials or advisers during the situation accepted as routine the expenses of incessant helicopter or plane travel, diets and hotels, etc., but were utterly incapable, and scandalized the Waorani whose family had been speared (we insisted: these people were expressly protected by the government) They can claim compensation. They had every right to it!

Waorani warriors acquire modern weaponry


una-tragedia-ocultada-corregida
– Highlight on Page 72 – Miguel Angel Cabodevilla

Waorani of the effected clans left for Coca and other points and made contacts for the adquisition of arms and ammunition. Repeated requests to the authorities to effectively control arms and munitions did not work. Several of the attackers had obtained sophisticated weaponry, 12 shot rifles among others. The final expedition that left the population was organized on the 24th of March. [Since the assassination] 19 days had passed! The luck of the Taromenane had been cast. The Government, with all of its means, had not been capable of resolving, in such a long time, a complex case, but one which involved less than a dozen well known Waorani.
Waorani enter the jungle to track the attackers after Ompure and Buganeys burrial
ecuador massacre
Waorani Warriors pose for photo on the 30th of March, 8:30am, inside a Taromanene hut
una-tragedia-ocultada-corregida
– Highlight on Page 79 – Miguel Angel Cabodevilla

To live on such a violent border [the Taromenane “Intangible Zone”] (like some groups situated on the Vía Auca), where there are arbitrary land grabs, forest exploitation, etc., as well as the unlawful acts of many of their neighbours (colonizers and inidgenous) that do not respect this border (above all in hunting and fishing) is not the best school for the Taromenane to appreciate the laws of the Cowori [Taromenane word for outsider]. It is a place with very little law, with very bad laws, we can say.

una-tragedia-ocultada-corregida
– Highlight on Page 150 – Milagros Aguirre

On that same day we sent 9 emails to the Viceminister of the Interior and an advisory lawyer of the Ministry, insisting on compensating the victims [Ompures family], as the only possibility to calm the tension, to uphold justice and start the rule of law in this no mans land. Including to make work a proposal to regulate compensation claims in cases like this: “if uncontacted groups are protected by the State and cause damage to their neighbours, the State has to take responsibility for this damage”. A regulation should have already been the first step to set a precedent. [and prevent the massacre of 2003 from happening again]

una-tragedia-ocultada-corregida-2-1
– Highlight on Page 152 – Milagros Aguirre

Why didn’t they act? Why didn’t they prohibit weapons, create a strong control, an agreement that could prevent those affected from seeking justice with their own hands? The argument, according to an official from this very government, is that some expert voices on the Waorani blindly told them that the Waorani were incapable of going to seek their Tagaeri/Taromenani brothers, that it was crazy to think that. They were mistaken. Its easy to make such a mistake on this topic, above all, if prejudice and anthropological assumptions are handled unrealistically and entirely wrong. Moreover, not far from all human feelings, common to all cultures and all people: anger, fear, the need for revenge, the thirst for justice.

On the 15th of March we wrote back to the Viceminister in private. We sent him a document titled “Some reflections”. One more time, we insisted that if he is not in the community, if he does not compensate the victims, if he does not go to Dicaro-Yarentaro to calm the animosity of the people, something is going to happen. A new disgrace in the jungle was imminent. And we would see it happen, before our eyes, the dead, once again.

To inform the public we wrote an article in Vanguardia which was published Monday 18th of March. Since then we have expressed to some organizations –the ONWO [Organization of the Waorani Nationality of Orellana province], the Confeniae [Confederation of Indigenous Nationalities in the Ecuadorian Amazon], the Conaie [the Confederation of Indigenous Nationalities of Ecuador], the CDES [Observatory of Collective Rights], the Network of Anthropologists, the applicants of precautionary measures [Plan de Medidas Cautelares] letters in Avaaz.org and Change.org – everybody – worried about what happened and what could happen, even though we explained the unique conflict exclusively from the easiest side: Ompure and Buganey were murdered because of the loud noises from an energy generator, and that Buganey, in the final moments on her deathbed, gave an Anti-Oil Company speech, which suited a series of rumours, depending on the organization speaking or the expert on shift.

una-tragedia-ocultada-corregida
– Highlight on Page 154 – Milagros Aguirre

On the 23rd of March we got the first news that an armed expedition had left to look for those who had killed Ompure and Buganey. Nothing to do. Utter helplessness. Despair. Distrust in the promises of the authorities. Overall, it had been almost 20 days since the assassination of the elders and the authorities still didn’t know what to do, they didn’t speak, and if they did, they said it was a structural problem and should be fixed structurally.

una-tragedia-ocultada-corregida
– Highlight on Page 156 – Milagros Aguirre

On the 28th we sent the Viceminister another text, “the new jungle of uncontacted peoples”, aiming to contribute knowledge to the circumstances he found himself living. The weekend continued with uncertainty: the expedition had not returned, they were still deep in the jungle. We found out about them on Monday the first of April. The revenge had been consummated. Justice, made there way. Death had arrived.

Paradoxically on that same day, the 1st of April, our response from Brigadier General Edison Narváez, Commander of the IV Division of the Amazon, also arrived: there has been no discovery of people dedicated to the sale of arms and munitions in the zone, was his reply.

A few hours before the news, we were again contacted by officials of the Interior Ministry. They called to invite us to participate in a workshop prepared on the issue by a different office, one with understanding of the topic and consultants, another with local authorities (again its always the same and ends the same). Hours later we returned their call, but not to confirm our presence on this so called workshop, but to tell the Viceminister that it was all too late, that there was no point in yet another workshop, whether or not the State could manage a structural response: the revenge had been consummated. The Waorani returned with two girls, C- and D-, that they had captured on their expedition.

“What! Are we talking about a scenario like 2003?” said the surprised Viceminister.

march of peace in coca
“March for Peace and Justice” on April 11th in Coca. Banners include: “we are all brothers”, “yes to peace” and “barrels of oil do not justify the death of anybody”
said with Ompure
Waorani community leaders Penti and Tepa in the March for Peace in front of the Police station of Coca. In the video of Ompure “The Taromenane told me…” Penti says that one day the Waorani and Taromenane “Will have peaceful contact and we can be as one,” and together the two tribes “will defend the territory” from petrol companies.

Snapshots from a deadly revenge expedition


una-tragedia-ocultada-corregida
– Highlight on Page 85 – Miguel Angel Cabodevilla

A photographic report was made during the expedition [to avenge Ompure]. It is a series of 74 photos taken between the 24th of March and the 2nd of April by one of the explorers. 18 photographs are missing from the series.

una-tragedia-ocultada-corregida
– Highlight on Page 86 – Miguel Angel Cabodevilla

The snapshots, taken on a digital camera, determine the day, hour and minute of when they were taken. They are, therefore, a primary document to the hour of the confrontation when compared with the following testimonies. If we don’t publish them here intact its obviously to conceal the identities of the protagonists. Revealing them is not our intention. We know at the time of obtaining them that these documents were in the hands of the Ministry of Justice, and therefore the use of them was transferred to the police as well as all legal and political responsibility.

una-tragedia-ocultada-corregida
– Highlight on Page 89 – Miguel Angel Cabodevilla

The photographic guide resumed on the 30th, at 8:30 in the morning. The expedition had discovered an old Taromenane house that was empty. The expedition believes the attackers [of Ompure and Buganey] stayed here on their return. There are monkey skulls with termites, evidently consumed raw. The importance of the discovery for those is shown in the immediate activity of the reporter: 12 photographs in the following 7 minutes. Its the first Taromenane refuge they find.

una-tragedia-ocultada-corregida
– Highlight on Page 90 – Miguel Angel Cabodevilla

The expedition finds a winding path, with lots of ups and downs, which they anxiously walk. The group knows they are at a key point. On 15´21 they encounter a bridge again, this time with much more Huangana skulls [wild Amazonian pigs] hanging from the walkway, which opens up into a space around a big house that’s also abandoned. They see bones impaled on a stick lying on the ground at the extreme end of the patio: a large series of skulls bleaching in the sun. The expedition talks of finding bones inside the house as well. A sign to warn off uninvited visitors, or trophies in a house of great hunters?

A Waorani warriors testimony of the massacre

una-tragedia-ocultada-corregida
– Highlight on Page 93 – Unidentified Wao who participated in the massacre

“The Taromenane were singing, a song different to what we sing. It was a strong song, strong. They sung like the monkeys sing. That’s how they sang (he sings trying to imitate them but the lyrics aren’t easy to understand) The song seems like its calling the jungle. Ayyyyy, hear the jungle. Like the call of the animals. They sung strong, strong.

When we arrived at the house we heard a man who was strong. He sung that if he was a jaguar he would become strong: “I don’t respect nobody, I turn into a jaguar.” That’s how they attacked Ompure and Buganey. I killed them. Then the sound of lightning and thunder. The Taromenani said: “when I went armed with my spear everyone ran scared! That’s why I’m here armed. If a jaguar was tied up, when its set free, no one stays around!”

This man sung when we were still far. When I went with Manuel (in the entrance narrated by M. Cawiya) the Taromenani sung there as well. On another occasion, one brother of mine got scared and fainted to hear the song of the Taromenani. They sang like that now. Also my grandmother N. knows a story about an elder Taromenani who sung very strong. At the end of the song they screamed: “Tucuuuu…We come to kill, we are going to eat like the tiger.”

We quickly went on the path. Others sung, watching the path. They were inside the house, spying the path. Inside they were singing but they had two guards. They were looking above, but they did not see us. Someone will come out, we thought, and that’s how we will shoot them. Some said: “I am going to kill them first.” I thought to go on the left hand side. They sung like Bai de Bataburo, that’s what their voice was like. He he he! They were laughing. All of these people singing, all of them destined to die. That’s why I believe they were dedicated to singing, it was their last song.

