Ottawa sides with unpopular government against Ecuador protesters

Once again Canada’s government is choosing to defend an unpopular neoliberal government against a popular uprising.

The Trudeau government is hostile to popular protests roiling Ecuador. Ottawa worries that a regional ally might fall and that Canadian mining companies’ interests will be harmed.

On June 13 the Confederation of Indigenous Nationalities of Ecuador (CONAIE) launched a protest movement against President Guillermo Lasso’s neoliberal economic policies. CONAIE, along with allies among student and workers organizations, are calling for controls on the price of gas and agricultural products, a moratorium on certain loan repayments as well as more spending on healthcare and education. Their 10-point program calls for ending mining concessions in Indigenous territories.

Predictably, the Canadian government has been hostile to the protesters, as Owen Schalk detailed in “Trudeau silent on police crackdown in Ecuador”. Echoing Lasso’s position, the Canadian Embassy in Quito labelled the ongoing protests “violent riots”. But it’s the security forces that immediately arrested CONAIE’s leader and have killed a handful of protesters.

The Trudeau government supports Lasso as one of a diminishing number of staunchly pro-corporate and pro-Washington governments in the region. Ottawa has also worked to advance Canadian mining companies’ interests in the country, which are directly challenged by the protests. At the Prospectors & Developers Association of Canada (PDAC) conference in Toronto two weeks ago, Canada’s ambassador to Ecuador suggested she considered herself part of the mining industry. “The challenge for us in the mining industry is to develop it in the right way, responsibly and in a sustainable manner,” ambassador Sylvie Bédard told PDAC delegates during a forum on Ecuador. “As we have done in Canada with our local Indigenous communities, the idea is transferring local expertise and know-how with this country still at initial stages of developing large-scale mining.”

Alongside the ambassador, a Canadian company seeking to extract resources from Shuar territory was at the Toronto conference promoting their efforts as Indigenous friendly. In “Exporting Reconciliation: A Canadian mining company’s destructive PR push in Ecuador’s Amazon is modelled on so-called reconciliation at home”, Ana Cristina Alvarado details Solaris Resources’ push for Shuar resources. The Vancouver-based firm hired as vice president former senior advisor on health and safe communities to B.C.’s Ministry of Indigenous Relations and Reconciliation Federico Velásquez to promote a project opposed by much of the Shuar.

For many years Canadian mining firms in Ecuador have sought to co-opt indigenous voices or strengthen pro-mining minority factions. In an attempt to defeat bitter resistance to its operations in Ecuador, Vancouver based Corriente backed an Indigenous delegation to Ottawa to denounce Mining Watch. During the delegation’s October 2007 visit to Ottawa, a mining industry public relations firm, Kokopell, organized a presentation titled “The Business of Poverty” that blamed anti-mining groups for profiting from Ecuador’s poverty. A few months after the delegation’s visit, Corriente released a press release entitled “Responsible Mining Activities Supported by Major Ecuadorian Indigenous Association.” The release explained: “CONFENIAE, an association representing approximately 220,000 people from all 16 indigenous nationalities of the Ecuadorian Amazon, held a Special Assembly on Thursday, November 29th in Puyo, Ecuador. During the Special Assembly, the CONFENIAE leadership overwhelmingly voted in favour of a resolution supporting the responsible mining activities of EcuaCorriente S.A. (Corriente) in the Zamora Chinchipe and Morona Santiago Provinces of Ecuador, as part of their goal to eradicate indigenous poverty in the region.”

But, it turns out, the indigenous representatives Corriente brought to Ottawa were paid by the company. Already expelled from the organizations they claimed to represent, one of them had been publicly denounced as early as 1998. A communiqué by the legitimate CONFENIAE explained: “The mining and oil companies and others that have invaded our territories in Amazonia have organized a campaign by a false CONFENIAE, led by José Aviles, who is sending out communiqués in the international arena, to confuse public institutions, governments, and international cooperation organizations about what is happening in the Ecuadorian Amazonia.

“The indigenous Mafia lies in the most shameless and condemnable way, usurping the name of the CONFENIAE and of the Federation Shuar de Zamora Chinchipe FEPNASH-ZCH, presided over by our colleague Ángel Awak. They are not ashamed to send communiqués prepared in the public relations offices of the mining companies, affirming such ridiculous things as that mineral exploitation provides education, hospitals, and culture to our communities. If we have received so many benefits, how is it possible that we live in the situation of misery and abandonment that they themselves recognize in their writings?”

In the midst of this controversy between Corriente and a sector of Ecuador’s indigenous community, Canada’s vice consul to Ecuador represented Ottawa at the June 2007 launch of a pro-mining indigenous group along with the vice president of Project Development for EcuaCorriente and the individuals expelled from the above mentioned native groups. “It remains to be explained,” noted MiningWatch, “why officials from the Canadian Embassy would publicly support [expelled indigenous representatives] Naichap and Aviles, who have been denounced through official channels by the legitimate leaders of Indigenous organizations in Ecuador.”

In 2007, a constitutional assembly was set up to rewrite Ecuador’s constitution and mining law was a hot topic. Canadian companies, which controlled most of the country’s concessions, launched a full-court press.

Ottawa took a keen interest in the mining debate. Ian Harris, senior VP of EcuaCorriente wrote, “the Canadian Embassy in Ecuador has worked tirelessly to affect change in the mining policy — including facilitating high-level meetings between Canadian mining companies and President Rafael Correa.” Along with a number of Canadian mining representatives, Canada’s ambassador to Ecuador Christian LaPointe discussed mining regulations with Ecuador’s president in early 2008. According to the CBC, LaPointe “attended the meeting with the mining companies and presented the Canadian government’s concerns over the mining rules.”

To add to the embassy’s efforts trade minister Stockwell Day traveled to Ecuador in August 2009. During the visit Day said: “It was important for me to be here to promote our leadership in this [mining] sector. Whether it is protecting the environment, helping communities or respecting the position of Indigenous peoples, we think responsibility and economic prosperity can go hand in hand.”

Corporate and government officials reminded Ecuadorian representatives that Canada has a Foreign Investment Promotion and Protection Agreement (FIPA) with that country. The agreement says that Canadian investments cannot be expropriated “without prompt and adequate compensation” and, according to Foreign Affairs official Michael O’Shaughnessy, Canadian companies have “access to binding international arbitration for disputes arising from a breach of the treaty.”

Social movements responded to this diplomatic pressure. In December 2008, reported Jennifer Moore, “about 200 activists from around the country including executive members of the influential Confederation of Indigenous Nationalities of Ecuador (CONAIE) participated in a festive march to the Canadian Embassy in Quito…. A letter delivered to Embassy representatives states that Canadian miners are ‘unwelcome’.”

Despite Trudeau’s rhetoric of reconciliation, Indigenous communities remain in conflict with the Canadian Embassy and mining firms Ottawa supports. The ongoing protest movement against Guillermo Lasso threatens Canadian mining companies’ profits and the Liberals’ right wing Latin America strategy. By its actions and words, the Canadian government has sided with corporate Canada and the North American empire against Indigenous communities of Ecuador.

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