Following two days of protests over last week’s arrest of Pepe Luis Acacho, the leading candidate for head of the Confederación de Nacionalidades Indígenas del Ecuador (CONAIE), Ecuador’s main indigenous organization, Acacho was released by Justice María Cristina Narváez yesteday. In her ruling, justice Narváez called his detention and that of two other Shuar leaders “illegal, arbitrary and illegitimate.”
Acacho, Fidel Kaniras and Pedro Mashiant were arrested last week by the Ecuadorian police and charged with “organized terrorism” for allegedly inciting the protests that took place in September 2009 over the government’s proposed Water Act. The proposed law would have allowed the government to permit companies access to water in areas with large indigenous populations, among others.
Hundreds of protestors took to the streets of Quito surrounding the Corte Provincial de Justicia Pichincha in support of the habeus corpus appeal on behalf of Acacho, Kaniras and Mashiant over the past two days. In a hearing yesterday morning, the court accepted the appeal and released the three men to cheering crowds that had gathered in support of the three men. In her ruling, Justice Narváez ruled that the arrests of Acacho and the two other men were invalid due to procedural lapses as well as in violation of human rights and international accords. Narváez also noted that the arrest and detention of the three men was pursued “against justice and laws, and imposed… on a whim.”
The legal victory was welcomed by the indigenous community of Ecuador as well as those of other indigenous organizations both within Ecuador and in neighboring countries. The case is being used by CONAIE to strengthen their argument that the government of President Rafael Correa is persecuting indigenous leaders in the country. As such, CONAIE announced yesterday that they would request a meeting with United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon to discuss hostilities between the government and the indigenous population of Ecuador.
Police fired tear gas on indigenous protesters in Quito yesterday as they demonstrated against a new law that they claim will restrict communities’ water supplies. The law, Ley de Recursos Hídricos, would create a “Central Water Authority” (Autoridad Única del Agua (AUA), which would be presided over by a cabinet-level presidential appointee and would oversee Ecuador’s national water distribution.
The law’s proponents say it would “decentralize and better regulate” Ecuador’s freshwater supply systems. Protesters, led by the Confederación de Nacionalidades Indígenas de Ecuador (CONAIE), say it would allow private companies to “divert water that local people have depended on for generations.”
As many as 1,500 protesters gathered in front of Congress today where the bill was being debated; according to the Red Cross, one demonstrator was injured.