When it rains hard, they will say do not kill, they will talk strong, the Taromenani, so that we don’t come and kill. Their elder said: “we are keeping watch because enemies are coming.” But the young ones laugh. The elder was warning them, but the young ones didn’t realise. “You are going to die,” repeated the elder, “in the claws of a tiger.”

I. said: “I believe the women are making chica of chonta, that’s why they are singing” We listened in ambush around the house; we kept surrounding it. So that we can kill them as they leave the house! we thought. First you kill, one said, and later we enter. We waited for whoever wanted to initiate. Their young ones were laughing. Two of them came out with spears. When they came out of the door E. was already getting close to the same door of the house to kill them. I believe they came out because the boy wanted to make a relation with the girl.

The girl was right there and realised that we were also coming close. One of them entered the house, the girl stayed outside of the house. A. said “they are all about to come out!” E. went first and afterwards I followed. Around the house it was clean. When we entered on another path, you could hear the spears of the Taromenane inside the house. When they came out we killed them all, we killed them as they came out. We shot the rifles, but it didn’t sound loud. At first they didn’t hear. Two times we shot and they didn’t hear.

Afterwards, with the sound of another bullet, an elder said, “the Cowori have come! run, run, run! Guri, guri, guri.” There was a shootout, the bullets flew and they fell. Blood came out, lots of blood, blood dripping like water. Many people running. A big man managed to run away and hide. “Guri Guri, Guri, run, run, run!” the big man was saying. Run from those that are killing you, run or they will kill you. There were lots of them. One of them we shot in the eye. We killed them like fat Huanganas, fat, that’s how we killed them, equal to the Huanganas. Those that were skinny we left. Blood flowed like a stream of water. We killed each one with a gunshot, we shot them without stopping.

I believe the hand flew with the bullet. I shot a bullet in the stomach of one, but i’m not sure if he lived or died. I’ve only got 4 bullets and I’m out of bullets! We shot them all. There were ten bullets left! You could see well below the trees and shoot. “Look below!” said one. Two Taromenani couples ran. One man came with spears and wanted to kill K., but he couldn’t spear him. You already know how the bullet is: faster. We shot them with bullets and the man who had the spear fell. Another Taromenani was crying, saying we should not have killed them. “We were living well!” complained this man. He was crying when they killed him. “We shouldn’t have killed the family of Ompure because now many have come to kill us,” is how the Taromenani cried.

K. was saying: “Why did you come and kill my father?” Just like what they did to Ompure, we speared them. We nailed them with spears. The same. Now some of us laughed as we killed; several of us laughing as we killed them. V. kept stepping this Taromenani against the ground, then speared him from below so the point came out through the mouth, like they did to Ompure. We felt dizzy. After all the people we killed, we felt dizzy. I believe one of them we cut off the head, we stuck a few heads to a stick is how we got rid of two men.

Afterwards we collected the fallen bullets and hid in the jungle. When we were finished killing, everyone entered the house and we found that they had cooked monkey, paujil, and we ate that food. They didn’t eat tuna. But they had it saved, they had lots. They had Axes, all of them given to them from Ompure. I tipped out the moretal, so that those who lived could not take it. I stopped hurling axes. The chica smelt like the smell of a chiefs nest, thats how Taromenani chica smells. That chica of the Taromenani we came back drinking. We also collected the spears and dart pipes to bring them home. When we were carrying them a Taromenani got up, as if it was alive. It scared us, we left it there and ran away,

When we stopped running, we slept. Afterwards we got up at dawn. The girl who came was soaked wet, she was cold. She cried a lot when she arrived the first time. She cried a lot that girl. She was swollen with crying. We climbed the mountain, the hills, the plains, we climbed up and down, walked and came out on the River Tivacuno. I didn’t think of bringing things. Another time I thought of going back and collecting them. B. wanted to leave them on the hills. Of the monkeys, two monkeys, we came walking. K. stayed asleep. All of us stayed asleep.

The law of the jungle

una-tragedia-ocultada-corregida
– Highlight on age 97 – Miguel Angel Cabodevilla

Life, tradition, mark this. To die or to live, which is another way to say: you have to kill to live. Its the law of the jungle. Two faces on the same coin that fall towards one side or the other, its a question of change, strength, courage, cunning, and determination.

una-tragedia-ocultada-corregida
– Highlight on Page 98 – Miguel Angel Cabodevilla

The two following images, at 16´06, show a similar scene on the same minute: a young Taromenane, face down in the jungle, shot in the back and pierced by a spear. Together with her, thrown onto his back on the ground, is a child of 2 or 3 years, seemingly impaled by a spear.
taromenane-baby-speared

War trophies: two taromenani girls are kidnapped


una-tragedia-ocultada-corregida
– Highlight on Page 106 – Miguel Angel Cabodevilla

According to an eyewitness, when they had finished off the wounded and various Waorani dedicated themselves to looking through the property inside the Taromenane house to obtain their booty, a young woman suddenly appeared close who carried with her two girls: C-, already presented here, and D-, her little sister of three years. The three had been outside the house before the assault, maybe in the creek closeby or in some other occupation.

Upset by the shootout, surely seeing the massacre of her family, the woman came to offer herself, or she was discovered, when the climax of the furor had already passed exhausting all the bullets. The narrator insists that, from the beginning she appeared absolutely submissive and pleaded with them to respect the life of the three, offering herself to be the woman of whoever would take them.

In one testimony, the three were surrounded by some of them, while the rest continued their search [for loot and survivors] As she understood them quite well, she was interrogated about the closeness of her other family. She told them that the other [Taromenane] group had been split off and estranged after their assault on the elders [Ompure and Buganey] (who we are certain were identified as Cowori). The other house was a good days walk away. According to her those members were the most aggressive and violent [of the Taromenani]. She listed the names of the fallen members of her family and her neighbours.

Those that listened were in a rush, there was only two hours of sunlight left; less in the jungle. They had to put land in between them in case of a Taromenani counterattack by survivors. Some said to end with the three of them and start the escape. One Waorani laid claim to the two girls, the abduction of girls, both with other groups of Waorani attackers as well as Cowori, is quite a common tradition. Some of them did not accept it, and insisted all of them must die, and it produced a moment of great tension.

The testimony insinuates that there could have been shots fired between Waorani had their weapons not been discharged. Seeing this, the woman offered herself to the veteran, and he was tempted to take her with him. The rest did not permit it and said they should not be in charge of her, she was too old to hold while fleeing. So one of them killed her right there, in front of the eyes of her daughters.

una-tragedia-ocultada-corregida
– Highlight on Page 112 – Miguel Angel Cabodevilla

Then for almost 20 minutes, perhaps in a high moment on the trip, the improvising reporter, offers us the three last snapshots of the expedition; three beautiful portraits of the two captive girls. They have an impressive paleness, surely the cause of being soaked wet, hungry and cold in the canoe voyage, and for certain the terror and newness of everything they were seeing.
taromenane-girl-kidnapped
taromenane-girl

Police avoid photographic evidence of “unconfirmed” massacre

una-tragedia-ocultada-corregida
– Highlight on Page 104 – Miguel Angel Cabodevilla

This man was on the streets of Coca with his camera and photos, leisurely giving declarations to the press, offering this barbaric merchandise to the highest bidder. What did the Prosecutors Office do? They didn’t seize or examine the camera (that showed so many things) or the photos. They also decided not to enter [the site of the massacre] and also prohibited the entrance to that theater of events. They did a lot of aerial flights, that yes, something which is harmful for the survivors, we want them to explain to us one day why.
One of the many overflights of the authorities during the first days of April.
One of the many overflights of the authorities during the first days of April. Uncontacted tribes are terrified by low-flying planes and helicopters
una-tragedia-ocultada-corregida
– Highlight on Page 116 – Miguel Angel Cabodevilla

We can say that, a few days after [the massacre] the photographs of the terrestrial expedition were being sold in Coca to the highest bidder. It seems like the Attorney General and the Judicial Police, with all of their abundant contacts, did not arrive there. Comparing the photos from the ground with those from the air would have left no doubt about the massacre. The police argued that the unknown dangers were too great to go there [into the Intangible Zone to examine the scene of the crime]
taromenane-house-phototaromenane-house-massacred
una-tragedia-ocultada-corregida
– Highlight on Page 118 – Miguel Angel Cabodevilla

Outside of sporadic visits of scarce bureaucrats from the Attorney and Justice offices, the presence of the State has shone brighter than ever by its absence. We have seen distinct [government] officials hesitant in their behavior, contradicting each other, making unjustifiable promises. Despite what was often expressed by the Attorney General, the fact is that a climate of impunity has been established in the communities as if they had gained definitive ground from the State.

una-tragedia-ocultada-corregida
– Highlight on Page 123 – Miguel Angel Cabodevilla

This is a very sad story. Not only because of the amount of innocent victims, more than that because it reflects beyond the errors of government injustice, an incomprehensible and generalized human and cultural insensitivity inside Ecuador. Also in international news networks which barely reported on this. As we said, it is more terrible when you consider that killing was not an exception. It was not a surprise, it was preventable.

