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Ecuador’s Indigenous People and International Solidarity Alliances

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Here is another story on how the oil companies are exploiting the Huaorani people of Ecuador. This is a story that might not be familiar to you, but is very familiar to me. That’s because it is a fairly unique success in transnational organizing, where western environmental and indigenous rights organizations have created meaningful alliances with indigenous activists in a globally poor nation in order to fight multinational corporate exploitation. This has been going on for 20 or more years and has seen real successes for the Huarorani and other Ecuadoran peoples in resisting their own government that doesn’t care about them and the oil companies that want to exploit the oil on their lands. This has long received attention from major western publications. The New Yorker has covered this issue since 1993. It has received enormous attention from scholars, as any Google Books search will demonstrate, with dozens of books mentioning this story over the last 25 years.

The question is why. I don’t know that I have a full answer here. The basic story is relatively easy to sketch out, which is that environmental organizations tend to romanticize Native Americans as living at one with the land, which is not accurate but does serve native peoples well in their struggles to control their own lands for their own purposes, which is often at cross-purposes with national governments and corporations. In this case, the combination of the evils of oil companies and an indigenous group fiercely resisting incursions on their lands caught the attention of green organizations and grassroots activists and a quite effective campaign was able to be launched to help out the Ecuadoran native peoples. The broader question here is why this issue and these people among all the others in the world. I suppose I am supposed to have a good answer here, but I really don’t. The effectiveness is well-established in the literature and with plenty of continued attention coming. But people around the world face the same oppression and they get little to no attention from rich world organizations. For someone interested in international solidarity movements, who calls for international solidarity as a key part of the answer to global labor exploitation, trying to figure out the answer to this question is important.

Perhaps some of you have insights here.

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