No hay vida sin agua

Ana Gvozdic - Ecuador


March 25, 2017

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The view of the Andean mountains warms up my heart. If there is one thing I fell in love with here, it is the nature and the indigenous environmental movements. The more hikes and lectures I attend, the more fascinated I am by their ideology.

One concept I learned about is sumak kawsay, the idea of living well (with special emphasis on well, rather than better) which stresses the idea of living in harmony with others and nature. Another one is ushay, which can be translated to “power” but it connotes so much more – it is about improving their living conditions collectively, through the participation in decision making. These ideas, similar to those I hear from my tree-hugging friends or read in marxist academia, seem to be even more validated by the fact that they were omnipresent in the indigenous cosmology, and not something that developed in a response to negative consequences of capitalism, mostly referring to the environment and communities. Learning about it feeds the idealistic part of my heart and gives me hope for the future.

That’s why, when I learn about the social impact of the mining industry, I literally want to cry. The environmental consequences – the contamination of water, destruction of the ecosystems and biodiversity are already bad enough, but what disturbs me even more is realizing that the mining industry directly contradicts the indigenous way of life, and thereby destroys their culture. As one of the community leaders explained: “Si nos quitan el agua, nos quitan la vida y nos quitan el alma” (If they take away our water, they take away our lives and they take away our soul). Nature is so much more than just a pretty landscape and a source of resources for the indigenous communities. The concept of Pacha Mama (the Mother Nature) shows the link between spirituality and nature, shows that respecting the nature is their only acceptable way of life. So when the mining industries contaminate the water, they are not just causing great problems for the access of water and food through agriculture, they are destroying their peace, preventing their spirituality and way of life. Collective ownership is such a big part of their ideology, and it is disabled by the privatization of land and water which is the first step of the development of the mining industries. This is something that the indigenous communities did not consent to, but their way of decision making got lost in the political structure of Ecuador, which somehow allowed the president to sell their land without their say in the decision. This for me is an ethnocide – it might be just a symptom of the mining industry and the dominant economic system, but that same dominance and conviction over the right, best economic model and political structure make the destruction of culture intentional in my eyes.

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[Photo from a hike/protest in Kimsacocha: a ritual celebrating the nature]

And it feels like the history is repeating, that the same injustice is happening again, but through legal means (or loopholes) this time. Centuries ago the indigenous communities were pushed up the mountains to leave the fertile land for the Church, or in other words, Europeans. Ironically, those were the same mountains from which they are now forcefully displaced to allow for the development of the mining industry in Nankints. When the community revolted, the leaders were imprisoned, which led to a new movement “Resistir es mi derecho” (Resistance is my right) which aims to show that the imprisonment, and not the resistance, is unconstitutional.

You can tell me that colonialism is long over, but when foreigners come uninvited, take away the land, economically profit and destroy local culture, how are they any better than colonialists?



[Disclaimer: I am basing this blog post on the information I have gathered through my interactions with the indigenous leaders involved in the movement, attendance of various related events, and my own research. I am trying to use my privilege to raise awareness and start discussions about this major problem. If you feel like I am misrepresenting or taking up too much space, please get in touch with me.]

Special thanks to:
– Defensoras de la Pacha Mama for their workshops about the impact of the mining industry
– Julio Lima (CORPUKIS), for his lecture about the mining industry

References:

Becker, Marc. “Correa, Indigenous Movements, and the Writing of a New Constitution in Ecuador.” Latin American Perspectives, vol. 38, no. 1, 2011, pp. 47–62., www.jstor.org/stable/29779306.

Jameson, Kenneth P. “The Indigenous Movement in Ecuador: The Struggle for a Plurinational State.” Latin American Perspectives, vol. 38, no. 1, 2011, pp. 63–73., www.jstor.org/stable/29779307.


Ana Gvozdic