“The terrible scourge of genocide”


una-tragedia-ocultada-corregida
– Highlight on Page 124 – Miguel Angel Cabodevilla

In this, as in the terrible scourge of genocide of the people in that uninhabited jungle, the Government should have the responsibility it wants given. But, of course, it is not their exclusive fault. Neither of these misguided officials invented the disaster that has come to mean the annihilation of uncontacted groups. To say this is to deceive, to not see the obvious.

una-tragedia-ocultada-corregida
– Highlight on Page 158 – Milagros Aguirre

First of April: two girls captured. Taken by force from the heart of the jungle after a horrific massacre of their family members. Two girls who can die from the common cold. Two innocent girls, terrified. One with the son of Ompure, the other with another. Girls who are the legacy of vengeance. Girls who are witnesses. Girls who are trophies of war, of a war without sense, of deaths that could have been prevented, or at least attempted. If the deaths of Los Reyes could not have been prevented, or the Ompure’s death either, for being truly unpredictable, this attack seemed predictable and obvious because of the 20 days that elapsed.

President Correa’s first public statement


una-tragedia-ocultada-corregida
– Highlight on Page 159 – Milagros Aguirre

On April 6th President Correa made his first statement about the topic on his Saturday TV appearance. “They talk of 18 dead, but until now they haven’t found a single cadaver.” He continued: “unfortunately there have been grave problems between the Contacted and Uncontacted tribes. Various aerial expeditions have been sent, terrestrial, but we don’t know. This is an extremely difficult and complex case because of its nature.” Correa denied the conflict was related to the activity of petrol companies in the zone. “Nothing to do with the petrol companies, its a problem between clans.”

Municipal governor celebrates the massacre?


una-tragedia-ocultada-corregida
– Highlight on Page 160 – Milagros Aguirre

The vigilantes were happy and proud of their achievement. They show the huge thick spears stolen from one of the Tagaeri / Taromenani houses after the assault. Each one of them has one. They surround the Governor and have their photos taken with her. The photo appears on the Facebook of the Governors Office of Orellana Province, (all officials enjoy the way that social networks, Facebook and Twitter, let them communicate with their constituents) with an alusive text about the visit which says that the Waorani of Yarentaro sent, like a souvenir, a Taromenani spear to the President of the Republic… And that they are now in peace. That calm has returned to the Waorani communities. That Yarentaro and the Government have reached an agreement.
governor-ecuador-taromenane
una-tragedia-ocultada-corregida
– Highlight on Page 160 – Milagros Aguirre

Does this perhaps show a hidden agenda? A machevelian plan of premeditated extermination? Or was it simply the slip of a government official who had no idea what to do in such a complicated situation?

una-tragedia-ocultada-corregida
– Highlight on Page 161 – Milagros Aguirre

The Government, through its representatives, celebrating a victory? And recieving a war spear like a trophy as if it was part of national folklore? Ecuador loves life, as the government slogan says? This photo – and the narrative – were deleted immediately off the Internet to avoid misinterpretations.

“Convicting Ecuador of genocide by inaction or malpractice”


una-tragedia-ocultada-corregida
– Highlight on Page 161 – Milagros Aguirre

The same day 9 [of April] both the Governor and the police in Coca gave a public statement to the media: “You cannot confirm the massacre, the massacre is just a rumour” Meanwhile, Cawetipe Yeti, president Nawe, armed the newspaper El Comercio – and also the television – that this was not a rumour, that this was true, and gave concrete statements.

una-tragedia-ocultada-corregida
– Highlight on Page 168 – Milagros Aguirre

On the 23 of April, David Romero appeared on telelvision in an exclusive interview, on the program Day to Day on TeleAmazonas. He confessed to having killed 5 people and doing it with spears. “I killed!” he said, “because i’m a warrior”. There also appeared on television a young man, son of one of the vigilantes. “My father killed, killed a lot of people” On the 30th, the Attorney General Chiriboga said on the television channels “There is no proof of this alleged massacre” and that “the investigation has not yet been able to establish the veracity of the information in the number of deaths” At the end of his declaration he assured “yes there was an attack” but did not say if there was or not any deaths.

For those of us in Coca, and in the countryside, informed of what had happened, all this was absurd. One day a boy confesses to the crime and another day, the authorities come out to conceal the facts. One day the leader of Nawe, Cawetipe Yeti, asserts that there had been many dead. The other day, the Attorney General of the nation comes out saying there is no proof. And days later, indicates that there were poisonings from food thrown out of the sky from who knows who and with what interests.

una-tragedia-ocultada-corregida
– Highlight on Page 170 – Milagros Aguirre

The result of this confrontation between officials and managers of two branches of government and lack of coordination between different institutions, the powers attributed to one or the other, were effective at only one thing: silence. The silence to shield the country against any international criticism referring to a possible sanction, a call to attention or convicting Ecuador of genocide by inaction or malpractice. Silence is better. The party of silence.

The fate of the two kidnapped girls


una-tragedia-ocultada-corregida
– Highlight on Page 180 – Milagros Aguirre

For some reason that escapes our understanding, the silence became a slogan and, in some cases, was accompanied by fear, in these almost six months from the 5th of March. Workers on the zoo-creidero project, located 200 metres from where Ompure and Buganey died, were witnesses to this fact. They did not or could not talk about the theme. An anthropologist gave an interview to the newspaper El Telégrafo and was summoned by the police because of his opinion (or because of the use of an official communication medium to give his statement). They told him to rectify his public statement that he made in the newspaper in question. He received threatening calls from people who had worked on some projects. And the panic spread.

A group of women tried to talk about the problem of the kidnapped girls, giving their point of view and putting on the table their legitimate worries that the elder girl pointed and confronted one of the men, accusing him of killing her mother. They knew that, for at least those first days, she cried saying her grandmother and uncle were coming to find her. They said that when she heard the rain coming, when the jungle announced oncoming thunder and lightning, “she hid like a rat”, still hostage of her fear.

Months had already passed and nobody had an idea what was going to happen to the two children that had been forced to live with their kidnappers, that now wore clothes, who refused to eat anything, who were being photographed, who were now living in houses of cement like the ones in the communities of Dikaro and Yarentaro, to learn about things like cars, televisions, cameras, and tablets.

We knew that the younger girl was living in Awemuro, near Kawimeno, with one of the sons of Ompure those first months. Later she was changed to a house in Dikaro of one of the other expeditionaries. For her, for D-, the younger one, it will surely be easier to forget and adapt to this new reality of her new parents. For the other it will cost her more….she will suffer with moderate rage, but will learn to get used to it…

The women signed a petition on Avaaz.org (that didn’t pass 100 signatures) so that the State takes responsibility for the girls, using the pseudonym to avoid retaliations. They presented several scenarios to the authorities, from the possibility of returning the girls to their clan, to the temporary custody of other Waorani families [who were not involved in the massacre]. They neither obtained a response to their request or opened a debate on the topic: its better not to speak, of certain things, to paraphrase the title of a recent Ecuadorian film.

una-tragedia-ocultada-corregida
– Highlight on Page 181 – Milagros Aguirre

The girls had the status of protected witnesses of the Attorney General, but were made to live with their kidnappers. Didn’t the rapporteur for the United Nations, Mr. Anaya, say that the state must guarantee the physical and psychological safety of the girls? Who is the authority, entity, or instituion that has this competence? We asked the group of women in private because, in public, its better not to speak of certain things. Inside the politically correct, the result is it becomes best not to intervene or comment. Even though this accommodates unspeakable suffering, to live with those who ended your family, you can say it with a sort of irony that in the case of the Uncontacted Girls the only way to contact them is through the people that killed their parents.
taromenane-girl-assimilatedphotographed-taromenane-girl

The Welfare of Conta and her sister Daboka


I hope after reading these excerpts you have concluded, as I did after reading the book, that a full English translation is needed to warn the international community about what is happening in the Ecuadorian Amazon. The censorship of A Hidden Tragedy was shortlived but fortunately the hamfisted attempt at prohibition accomplished one thing: the blogosphere, social media, and every newspaper in Ecuador were discussing the fate of the two kidnapped Taromenane girls the government had abandoned in the hands of those that butchered their family.

It also stoked the Ecuadorian government to partake in a stupidly disproportional publicity stunt to rescue the girls depicted in the Newsweek article After all the people we killed we felt dizzy. Today we know the elder Taromenane girl, Conta, is under the care of Penti, the highly respected Waorani community leader. The whereabouts of her younger sister Daboka are believed to be with those who were responsible for the death of her family.

A Hidden Tragedy is not the only book to come out of this troubled region that has captured the worlds imagination and provided a window into the Amazon’s heart of darkness. While the theme and setting may remind some of the highly acclaimed 1989 novella The Old Man Who Read Love Stories about the increasing stupidity of modern man in the Ecuadorian Amazon, there will no doubt be comparisons by rosy-eyed missionaries to the 1961 cult-classic The Savage, My Kinsmen

There are however two other books that I believe A Hidden Tragedy resembles more deeply: the first is Eduardo Galeano’s 1971 international bestseller Open Veins of Latin America (which was also censored) in the way it furthers our understanding on how the western world’s thirst for resources is plundering the Amazon.

Then there is the renowned 1924 masterpiece of Latin American literature known as The Vortex – translated into English, French, Russian, Portuguese, Italian, Polish and Japanese – which warned the world about the extermination of indigenous tribes enslaved on the Amazonian rubber plantations of Putumayo, less than a century before and little more than a hundred kilometers north, from where the extermination of the Taromenane tribe is currently taking place.
[mc4wp_form]

A Massacre, An Oil Multinational and Chief Ompore’s Last Smile

in Citizen Journalism/Food & Water Security/Human Rights by
ecuador oil
Chief Ompore smiles at a PowerPoint Presentation.
Chief Ompore smiles at the animals projected on a PowerPoint presentation (click to enlarge)

Chief Ompore couldn’t stop smiling as he watched photos of Amazonian animals get projected across the Town Hall wall of Yarentaro – a remote village in Ecuador’s Yasuní National Park inside what oil companies call “Block 16.”

