Ecuador Indians march against mining on their lands – by Gonzalo Solano (Globe and Mail – March 23, 2012)

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QUITO— The Associated Press – The lands of the Shuar Indians in the Ecuadoran Amazon are rich in wildlife such as tapirs, toucans and red howler monkeys. They also hold treasures more coveted by outsiders: rich deposits of copper and other minerals that the government is eager to cash in on.
Projects to build open-pit mines that would rip into their forest-covered hills have spawned a protest movement that sets leaders of the ethnic group against the country’s popular president, Rafael Correa, who says development is essential to the future of this nation’s 14 million people.
More than 1,000 indigenous protesters reached Ecuador’s capital on Thursday after a two-week, 700-kilometre march from the Amazon to oppose plans for large-scale mining projects on their lands.
The protesters were joined by thousands of anti-government protesters in Quito, and some of the demonstrators clashed with police outside the National Assembly. Police repelled rock-throwing young men using tear gas and charging at the demonstrators on horseback.
Police said at least four officers suffered minor injuries in the violence.

Thousands of Mr. Correa’s supporters gathered in parks and plazas for a counter-demonstration to show their support for the government’s policies, some of them in front of the president’s palace. The leftist President addressed a crowd of supporters at a park, saying the government is willing to talk with indigenous leaders despite the disagreements.
“We’ve told them: They want to talk, perfect, but with the good-intentioned, good people. For that, they don’t need marches. We’re always open to dialogue,” Mr. Correa said.
Earlier protests, including road blockades, have led to conflicts with police and with government prosecutors, who have been quick to issue criminal charges.
Pepe Acacho, who wore a yellow-and-red feathered headdress during the long days of the hike, said he was undeterred by criminal sabotage charges that he faces from leading a 2009 protest.
“A lot of my friends have said, ‘Don’t get mixed up in more fights with the government. Think of your family,’ ” says Mr. Acacho, whose Shuar ethnic group is the largest in southeastern Ecuador’s Amazon with more than 100,000 members. “But I can’t abandon a cause that is an entire people’s struggle.”
He is among at least 205 activists who have been criminally charged, mostly with sabotage and terrorism, during Mr. Correa’s tenure, according to a study by two human-rights groups and an environmental group.
Typically jailed for a week or so, the activists then face lengthy legal battles. All but 16 have been cleared, the study found, and none has yet been convicted.
The aim, says Cecilia Cherrez, spokeswoman for the environmental group Accion Ecologica, is to “intimidate those most critical of what the current regime considers to be priority projects.”
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