Ecuadorian Indigenous leader Eduardo Mendúa was assassinated by hitmen in his home on Sunday, February 26. The Confederation of Indigenous Nationalities of Ecuador (CONAIE), the country’s largest Indigenous organization, reported that Mendúa was in the garden of his home in the Sucumbíos province when he was approached by unidentified, hooded men who fired 12 shots against him and killed him. Mendúa was the international relations leader in CONAIE’s governing council.
Mendúa belonged to the A’i Kofán Indigenous nationality. He was a social leader, an environmentalist, and a land defender. He was at the forefront of the struggle in defense of land and against oil and gas exploitation by the PetroEcuador company in the Cofán Dureno commune, Sucumbíos. CONAIE declared that Mendúa was murdered precisely because of his fight against these companies and their actions in the Ecuadorian Amazon.
CONAIE’s president Leonidas Iza Salazar has stated that he holds the state owned oil company PetroEcuador and the national government of conservative President Guillermo Lasso responsible for Mendúa’s murder. Iza pointed out that for the past seven months, CONAIE had been warning against the conflict and violence generated due to the expansion of extractive activities in the Cofán Dureno commune and the A’i Kofán territory. He condemned that the extractive companies opened new oil fields in Indigenous territories without guaranteeing the right to prior, free and informed consultation as stipulated in the 2008 Constitution.
Iza called for the unity of all Indigenous peoples and nationalities, of all popular sectors, so that “the acts of violence such as the assassination our comrade Eduardo do not go unpunished.” Iza added that the CONAIE leadership feels threatened and vulnerable as many of them are under consistent surveillance by people and cars. In this regard, Iza requested the intervention of international human rights organizations to protect the lives of Indigenous leaders in Ecuador.
Exigimos justicia para nuestro compañero Eduardo Mendúa, luchador social, defensor de la naturaleza, quien estaba al frente de la defensa territorial en medio del conflicto generado por @EPPETROECUADOR en la comunidad Cofán Dureno, Sucumbíos.
Paz en su tumba 🕊️#CONAIE pic.twitter.com/6YayWyeOs4
— CONAIE (@CONAIE_Ecuador) February 27, 2023
Former presidential candidate of the progressive Citizen Revolution Movement party, Andrés Arauz, also expressed his solidarity with Mendúa’s family and with the CONAIE. “The neocolonial system of exploitation claimed one more victim. A total change in the model of sovereign management of natural resources is urgently needed,” tweeted Arauz.
President Lasso also expressed his government’s solidarity with the Mendúa family and the CONAIE. “This crime will not go unpunished. We have ordered that all investigative actions be carried out to find those responsible and bring them to justice,” said the president.
CONAIE calls for radicalization of anti-government mobilizations
Mendúa was assassinated two days after CONAIE called for a new national strike against the Lasso government.
Last week, on Thursday February 23, CONAIE denounced that President Lasso broke the agreements reached on the ban on mining and oil exploitation activities in Indigenous territories and near water resources following the June 2022 national strike. In a press conference, Iza recalled that the social movements and the national government signed an agreement to guarantee the right to prior, free, and informed consultation at all stages of mining development. He urged that all processes for mining concessions be stopped where this principle has been violated.
Iza also denounced that the public security forces had been using violence against community members who oppose mining projects that harm the environment and their communities. He said that CONAIE would hold the president responsible for the acts of violence in protected territories and for militarizing them to impose mining projects on the communities.
On Friday February 24, in a press conference, CONAIE announced that it was suspending the dialogue process with the government and withdrawing from the monitoring roundtables due to breaches by the president. The organization declared that its members would be in permanent mobilization across the national territory and called for a national strike on March 8 to demand Lasso’s resignation due to lack of legitimacy to govern and non-compliance with the 2022 agreements.
“After analyzing the follow-up report on the results achieved at the dialogue tables, installed as a part of the Indigenous and popular uprising of June 2022, it is evident that there has been no political will on the part of the government to comply with it. On the contrary, the government of President Guillermo Lasso has continued advancing with its neoliberal policies, which violate our territorial and community rights and the national economy. That is why we are breaking this dialogue process and withdrawing from these follow-up roundtables,” said Iza.
Following Mendúa’s assassination, on Monday, February 27, CONAIE announced that it would radicalize the anti-government mobilizations.
Llamamiento de la Confed de Nacionalidades Indígenas del Ecuador (CONAIE) a la movilización nacional el 8M para exigir dimisión del pdte Lasso. CONAIE responsabiliza al Gob de asesinar al líder indígena amazónico Eduardo Mendúa en 1 pueblo donde mantienen la lucha con petroleras. pic.twitter.com/ir1ApoHT2A
— Juan Miguel Garrido (@JuanmiGG_News) February 27, 2023