It was the 14th of December 2012 and the Spanish oil giant RepSol that administers the petroleum block had funded a project as part of its Biodiversity Conservation and Sustainable Development Strategy “designed to alleviate pressure on the forest and to restore the ecosystem to its original state.”

RepSol’s project to offset the hundreds of millions of dollars of crude oil being pumped out of Block 16 was to build a “zoo-creidero” or animal hatchery. Since big oil moved in bushmeant had become increasingly scarce in the Waorani tribe’s formerly bountiful hunting grounds but once the zoo-creidero was completed those same wild animals getting projected against the wall could be bred for food in captivity.

On the 5th of March 2013, less than three months after these photos were taken, Ompore Omeway was murdered. His body and that of his wife Buganey were found impaled with spears inside RepSol’s Block 16 and the prime suspects were an uncontacted Amazonian tribe inside the Yasuní National Park called the Taromenane.

uncontacted tribe
“We were surprised to see Ompore at the door,” says a RepSol contractor, “he was timid at first but once he saw the animal photos he couldn’t stop smiling.”
Before the month of March ended an estimated 30 men, women and children of the Taromenane tribe were massacred in a battle that pitched wooden spears against modern weaponry.

Two Taromenane girls, aged 3 and 6, were kidnapped by those that killed their tribe while members of the Ecuadorian government spent seven months downplaying the massacre. Some even casted doubt on whether the Taromenane still exist.

This uncontacted tribe that is now fighting for survival against genocide live on lands that hold an estimated 846 million barrels of crude oil.

Amazon Oil Highways & Illegal Meat Markets

RepSol Ecuador
RepSol is without a doubt the most responsible oil company in the history of Ecuador’s dirty oil industry.

The Spanish company has invested in education and schools in Yarentaro unlike their predecessors (Dallas based oil company Maxus) who were responsible for 29,355 hectares deforestation of primary rainforest and forbid Waorani from forming coalitions with indigenous groups outside of Block 16.

The last stop in western civilization before Block 16 is the illegal meat market of Pompeya where spider monkeys and tapirs, macaws and peccaries are sold wholesale for those with a taste for endangered flesh or trafficked onto the international black market.

Yarentaro is half an hour by boat or one and a half by car from Pompeya on the via Maxus – a formerly unpoliced “oil highway” built by Maxus – which gave commercial loggers and hunters access to the impenetrable depths of the Yasuni National Park where they stripped it like a plague of locusts.

Today getting to Yarentaro in Block 16 is illegal without a laminated photo ID issued by RepSol. The 40km speed limit to prevent noise pollution is strictly enforced with controls where guards pen down the time it took your vehicle to reach: the first speeding fine is $800, the second time its $3,000, the third you are banned from Block 16.

Chief Ompore looks at the whiteboard and (overexposed) projection
Chief Ompore looks at the whiteboard and (overexposed) projection

Younger generations of Waorani can enter and exit Block 16 freely without RepSol ID cards but carry Ecuadorian cedular’s just in case.

For Waorani like Ompore, who were born “Before Contact” and have never worn western clothes with their accompanying deep pockets, carrying identification is a little trickier.

But the guards, engineers, scientists, and contract workers in RepSol’s Block 16 all knew of Chief Ompore.

Ompore wasn’t just the Cacique of Yarentaro, he was the only person alive to have made peaceful contact with the mythical Taromenane and lived to tell the tale, as documented in this remarkable video:

A Hidden Tragedy: Ompore’s Last Moments Alive

As the Ecuadorian police seemingly stonewalled the investigation into the Taromenane massacre an unlikely team comprising of a Spanish anthropologist monk Miguel Ángel Cabodevilla and the veteran Ecuadorian journalist Milagros Aguirre began asking questions.

footprints
Footprint of the Taromenane. Investigators say they walk only on the tip of their feet.”(source: El Universo)
Why did the Taromenane attack almost a year to the day after the Chief claimed in the video above he had made peaceful contact with this uncontacted tribe?

They documented their findings in a book called A Hidden Tragedy which was prohibited from circulation in Ecuador “over any medium” at 5:43pm on September 24th, a full seventeen minutes before its presentation to the public.

The coverup backfired as the book’s digital PDF appeared on blogs, torrents, twitter, dropbox and facebook as Ecuadorians circumvented censorship and turned it viral – the ensuing scandal forced the book ban to be overturned.

In the book Cabodevilla and Aguirre piece together Ompore’s last day alive for clues: On the 5th of March he left his jungle hut with his wife Buganey before dawn wearing nothing but gumboots and a machete, carrying gifts of bushmeat for his family in Yarentaro.

Today the way younger generations of Waorani blasted their radios in Yarentaro annoyed the late Chief enough to build his home with Buganey away from the high-tech comforts of Contact three hours walk into the jungle. As he arrived on the village outskirts before 8am it was those same radios booming over the top of the drills, saws and hammers constructing the zoo-creidero that prevented the master hunter from hearing the ambush.

[quote]The aftermath was documented with the very technology that generations of Waorani born After Contact have embraced: cellphones.[/quote]
Buganey is in agony while being carried in a hammock to a doctor (source: http://polificcion.wordpress.com/)
Buganey is in agony while being carried in a hammock to a doctor (source: Polificcion)
“We have verified various videos and many photos of those first moments” writes Cabodevilla who transcribes the screams of Buganey:“Cut the spear! Cut the spear with a knife so I can live! Grab the spear, Hold it! I’m still alive but if you pull out the spear I will die…Give me water, put water on my head…hold the spear…”

She died an hour later.

The voice of one of her children screams: “I am going to kill them all! I am going to kill all of the Taromenani!”

A woman replies: “don’t talk like that!”

The body of Ompore was found near the river where he ran to escape the ambush. He’d been fatally wounded and fell into the leaflitter before propping himself up in a half-sitting position and died, impaled with nine spears more than three meters long and covered with colorful feathers. ompure-spears

There was no speed limit on the via Maxus the afternoon of Ompore’s murder as RepSol began withdrawing its personel from Block 16 in seeming anticipation of the tribal war to follow.

The next day the Bishop of Coca, Jesús Sábado, arrived in Yarentaro with two members of the FAL Foundation. One of the members filmed the Waorani community using a computer connected to the projector to show the Bishop and everyone else gathered a grainy cellphone video of Buganey, the Waorani elder born Before Contact, her dying breaths cast across the Town Hall wall for all to see.

[quote]In the video a woman’s voice shouts:“Ompure had already warned them, he already knew but you all did nothing. Two days ago the Taromenane left a sign; they bent a banana plant and put there a spear.”[/quote]

The question is: Why did the Taromenane attack Ompore Omewey? Read excerpts from A Hidden Tragedy translated into English to find out yourself. [mc4wp_form]

Oil & Genocide: Why We Must Protect the Human Rights of Uncontacted Tribes in Ecuador’s Yasuní

in Citizen Journalism/Environmental Activism/Human Rights by

As the Ecuadorian government begins drilling for oil in the Yasuni National Park – one of the most biodiverse regions on Planet Earth – human rights lawyer Luis Xavier Solis Tenesaca discusses the existential threat of genocide facing the uncontacted tribes within this UNESCO World Biosphere Reserve.

1. Indigenous Nationalities of Ecuador.

Waorani in the initial stages of contact [photographer unknown]
Waorani in the initial stages of contact [photographer unknown]
Historically Ecuador and its governments have failed to clearly address the “problems of nationalities and peoples” who live in its geographical territory.

According to the Confederation of Indigenous Nationalities of Ecuador (CONAIE) the country has 14 indigenous nationalities 9 of which live in the Amazon like the Waorani.

The issue of nationalities has experienced several legal, anthropological, and political debates about indigenous rights.

More recently oil exploitation in the Yasuni and the ITT region has reignited this debate about the fate of at least one nationality and two peoples – the Waorani Nationality of which the Taromenane and Tagaeri uncontacted tribes are apart.

Localización_del_Parque_YasuniA recent report by Ecuadorian anthropologists indicates that there are at least four isolated groups in the Yasuni National Park while other researches mention seven:“Katty Álvarez, a researcher in the lower basin of the Amazon, has identified groups making up families of uncontacted tribes. For example, exist Iwene group, known as ‘the people of coconuts’, in [petroleum] blocks 14 and 17″

Towards the border with Perú there is the Feromenani group, with its main anatomical feature being small earlobes, being very similar to the Tagaeris, confirmed the researcher. These groups live among the Napo and Tigres basin. Further south, however, there would be another group living in isolation called the Pananjuri of the Arabela linguistic branch.”

The one thing common to all uncontacted tribes and peoples living in voluntary isolation is that they are indigenous, and assuming their existence in this special situation, more attention should be given to any policy to do with their rights, their land, and the environment where they live.

1.1. Indigenous Peoples Living in Constrained or Voluntary Isolation:

To characterize the complexity of the question of uncontacted tribes an accurate description is necessary for its comprehension. The Guidelines of protection for indigenous peoples in isolation (OHCHR, 2012) state:[quote]”for these peoples, isolation is not a voluntary option but a survival strategy (para. 8)”

“While there is no consensus on the term to be used to refer to these people, in the international arena the most commonly used concept is “peoples in isolation.” In some countries they are known as, inter alia, free people, uncontacted, hidden, invisible, in voluntary isolation. Despite the different formulations, all refer to the same concept (para. 9)”[/quote]

Lets focus on: “for these peoples, isolation is not a voluntary option but a survival strategy”

The Tagaeri and Taromenane and other newly identified peoples would be within this category or concept so it is important to take into account legislation and how to implement it.

