It was a little after their usual bedtimes when in June this year 8-year old Gaby and 6-year old Leidy walked singing into San Lucas, Ecuador to stand up for the human rights to water, life and liberty.
Ecuador’s government had just fast-tracked a new law on water. The bill promoted further privatisation of water and paved the way for destructive extractive industries such as mega-mining in natural highlands water sources. This seemed ironic, as in 2008 the Ecuadorian constitution had recognised that, “The human right to water is essential and cannot be waived”.
Here at Lush we like to stand up for our beliefs and we support others that share in this passion to make the world a better place. So, when the Ecuarunari (Kichwa Confederation of Ecuador) got in touch to tell us they were organizing a peaceful 12-day March for Water, Life & Liberty to oppose the bill we knew they would be a perfect pairing with our Charity Pot initiative.
Set up in 2007, Charity Pot is our hand and body lotion that gives back to both the skin and deserving causes around the globe. We provide our time, raw materials and shop space. Our lovely customers buy the pot and every penny (minus the VAT which the government gets) goes straight into funding human rights, animal welfare and environmental protection causes. So far, together we’ve raised over £3,000,000.
Ecuarunari’s demands were simple. They called for the creation of a law to halt the privatisation of water and the ban of all extractivist activities from water sources. They argued for the release of important resistance leaders who had been wrongly criminalised for exercising their right to non-violent protest. They also wanted the rights of the indigenous people to be respected and asked for the oil in areas such as the Yasuni National Park to be free from exploitation; an earlier petition by the group (which Lush helped fund) collected hundreds of thousands of signatures from members of the public who demanded that the Ecuadorian government hold a public consultation regarding drilling for oil in the same park.
Over twelve days the march passed across over 20 locations, including Cuenca, Bolívar and Zamora. In Zamora, the state governor Salvador Quishpe – who sides with anti-mining groups – participated in the march. The entire movement was underpinned by the traditional principle of La Minga (which translates to mean ‘community work for community good’) as locals provided food and shelter to the participants in a gesture of active solidarity.
A particularly memorable night for the weary but passionate marchers came when they entered San Lucas: ‘hot drinks, homemade bread and cheese were pressed into our hands as we danced a celebratory lap of the square with our flags’.
The popularity of the protest worried the Ecuadorian Congress so much that they mobilized all sectors of the police to block the march’s progress. Whilst the marchers were delayed Congress fast-tracked the law, passing it in just four days. The peaceful activists were offered transport assistance by kind passing motorists and still made it to Quito in just 12 days, a huge achievement. Ecuarunari argued that, ‘The Law on Water has passed, but not without a clear contestation from social, indigenous sectors’.
The protest also successfully established a National Parliament of the Peoples of Ecuador. Meeting on a bi-monthly basis, the parliament functions as a forum of discussion and advocacy at a National level. This ‘engages non-indigenous sectors of society, intellectuals and unions alike. It plans to continue acts of contestation to influence policy-making’. Ecuarunari believe that, ‘The People’s Parliament is a solid and long term result of the march’. We can’t help but agree with them.
Since the march, the dangers that face Ecuadorian environmental campaigners daily has been revealed in horrific, disconcerting detail. The body of indigenous leader and former vice-president of the Shuar Federation of Zamora, José Isidro Tendetza Antún was found on 2nd December 2014 bound and buried in a grave marked as "no name". His son Jorge received a tip off concerning the location of his father's body just days before the leader was due to campaign against a major mining project at climate talks in Lima.
Worryingly, this brutality occured in the same week that Ecuadorian activists were halted six times on their journey to the UN Climate Change Conference in Peru before police eventually seized their 'Climate Caravan' bus. The group claim that the disruptions were due to the Ecuadorian president Rafel Correa's plan to drill for oil in Yasuni, one of the richest, most biodiverse reserves on the planet. They believe the harassment stems from the government's fear that public protests will expose the cracks in their status as guarantors of the rights of nature.
This escalation in violence is further evidence of the jeopardy Ecuadorian campaigners are constantly vulnerable to as they fight to bring environmental issues to a world stage.