• May 14, 2024
  • 6 minutes

Alianza Ceibo: indigenous women leaders in defense of life

“We talked about the fact that in the future only rich and fascist people will survive, new owners of natural resources. They will leave the north, where everything melts, where hundreds die from heat stroke, and they will seize the few forests left by the Bolsonaros. They will end up evicting us from our south.” Gabriela Wiener

Alba Silva

Comfort and individualism, so typical of liquid modernity, separate us from the problems and struggles that others endure. Since 2019 we have been observing, perplexed but distant, the fires in the Amazon biome. The news reports inform us about the demands and struggles of indigenous peoples, however, nothing questions us. The rhythm of the “city” forces us to continue.

The Amazon, the largest tropical forest in the world, encompasses with its biodiversity the territories of Brazil, Peru, Colombia, Venezuela, Ecuador, Bolivia, Suriname, Guyana and French Guiana. There are various struggles for respect for the rights of indigenous peoples and nationalities and their territories. One of these struggles is carried out by the indigenous women of Ecuador, Peru and Colombia, who have created the Alianza Ceibo as a form of resistance to interventionism by the State, private companies and armed groups.

The Ceibo Alliance is configured through interethnic nonviolent resistance, made up of the Kofán, Siona, Siekopani and Waorani nationalities. The Kofán and Siona peoples are located on the border between Ecuador and Colombia; the Siekopani people inhabit the area of ​​Pë’këya, Lagarto Cocha, between Ecuador and Peru; and the Waorani people, although they have been evicted from their territories, resist from the provinces of Napo, Orellana and Pastaza (Ecuador).

Alianza Ceibo is organized under the leadership of indigenous women, who have received the approval of their communities to represent them in the promotion of peaceful claims against processes of state coercion. Oil exploitation, contamination and the threat to the culture of the populations of the Amazon, produced the union of nationalities. These common problems gave life to the Alliance in 2011, with the main objective of implementing a water maintenance plan.

Nemonte Nenquimo is one of the founders of Alianza Ceibo. In 2019 she was chosen as the first woman to chair the Waorani organization. In the same year, the leader achieved, through a court ruling, the protection of 180,000 hectares of Amazon rainforest to prevent the Ecuadorian State from carrying out oil drilling. Nemonte is linked to the indigenous movement with peaceful campaigns of national and international scope, she even won the Goldman prize for her defense of the environment.

Just like Nemonte Nenquimo, there are strong female voices that confront patriarchal structures, in a resistance that exceeds the border limits of the nation-state. These women belong to the Kofán, Siona, Siekopani and Waorani nationalities. His home is the Amazon: “we are resistance of the jungle, of love and peace.”

The nonviolent civil resistance strategies of indigenous women leaders consist of holding peaceful demonstrations — sit-ins or congresses — to let their voices be heard, be it in the national or international media. Other unconventional and disruptive actions consist of the participation of women in the Amazon guards, which are surveillance bodies that prevent the entry of private companies, armed groups or organized crime. In fact, in certain conflict zones, such as Colombia, they act as mediators and agents of peace.

The indigenous guards make long tours of the communities in order to monitor and map their territories and prevent the entry of external threats. Despite the fact that governments have stigmatized and criminalized the Amazon guards, they are protected by the rights of indigenous peoples. The Constitution of Ecuador, in its article 171, establishes that: “the authorities of the indigenous communities, peoples and nationalities will exercise jurisdictional functions, based on their ancestral traditions and their own law, within their territorial scope, with the guarantee of participation and women’s decision.

For its part, the Constitutional Court has also ruled and maintains that the creation of an indigenous guard “is part of their uses and customs and responds to the power that indigenous communities and peoples have to generate and exercise authority within their ancestral territory, in accordance with what is prescribed in article 57 numeral 9 of the Constitution, without this being able to be considered per se that there is a parallel police force or militia”.

The inspections carried out by the guards are extensive and oppose violent invasions not only by the State, but also by armed groups. Currently, the guards have relied on technological instruments such as drones, GPS, and cameras to document the damage left by extractive activities. For example, in 2018, they discovered that the Ecuadorian State had granted mining concessions, without prior consultation. This case was taken to the courts and they managed to cancel fifty-two mining operations that covered an area of ​​32,000 hectares of Amazonian territory.

On the other hand, the use of judicial means as methods of the field of resolution and peaceful transformation of conflicts is not exclusive to nonviolent civil resistance. Indeed, indigenous organizations have filed lawsuits and legal resources to obtain land titles, achieving notable achievements. For example, the Constitutional Court of Colombia stopped oil exploration in 52,600 hectares of Siona territory, in the Putumayo region; or, as in the case of Ecuador, the Constitutional Court has ruled in favor of indigenous peoples and nationalities to establish a precedent at the national level on free, prior and informed consultation of indigenous peoples and nationalities.

The nonviolent resistance practiced by Alianza Ceibo through the Amazon guards is successful, despite the fact that the judicial rulings are not fully executed by the authorities. The fact that there is a legal precedent strengthens the struggle of indigenous peoples. In addition, it indicates that the resistance exercised by Alianza Ceibo is strategic and combines nonviolent resistance with methods of demand within the state legal sphere. One of the most recent achievements was the creation of the Indigenous Guard Mandate signed in Ecuador by more than twenty-seven nationalities, on September 11 of this year.

The processes and the path of nonviolent resistance carried out by the indigenous women leaders is persistent and points to several thematic axes of struggle, as Gene Sharp pointed out: to achieve successful experiences it is not enough to opt for nonviolent resistance, nor to have a will strong to resist. It is necessary to have a series of conditions that allow resistance exercise.

The indigenous struggle, led mainly by women, is an example of courageous and altruistic resistance. It is courageous because in the imbalance of power it does not fight a single actor, but a multiplicity of actors such as States, businessmen, armed groups. In addition, their struggle combats structural gender violence from the agency exercised by change actors, to resist even within the communities with programs that defend women, their rights and their field of participation. And it is altruistic because they are defending their homes, which is everyone’s home, the lungs of the world, and an inexhaustible source of ancestral knowledge.

“Do not expect that only the indigenous peoples will defend the Amazon, it is a fight for everyone”, Nemonte Nenquimo reminds us.

Alba Silva

Lawyer and thesis student of the research master’s degree in International Relations in Flacso, Ecuador. He has academic publications at the University of Buenos Aires, the Military University of Bogotá and in the magazine of the Constitutional Court of Ecuador.

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