The United Nations has said that these peoples called names like hidden, isolated, and free are living in isolation for survival over desire: survival from diseases, food shortages from illegal hunting, timber harvesting, mining and quarrying, environmental contamination, which is common to indigenous peoples in Latin America and the world.

Exif_JPEG_PICTUREThe survival of the Taromenane has been greatly threatened by events like the last oil spill SOTE of May 31, 2013, which according to official versions consisted of 10,000 barrels of oil that ended up in the Coca and Napo Rivers reaching Brazil and contaminating the water supply downstream that uncontacted tribes use to drink.

Other than fixing the pipeline no public or private institution has attempted to clean this spill.

 

2. The Human Rights of the Waorani, Tagaeri-Taromenane and other Uncontacted Tribes

In legal terms we would say that all human rights, international treaties, the Ecuadorian Constitution, as well as Inter-American Court rulings, fully apply to indigenous peoples and that we need to defend their rights whether they have made contact or still live in isolation.

Indigenous peoples however rarely share the same situation as the common folk of a country. We can talk about legal equality but overlook a history of discrimination, exploitation, genocide, poverty and violations of their ancestral rights which require special legislation to take into account these needs.

In the case of contacted tribes there exists the ILO Convention N.169 and several judgements from the Interamerican Court of Human rights but for uncontacted tribes there is no legislation, despite a greater need for their protection.

Currently there is the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples adopted at the 107th. plenary session on September 13, 2007, a project of the Organization of American States. They do not however expressly mention uncontacted tribes or isolated peoples except for nomadic peoples in which we can legally categorize isolated peoples even though its lacking.

Photo of uncontacted tribe in the Amazon.
Photo of uncontacted tribe in the Amazon.
Something to keep in mind is that indigenous peoples have their own rights which were forged over its history, customs, culture, being the social norm in their groups. Customary law can also be applied in cases of their territories.

The violence against their human rights has been a constant threat to these people over history (oil companies seeking to enter their territory, the Summer Institute of Linguistics, state controlled oil companies, NGOs, government and the list goes on) these practices have led to the extermination of native peoples.

In the case of uncontacted tribes, very few human rights violations have been made public such as the massacre of Taromenane on 29, 2013. The jungle however obscures many more events: disputes with loggers, big oil, the army, drug trafficking and narco-gangs as well as water pollution.

2.1. Stop Racism and Discrimination

Throughout history indigenous peoples have suffered discrimination from their colonizers, treating them as inferior and with less rights – evident today in Orellana province for the Waorani. With an industry like oil where land grabs are made by multinationals that utilize trickery and the bribing of indigenous leaders to divide and conquer the community.

Shaman Ecuador AmazonRacism adds to the discrimination of poverty in which recently contacted tribes face a lack of basic services like potable clean water, sewerage and sanitation systems as well as education and health.

Technology however is often accessible to these groups and it’s not strange to see younger generations with telephones in a community without clean drinking water.

The government policy on education remains standardized and does not respect the Waorani culture. Most schools in the Amazon employ incompetent teachers – except for a few schools funded by the oil company Repsol in Block 16. Other communities have a low educational level which glosses over the local culture, language, and teaching methods.

In the case of isolated peoples discrimination and racism is everywhere and is more noticeable when they are not even factored into oil exploration plans disrespecting their territory.

At times this has entered the level of farce when the deaths of members of these villages cannot be investigated because they do not have identity cards as the public prosecutor said in 2003. In another recent case prosecutors have denied the existence of these isolated peoples and even though there is evidence of crimes it has not convicted one illegal logger, oil worker or military man, for violating the Yasuní protected territory or providing modern weapons to the Waorani to kill the Taromenane.

Left behind is Article 66 paragraph 4, and 57 paragraph 2 of the Ecuadorian Constitution on formal equality, material and non-discrimination, the right pending to comply – the state must move from being a discriminatory state on the ground and ensure the equality mentioned in its constitution.

2.2. Self-Determination

On the right of self-determination there has existed various ideas, among them the right of the total independence of a people to form a new state, their own.

For the right of indigenous peoples we refer to the right to control their institutions, territories, resources, social justice, culture without interference or external domination and their right to establish their relationship with the dominant society and the state is on the basis of consensus.

This is to say not total independence of a state but the recognition and legal protection of their rights internationally given the vulnerability of many indigenous peoples.

In the case of uncontacted tribes different authors say that the ultimate expression of self-determination is the right to respect their decision to remain in isolation, as they know of the existence of other peoples or cowori (strangers) but the will of the State is kept at a distance. The right to remain isolated as Berraondo Mikel says [quote]”… is the ultimate expression of the right to self-determination that becomes the key that guarantees respect for traditional ways of life and social and political organization. While respecting their decision to remain isolated, uncontacted peoples retain their traditional systems of organization … and respect for their decision may be understood as recognition or legitimacy of their own systems of government and organization by external actors and governments of states whose territories are the territories of uncontacted peoples.”[/quote]

Waorani in the initial stages of contact with western civilization.
Waorani in the initial stages of contact with western civilization on the Shiripuno River.
With the peoples in initial contact such as the Waorani (pictured right) their right to self-determination, to exercise their own organization, has been hit hard by the oil industry.

This industry has violated traditional organizational forms, though in rare cases they consult the Pikenani (elders) when making decisions.

The state has been very negligent in caring for people in the initial stages of contact, leaving them to their fate, in which there has been a failure to act in cases where ethnocide has occured like what happened to the now extinct Tetete tribe and similar to what is currently happening with the Taromenane.

2.3. Territory and Environment

ecuador deforestation
Deforestation on the Napo River
Territory and environment are considered as one for Ecuador’s indigenous peoples, they correlate and all activities develop around them. The law is understood as for the collective and not the individual.

This right is considered a right for indigenous solidarity – to sustain the environment for future generations.

This right has always existed in the customary rights of tribes and their are many historical cases of their defense, although currently there are no maps, no paths, no landmarks to delineate the borders between Taromenane, Tagaeri or Waorani territory.

These people fight in defense of their ancestral lands, to maintain their privacy, preserve the land for their future generations. As was made clear in a remarkable video filmed of the late Chief Ompure of the Waorani, believed to be the only person on the planet who was in contact with the Taromenane.

Chief Ompure was later murdered which led to a massacre of uncontacted Taromenane and the kidnapping of two Taromenane girls.

The Ecuadorian government has stalled answering simple questions about whether natural resources found in indigenous territories, especially that of uncontacted tribes, will be leveraged across the country. The answer to those questions can be found in a recent case on Sarayacu territory where upon explosives were used without consent or or respect for those that inhabited the area.

The Interamerican Court said in its final sentence that this was a violation of territorial rights and it has to be emphasized that the resources found in indigenous territories also belong to these people.

[quote]Article. 57 of the Ecuadorian Constitution
“The territories of the peoples in voluntary isolation are irreducible and intangible and they shall be closed to all extractive activities. The state has adopted measures to guarantee there lives, enforce their self-determination and will to remain in isolation and safeguard the enforcement of their rights. The violation of these rights shall constitute the crime of ethnocide which will be criminalized by law.”[/quote]

The ILO Convention 169 guarantees the right of indigenous or native peoples to own and control without limits their lands and territories in art. 13 as well as articles 10, 25, 26, 27, 28 and others in the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.

2.4. Culture

contacted tribeThe establishment of homogenous states where everybody speaks a single language, receives standardized education, and live similar conformist lifestyles is one of the victories of capitalism ending the kind of cultures that oppose their system.

The homogenous culture favours development of the capatilist state and the free market where consumption becomes more important than creativity.

The most affected have been indigenous peoples because more than just struggling to survive they are seeking to save what is left of their culture.

[pullquote align=”right”]Here we must also remember the violation of intellectual property: recent research reveals that the Waorani had blood samples taken from them without permission by people close to the Summer Institute of Linguistics.

These blood samples were sent to laboratories around the world to study their DNA – a clear violation genetic heritage.
[/pullquote]

With uncontacted peoples as we have said, the defense of their culture is closely linked to the defense of their life and their right to self-determination.

The right of uncontacted peoples to exist has been elevated to the category of IUS COGENS in international law so that all states have an obligation to protect the existence of uncontacted peoples, no state can play down its obligation.

All members of the international community must prevent and punish the crime of genocide, which so strongly threatens the existence of uncontacted tribes.

Violating the territory of a people and their self-determination qualifies as ethnocide under our legislation in Ecuador.

The criminalization for ethnocide does not exist and has never been applied even though as stated above there are already cases of tribes disappearing as well as attempts to facilitate the disappearence of uncontacted tribes like the Taromenane and Tagaeri. The crime of genocide should apply to those who blatantly vote for oil exploration in the territories of uncontacted tribes.

2.5. Free and Informed Prior Consent and Consultation

Section 7 of art. 57 of the Ecuadorian Constitution states with regards to indigenous peoples:
[quote]”The free, prior and informed, within a reasonable period on plans and programs of exploration, exploitation and marketing of non-renewable resources that are on their land and that may affect their environment and culture, participate in the benefits deriving from such projects and to receive compensation for damages social, cultural and environmental factors that cause them. The inquiry to be conducted by competent authorities is mandatory and timely. If the consent of the community consulted is not obtained, will proceed according to the Constitution and the law.

A free and informed prior consultation, within a reasonable timeframe, about prospecting plans and programs, the exploitation and comercialization of unrenewable resources that are found on thier land that may affect their environment or culture; to participate in the benefits derived from such projects and receive compensation for damages to social, cultural, and environmental factors caused to them. The consultation to be conducted in a timely manner by competent authorities is mandatory. If consent is not obtained from the community consulted, proceeds must conform with the Constitution and the law.”[/quote] The Interamerican Court of Human Rights however has stated in several judgments that communities and indigenous peoples should be guaranteed the right to prior consent that is free and informed.

This differs from The Right to Prior Consultation and is mandatory that the consent of communities, a right that best corresponds to indigenous peoples, is a right that is also enshrined Convention 169 of the ILO and the Declaration of the United Nations for Indigenous Peoples.

Prior consent that is free and informed, without harassment that stems primarily from exploitative companies, is a right to all indigenous peoples concerning their territories and resources. Currently this has become a weapon to defend the territories of farms, also it sometimes limits the state and its extractive endeavors, says Mikel Berraondo, an expert on human rights for indigenous villages: [quote]”One of its aims is to regulate and limit the implementation by States using the doctrines of public interest or social need that have become the perfect legal and political instrument to subrogate the rights of indigenous peoples and keep them always in the background to prioritize the rights of the majority.

Consent must be given freely, should be obtained by project implementers prior to the start of activities, and must be granted by the affected villages being based on the full understanding of the broad scope of all the issues involved in the activities or decisions in question. Hence the formulation and free, prior and informed”[/quote]

disaster ecuador chevron texaco
In many indigenous villages this “consent” has been achieved by force, trickery, lavish gifts and lies. This “consent” is not valid and is in clear violation of the right to be consulted.

Also consent must be given by a majority of the inhabitants but what happens in many cases is the community leader signs a document in exchange for “favors”

¿But what happens to uncontacted tribes? How can we understand the right to free and informed consent? Mikel Berraondo contests that: [quote]“In the case of uncontacted peoples, the critical importance of duel systems to limit and protect facilitates the application of this principal. Limitation, enforces the application of this principle by completely preventing and limiting the possibilities to act on the territories of uncontacted peoples, without their consent one cannot perform any action within their territories, and the pursuit of consent by force or coercion would expose serious human rights violations, among which include the crime of genocide.

And protection, precisely because of the fact that its consent is a prerequisite for any action on their territories means that any intrusion into their territories or cultures means a violation of their rights, among which, as just mentioned, includes the crime of genocide which is generated between violating and acting without consent.”[/quote]

As Mikel Berraondo states in the case of indigenous peoples there must be free and informed prior consent and in the case of uncontacted tribes there can be no type of exploitation on their territories or of their resources.

amazon pollutionHere we must clarify that the right of self-determination for uncontacted tribes means protecting their territory by preventing exploitation and not because there exists a zone declared intangible, which is to say that we must see the right to life of these people, the IUS COGENS.

In the case of Ecuador and the Yasuní we can say that we have two arguments against oil extracting activity: the first is based on an executive order declaring the Intangible Zone as well as the fundamental right to self-determination of indigenous Waorani in the region.

The second argument is the right of self-determination for the uncontacted tribes in the region and the protection of the principal of Free and Informed Prior Consultation: Limitation and Protection.

The legal loophole the Ecuadorian government is using to exploit blocks 31 and 43 of the Yasuni ITT is Article 407 of the country’s constitution that states: [quote]”prohibits extractive non-renewable resources in protected areas and areas designated as intangible, including logging, and in exceptional cases exploitation of these resources can be based on a request by the President of the Republic after a declaration of national interest by the National Assembly, which he sees fit may call a referendum.”[/quote]

But this foundation is lacking in respect for international norms and treaties ratified by Ecuador. It even contradicts the Ecuadorian Constitution which says the State’s duty is to ensure the human rights enshrined in the Constitution and in international instruments, in accordance with that which is stated in the second clause of articles 424 and 426 of the Constitution of the Republic of Ecuador.

oil ecuador tribesFinally we must alert the world that the 10th Round Table for Oil is coming to tender oil blocks found on indigenous ancestral territories, in some cases the blocks cover the entire territory.

16% of Waorani territory will be affected by the new petroleum blocks and in the case of the Achuar, Andoas, Shiwiar y Zapara nationalities these blocks will occupy all of their territory.

The Ecuadorian government has said it carried out a prior consultation, but not the procedure it should have done, so this round again violates the rights of indigenous peoples.

All this is happening in the beurocratic jungle of paper and decrees while environmentalists and NGO’s continue the resistance against big oil on the ground in the jungle.

Neither the army nor the police or government have been able to erase from the minds of indigenous people and mestizos the catastrophic contamination caused by petroleum exploitation. In the words of one fighter on the “battlefield” against the petroleum giant Chevron Texaco: [quote]“We’ll fight this until hell freezes over and then we’ll fight it on the ice.”[/quote] [mc4wp_form]

FALSE POSITIVE: The Punk Rock Musician on Dialysis That Colombian Police Cant Silence

in Citizen Journalism/Corruption & Transparency/Guerilla Journalism by

luis-punk-rocker
This is Luís Alberto Velásquez Molina and he knows something that the Colombian Police do not want you to find out.

medellin-silicon-valley
Luís is from Medellin, a city famous for beautiful women, plastic surgery, and Pablo Escobar.

medellin-punk-rock
It’s also the heartland of Latin American Punk Rock.

medellin-skyriseLuis lives in the hills above Medellin in a comuna called Villatina.
Villatina is no stranger to police violence.

villatina-medellin3
This man lives a few blocks away from Luis. He was 12 when his 17 year old brother was executed by police along with 7 other children in the Villatina Massacre.

villatina-medellin
The police accused of orchestrating the massacre were never sentenced.
The victims families are still seeking justice 21 years later.

villatina-medellin2
Luis is a role model for the youth of Villatina. They remember seeing his band Sonido Libertario or Libertarian Sound play for them in the comuna.

false-positive-luis
Luis wants to teach the youth of Villatina that music, not crime and violence, is the best outlet for anger against an extremely unjust society.

false-positive-medicine
Luis has lived with a terminal illness for 14 years and needs a strict diet and dialysis to stay alive. “When I drink too much water my legs swell up.”

luis-veins-dialysis14 years of dialysis at 3 times a week for 4 hours a session equals 8,736 hours of a metal tube pumping and filtering blood through his arm.

dialysis-false-positive
Luis waited 10 years to receive a kidney transplant in 2009 but his body rejected it a year later. He almost died.

punk-medellinThat’s when 28 punk bands from Medellin organized a concert they called “Punk to help a Friend” and raised enough money to buy Luis a small home in Villatina. He made a slow and painful recovery.

false-positive-colombia
Besides from suffering a terminal illness, “Luchito” or “our Little Fighter” as the Punkeros call him, was in a car accident that permanently damaged his right ankle making movement difficult.

false-positive-luis-camelBut that doesn’t mean Luis can stop being a Camel, or Camellar as they say in Colombia, when you work without food or breaks to scrape enough spare change together to survive.

luis-camellandoLuis created a D.I.Y. mobile shop out of a child’s pram with speakers to blast Punk Rock. After dialysis he wheels his shop carrying sweets and cigarettes to the same park he has worked 6 nights a week for the last 8 years.

sonido-libertario-medellin
At 42 years old Luis is nowhere near as strong as his youth. But that’s not gonna stop him screaming Punk whenever Sonido Libertario gets together.

luis-sonido-libertario
He’s exhausted after the performance but its worth it. Punk fires him up to get out of bed every morning so his 10 year old son wont become an orphan.

false-positive-cart
On the 29th of December 2012, Police discovered a military grenade in a black sealed bag placed on top of the lollypops and bubblegum in Luis’ cart.

false-positive-colombia-luis
The night before last weeks court date Luis got home from work at Park Periodista at midnight, woke up at 3:30am, took 2 buses 1.5 hours to the hospital for his 5am-9am dialysis session, then another bus to court.
He was exhausted.

vendors-crate
A witness sitting in Periodista Park with his grandson the night of the incident swore under oath he saw a third party place a black sealed bag on top of Luis’ cart moments before police arrived.

false-positive-medicine-2
The prosecutor used the cocaine found inside the black sealed bag to paint Luis as a user of vicio or vice. The only chemicals Luis can consume without becoming extremely sick are an aggressive dose of medication.

luis-falso-positivo
Neither Luis nor his defense lawyer were permitted access to the evidence being used against him. The evidence had been destroyed on the pretext it was “too dangerous” and Luis was taken away in handcuffs.

punk-rock-medellin
Medellin’s Punk Rockers Are Pissed.

Punk-MedalloThey believe the charges against Luís Velásquez were fabricated in a common practice called “False Positive” when police and military frame innocent civilians to earn commissions.

villatina-favela
Victims of False Positives are primarily poor people because they cannot afford legal defense. They are easily forgotten.

favela-medellin-false-positives
Leaked reports show armed forces can earn up to $3,000,000 COP ($1,565 USD) commissions for weapons they discover when an arrest is made.

palace-of-justice-medellin
If the defense were permitted to examine the evidence against Luis before it was destroyed they may have been able to verify if the grenade was missing from a police warehouse.

medellin-comuna
Medellin’s Punkeros believe everyone, irrespective of where they come from or what level of society they belong, deserve fair trials.

change-org-false-positive
They set up a
petition on CHANGE.ORG and every signature sends an email to the judge they say condemned an innocent man to his death inside a Maximum Security Prison. 1,095 emails and counting…

uniting-forces-against-false-positives
The Punkeros of Medellin saved the life of Luís Alberto Velásquez before. This Sunday they’ll do it again as Medellin’s best punk bands and their fans get together to raise money and awareness for his cause.

false-positive-villatina-massacre
They want to scream a message that False Positives and Police Impunity are not welcome in Periodista Park – home of the memorial statues of 8 children executed by police in the Villatina Massacre.

Johana Mazo Ramírez (8 years),
Johny Alexander Cardona Ramírez (17 years),
Ricardo Alexander Hernández (17 years),
Giovanny Alberto Vallejo Restrepo (15 years),
Oscar Andrés Ortiz Toro (17 years),
Ángel Alberto Barón Miranda (16 years),
Marlon Alberto Álvarez (17 years),
Nelson Duban Flórez Villa (17 years),
Mauricio Antonio Higuita Ramírez (22 years).

You can help Luís Alberto Velásquez Molina too by sharing this page and signing the petition on CHANGE.ORG

Also all money raised from purchases of the “Police Bastard” EP by UK punk band DOOM are being sent to Luis Alberto Velasquez so he can afford to buy healthy food inside the atrocious conditions of Medellin’s Bellavista Prison.

UPDATE

Luis Alberto Velasquez Molina was granted house arrest after seven months in Bellavista Prison. The following photo shows Luis in his house in Villatina, a few hours after being released from prison, writing on the bottom of my article on Colombia Reports the following thanks:

“I am Luis Alberto Velasquez Molina and I am innocent. Thank you to all the people around the world for helping me with your signatures and to DOOM, Jake, the Doctor Marialena, Doctor Muñoz and all the energy of punks of the world.”

luis-velasquez-molina


[mc4wp_form]

How Boyaca’s Farmers Sparked a Movement that Brought the Colombian Government to its Knees

in Citizen Journalism/Food & Water Security/Guerilla Journalism by
Citizen Journalist Aida Castro at Tunja Cathedral in front of the hashtag she coined "Thankyou for believing in the #RevolutionOfTheRuanas"
Citizen Journalist Aida Castro in front of the hashtag she coined “Thankyou for believing in the #RevolutionOfTheRuanas”
Its not every Sunday that the priest of a rural Colombian city called Tunja begins his sermon with a story of an illiterate Indian girl who grew up in the shadow of the British Empire.

The 8th of September was not a normal Sunday.

For the three weeks previous farmers from the province of Boyaca and its capital Tunja had blocked the roads to strangle the food supply en route to Colombia’s biggest city Bogotá.

Boyaca is not only Bogotá’s backyard, its also the breadbasket for this city of 7 million mouths and has fed it since the time of the Spanish.

After decades of having their human rights ignored the National Agrarian Strike with its epicenter in Boyaca was a last resort to get urbanite Colombians to pay attention: the countryside is in crisis so consumers can save a few pesos at the supermarket.

The strike had abated the day before and Tunjas Cathedral was packed with people who came to see three of the movements leaders who fought against forces far greater than themselves: the Colombian government castrated by consecutive Free Trade Agreements with foreign powers, the United States that provides the country with billions of dollars in military aid (and expects its back scratched in return) as well as omnipotent multinationals like Monsanto.

Their names were Florentino Borda, Walter Benavides, and César Pachón and they spoke to the gathered mass in front of a banner stating, “Thankyou for believing in the #RevolutionOfTheRuanas”
tunja-cathedral
The name of the Indian woman was Kasturba Mohandas Gandhi and the priest recounted a question once asked to her about the man she married who brought the British Empire to its knees.

Her reply: “I did not marry a man,
I married a cause.”

This is the story of Boyaca’s cause.

 

The Seeds of Discontent

pacho-boyacaBefore dawn 12 hours earlier a man they call Pacho from the nearby town of Paipa rigs his car with a speaker and microphone transforming it into a mobile soapbox.

Mist hangs heavily over the back roads that bend up the mountainside and visibility is limited but Pacho dodges the severed trees that had, up until a few days before, blocked all entries and exits to the town.

With steering wheel in one hand and a microphone in the other Pacho shouts out the first names of those who cut the trees and blocked the roads with aggressive threats of force – they are potato farmers and they are invited to a Town Hall Meeting that morning where farmers get to discuss the strikes resolution with Florentino Borda, Walter Benavides, and César Pachón.

Flour & Barley: Because Cocaine is not an Option

Pacho has gained a measure of success in his life and now runs a warehouse full of farming goods from fertilizer to cattle feed and tools both big and small to work the land. But sales have bottomlined, purchases are being made on credit, and customers he counts as friends are struggling to survive.

“This conflict comes from much further back than Santos or Uribe and the TLC” says Pacho referring to Colombia’s Free Trade Agreement with the United States in his history lesson of Boyaca.

In the 1970’s the crop of choice for the province was barley until big beer breweries with factories in the province began using imports from the US. The farmers switched to wheat which was used in bakeries across Boyaca but subsidized wheat and flour from the US undercut competition in the 80’s.

boyaca-valleyOver the following decades everything from contraband Ecuadorian potatoes to European imports of powdered milk made it harder for Boyacenses to do business.

In other parts of the country these Fair Trade Agreements that flooded the market with cheap foreign imports forced farmers into growing the one Colombian crop with insatiable international demand:
the Coca leaf.
Boyaca’s too cold for Coca.

“We don’t have politicians that protect the community, they are selling the country and the farmers are fed up.” Pacho says as the car climbs up above the mist for a view of Boyaca’s spectular valleys.

“The same state that forgot about the potato farmers is facilitating the multinationals so that they can sell more at subsidized prices.”

Potato Farmers Do Not Want Monsanto Seeds

 
boyaca-potato-farmersThree paperos or potato farmers come to greet us, “this land makes good potatoes but what kills us are the importations, they don’t let us compete and now we are broke” says community leader Alexander Camargo.

“You dont sell potatoes,” he says, “you give them away.”

Its not a lack of creativity or initiative that bankrupted the potato farmers of Paipa.

For years they have gone to the mayor with plans to help return their industry to profit but the municipal government ignored them. One such plan was a seed bank that Alexander Camargo and Luis Cipaguata dreamt of creating called Crops from a Cold Land.

After Colombia signed the TLC with the United States storing seeds became a criminal offence. Farmers that followed the tradition of their great grandfathers became criminals under new laws enforced with fines or imprisonment. Saving seeds threatened the bottomline of Monsanto.

[quote]”We need to buy foreign seeds but they are too expensive, we want to certify our own seeds” says Camargo, “if we cannot save our own seeds then they have us screwed.”[/quote]

Catastrophic Acts of God vs Government Pacts: MercoSur, TLC

The nearby town of Santa Teresa has felt the destructive nature of these Free Trade Agreements with the US and South American countries under the MercoSur umbrella as hard as 3 floods that devastated the area in 2.5 years.

boyaca-lake“When the government took the barley off us we had to look for a different crop, some went for potatos, others for milk or onions,” says Wilson Pulido a representative for the region.

“After the floods destroyed everything everyone’s in debt and then the government floods us with Peruvian onions, MercoSur, the TLC.” he says.

“Now it costs 55,000 pesos to get a load of onions but we have to sell that load at 20,000 pesos, we are losing 70 percent on every load”

Back in Paipa Pacho drives down the valley to ready himself for the Town Hall Meeting and tells me, “What other choice do the people here have? They are honest, they don’t know how to steal, they aren’t guerrillas, they only want to work with dignity to get a better quality of life for their families”

You can only step over peoples human rights for so long until they have nothing left to lose and the stoic Boyacenses had nothing left to lose. They took the roads.

How The Movement Spread

1. The Watercooler of Dissent: Fruit & Vegetable Markets

corn-field
Colombia’s National Agrarian Strike started as grassroots as it gets: in fruit and veg markets across Boyaca where farmers and sellers had been swapping stories of dwindling profits and soaring losses for years.

It was here Pacho says: “farmers communicated and organized every single wednesday”
 

2. Protest Leaders Organize While President Santos Laughs

"Wearing the ruana gives me pride but it also makes me easily identifiable and I have made many enemies" César Pachon
“Wearing the Ruana gives me pride but it also makes me easily identifiable and I have made many enemies” says César Pachon
On May 7th 2013 representatives for farmers convened in Bogotá to alert the the government about the crisis in its agricultural sector. Speeches on Youtube by César Pachon and Florentino Borda show how their microphones are cut which was considered incredibly condescending by farmers.

The government gave them empty promises but the congregation served an important purpose to Pachón and Borda because they were able to network with other sidelined farmers from provinces across the country to coordinate the next strike.

In August 2013 when the National Agrarian Strike began comments by President Santos deliberately belittling the size of the protests infuriated Boyacenses long fed up with their rights being ignored.

“There were only 20 or 30 people blocking the roads” says Pacho, “but when Santos said ‘this so called national strike doesn’t exist‘ overnight we trippled in size.”

The Boyacenses wanted to send a message: YES WE EXIST.

3. Citizen Journalists Shoot Police Human Rights Abuses

ESMAD-Colombia
“Read and Study or Look at the Consequences –>”
To beat Boyaca’s farmers into submission the Colombian government sent a largely undisciplined, downright violent, and universally feared force of ESMAD Riot Police to stop the protests.

What happened next would shock the western world but comes as no surprise to your average Colombian: these trigger-happy storm troopers dressed like Darth Vader vigilantes began looting and pillaging the countryside.

In the village of Barranco 10 minutes outside of Tunja a potato farmer named Ernesto Torres was selling black coffee to protestors blocking the via Bogotá a mere 100 meters from his home. When the ESMAD arrived protestors panicked and ran up past Torres’ house and into the hills but the police gave up chase and looted the potato farmers’ home instead.

That night the ESMAD broke Torres’ two motorbikes, tipped over a gallon bucket of honey, stole 3,000,000 pesos he had set aside to buy pesticide, smashed the windows and left spent teargass grenades on his childrens bunkbeds.

[quote]”We left the door unlocked because its safe in the countryside, we never thought something like this could happen in Boyaca,” says Ernesto Torres, “Thank god the children were with my father.”[/quote]

“I believe the ESMAD made us stronger” César Pachón told me explaining how the deluge of videos by Citizen Journalists documenting human rights abuses by the ESMAD caused public outrage and garnered the sympathy of Colombian’s from the city.

4. The Town Hall of the Future: Red Boyaca

aida-castro-citizen-journalist
Citizen Journalist Aida Castro filming César Pachon in Paipas Town Hall
In Paipa’s Town Hall the mood is a mix of elation and tense relief amongst the farmers gathered. Here Florentino Borda, Walter Benavides, and César Pachón give speeches about what Boyaca gained now the strike against the government had been resolved while citizen journalist Aida Castro films and tweets their points.

The sleepy town of Paipa, like many others in the province, have risen up in protest only once before in history: during the Battle of Boyacá in August 1819 that gained Colombia its independence from the Spanish.

This August 193 years later the Colombian elite are again facilitating foreign states as well as multinationals to plunder the countryside at the expense of the human rights of farmers and their families.

What has changed however is a phenomena mushrooming across South American cyberspace called the Town Hall of the Future – online meeting places like this brick and mortar Town Hall in Paipa were concerned citizens come to discuss important topics online.

Online Town Halls like Red Boyaca are the future in bringing people together to fight for their communities by holding human rights abuses accountable thanks to the courageous grassroots reporting by citizen journalists.

There is an old saying in this cold Colombian province: “Boyacenses don’t pray to God for good crops, they pray the neighbors crops will fail.” Now however for the second time in history the stoic Boyacenses are united but this time they are hyper-connected to each other and the rest of Colombia thanks to Citizen Journalism and the Town Halls of the Future.
[mc4wp_form]

Media Manipulation 101: The Injured Youth and the Rise of Citizen Journalism in Colombia

in Citizen Journalism/Guerilla Journalism by

injured-youth2 On the 29th of August hours after the protests in the Plaza de Bolivar in Bogota a video of a seriously injured youth known only as the “Joven Herido” started making waves around social networks.

The protests had turned violent and depending on which side of the barricade you stood the blame laid at the feet of either the disproportional force of the ESMED Riot Police or a “cartel of vandals” that had infiltrated the protests and caused the militarization of Bogota.

From that protest the story of the Injured Youth became one of the most viewed, commented, and shared videos to come out of the two week nation wide strikes that had engulfed the country. A closer look at the coverage of the Joven Herido is essential to understand the media war underway between the mainstream broadcast media and Colombia’s citizen journalists.

How to Direct the Narrative in News

As the video of the Injured Youth went viral concerned citizens across Colombia began asking who he was, what happened to him, and if he was okay.

El Espectador, the oldest newspaper in Colombia as well as one of its biggest and most influential, was the only big mainstream communication medium to publish the video. Here is a comparative analysis between the coverage between El Espectador and a small citizen media outlet called Reporteros24 which bills itself as “the social network of citizen journalism from latinos for latinos”

El Espectador published the video on the 29th at 6:55 pm and later tweeted it at 9:15 and 11:53. Reporteros24 on the other hand published the video on the 30th at 6:06pm and tweeted it at 7:13.

The difference between the language they used:


“Youth Injured During Bogota Protests”


“In Video: Youth Injured During Bogota Protests”


“Shocking images of a seriously injured youth during the Agrarian Protests in Bogotá”

If you add 27 + 19 + 23 for the amount of retweets each got above and divide by 3 you get number 23. This makes Reporteros24 tweet the mean. Now note that the twitter account of El Espectador has 1,220,417 followers while Reporteros24 has 1,803 and do the maths – In statistics tweets like El Espectadors are called Outliers.

[pullquote]out·li·er [out-lahy-er] noun:
an observation that is well outside of the expected range of values in a study or experiment, and which is often discarded from the data set.”
[/pullquote]  

This is the power of using vague and ambigious language on twitter over its descriptive and contextual opposite – its designed to be discarded.

Now lets compare the landing pages for the Youtube video on both El Espectador and Reporteros24:
[quote]”El Espectador was unable to confirm this information independently, but decided to publish it for its news value. The content below may find upsetting.” El Espectador[/quote] [quote]This video circulating on social networks, shows the severity of injuries sustained while this young man participated in marches in support of agricultural strike in Bogota. Apparently tear gas exploded near the boy’s face. The images can hurt your sensitivity. Reporteros24 can not independently confirm the veracity, date or place of this material. Reporteros24[/quote]

Here we can give El Espectador the benefit of the doubt in that they published the video the night of the protests (a day before Reporteros24) and legitimately had no information about the boy. However for the most viewed, shared, and commented video that the newspaper published one might think its “news value” meant it deserved a follow up to find out what happened to the boy.

Colombia’s oldest newspaper however was too busy publishing article after article about the colourfully dubbed a “cartel of vandals” guilty of throwing rocks and wrecking public property and even included the video apology of a 15 year old boy whose “reprehensible action” was to graffiti “long live the strike” on a wall which was news worthy enough to get its own article.

Network Anomalies on El Espectador

Four days later and the view-count of the Injured Youth video was rapidly climbing everywhere except newspaper El Espectador where various network anomalies saw the piece fluctuate between 27,000 and 11,000 shares. A few days later still the view count started to fluctuate between 11,000 and 4,000 shares and now sits steady on 12,000.

Is this a glitch? Or is it part of a larger plan to censor and obfuscate all news related to violations of human rights perpetuated by the country’s feared ESMAD riot police? Lets look a little deeper.

SEX SELLS vs IF IT BLEEDS IT LEADS

Sex and Gore are the media industry’s two holy cash cows and “The nymphomaniac that proposes to have sex with 100,000 men” was El Espectadors best bet in making the masses forget the previous weeks protests and the Injured Youth. The piece became number 1 in the newspapers TOP 10 for the week of 2nd to 8th of September.

“Up this this moment Ania Lisewska has 284 men in her ´collection´”

Sex sells and the picture of the 21 year old Polish sex junky with her legs seductively bared on her bed no doubt helped the article skyrocket to number 1 for the week. Now lets look at the Injured Youth in the previous week:

Instead of showing the Injured Youths mutilated face haemorrhaging blood we get an image of a different youth, without a cut on him, seemingly antagonizing the ESMAD riot police that cower against the wall. El Espectador have an original photo of the youth but they decided to go against the cardinal rule in news media “if it bleeds it leads” which makes us wonder why don’t they want this story to lead?

Media Manipulation is everywhere and if citizen journalists do not hold news organizations accountable their flagrant abuse of the truth it will only become more outrageous.

To prove this point the day after the National Agrarian Strike ended, with hundreds of outstanding human rights violations by the ESMAD and half the countryside on the brink of bankruptcy, the front page of El Espectador has 12 articles about sport and one article hidden at the bottom from the “chief of state” Juan Manuel Santos acknowledging there’s a problem.

Casualty of a Media War: Photographer Federico Lennis

With 10,000 shares more than the consecutive weeks article (or 24,443 shares less depending on which view-count you believe) it is hard to fathom why the journalists at El Espectador haven’t looked further into the case of the Injured Youth.

The following message is part of news that has been spreading since the 30th of August, about the young Federico Lennis, who on the 29th of August was injured in the face by the ESMAD (original Post)
While the mainstream media was silent citizen journalists and Facebook groups were busy scouring the web for more information about the boy and posting pleas via leveraging the power of social networks.

In the image to the left the cousin of the injured youth, named Federico Lennis, states: [quote]Hello everybody, i am the cousin of Federico and I am infinitely grateful to you all for the great support you have given us over this Facebook page. I inform you that fortunately he is good in health and talking in general….

We are working on gathering information as a family, friends, and relatives, contacts of any kind to help improve his quality of life, its to say…. we want a smile on him like before…for that we need a dentist or various im not sure, those who are interested in the case he has already lost various teeth and we need someone urgently…[/quote]

On the citizen journalist site aptly named Mentiras Medios or “Lying Media” we get an even better idea who Federico Lennis is in their two articles that reconstruct the steps leading up to his injury.

They also found a quote on a Youtube video on Noticias Capital that devotes most of the time investigating the Cartel of Vandals but interviews a man at the end who tells us what happened to Federico Lennis: [quote]Yesterday we were first hand witnesses, of the police brutality that the ESMAD introduced and the force available from the National Police in Bogota, on the road 19 with avenue 7a a youth of approximately 18 years was hit by a tear gas grenade. This completely destroyed his lips, the police did nothing to help him.[/quote]

We also see that certain elements are attempting to defame Federico Lennis by claiming he was a “masked vandal” or Capucho. Fortunately we can thank the coming of age of Colombia’s citizen journalists for not settling for censorship and revealing the truth about this 18 year old photographer who may never smile again. But hell always be remembered as the martyr who fought for a cause he believed in.

"Here we have the youth that the ESMAD destroyed the Face...Federico Lennis. Here is the proof that he was not a "masked vandal" he was a photographer. That those responsible appear, the true vandals, the ESMAD that shot him."
“Here we have the youth that the ESMAD destroyed the Face…Federico Lennis.
Here is the proof that he was not a “masked vandal” he was a photographer.
That those responsible appear, the true vandals, the ESMAD that shot him.
SHARE THIS SO THAT THERE IS JUSTICE”
[mc4wp_form]
Go to Top