Gregorio Díaz Mirabal, Venezuelan Indigenous Leader © Zenit - Rosa Die Alcolea

‘We Are Fighting So That Our Territories Aren’t Destroyed,’ Says Amazonian Leader Gregorio Diaz

COICA’s Leader Talks about the Crisis in Ecuador

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“We are fighting so that our territories aren’t destroyed,” said Indian leader Gregorio Diaz Mirabal, General Coordinator of the Coordination of Indian Organizations of the Amazon Basin (COICA), who is taking part these days in the Special Synod on Amazonia as a special guest.

Gregorio Diaz, Venezuelan by birth and resident in Peru, spoke exclusively to Zenit about his view on the crisis in Ecuador and detailed how he is following the events in the country from the Amazonian Synod, where they are working to find “New Pathways for the Church and for An Integral Ecology.”

“We have asked Pope Francis to analyze the situation and to see in-depth what is happening in Ecuador so that he can make a pronouncement in favor of life and of the people,” he revealed. “Today it’s Ecuador, but tomorrow it could be Colombia, day-after-tomorrow Bolivia . . . “, said Diaz Mirabal.

Coinciding with the political and social crisis, which Ecuador is going through since last October 3, the leader of the organization for the Amazon Basin appealed these days from the Vatican for greater “solidarity” with his Indian brothers. “I have asked for solidarity with what is happening in Ecuador, that the truth be known, that the background of the Indian protests is related to the care of our common home, in the language of the Church; it is related to this Synod,” he specified, adding that the “Church has to express herself” because “the governments don’t want to hear the indigenous peoples.”

Five Dead

After the beginning of the protests, given the rise in the price of fuel and the implementation of other measures by the government of Lenin Moreno, following a credit agreement with the International Monetary Fund (IMF), President Moreno declared a “state of exception” so that the Armed Forces could intervene, which has contributed to the death of five people, according to the figures of the Office of the People’s Advocate.

Ecuador’s indigenous population represents, approximately, 5% of the country’s total population. Heading the protest are leaders of Indian organizations: Jaime Vargas, President of the Confederation of Indigenous Nationalities of Ecuador (CONAIE); Manuel Chugchilan, President of the Peoples’ Council and Evangelical Indigenous Organizations of Ecuador (FEINE); Leonidas Iza, President of the Indian and Peasant Movement of Cotopaxi (MICC); and Edison Aguavil, President of the Confederation of Indigenous Nationalities and Peoples of the Ecuadorian

Coast (CONAICE), with whom Gregory Diaz is in solidarity and sends “all his support.”

On Tuesday, October 8, the Confederation of Indigenous Nationalities of Ecuador (CONAIE) rejected the implementation of a restriction to people’s mobilization in some areas of the country, in what they called a “curfew,” has occupied the capital and other cities of the country. Gregorio Diaz insisted that the Indian Movements will not sit to dialogue with the President while he maintains the “state of exception” and doesn’t listen to the indigenous peoples.

Far from Dialogue

President Lenin Moreno decreed the “state of exception” and changed temporarily the headquarters of the government from Quito to Guayaquil, on October 9, 2019. According to Diaz, he has gone to Guayaquil to seek “refuge where the center of economic power is. He is allied there with Jaime Nevot, who is one of the owners of that country, and with the political directorship of the parties that represent the economic power in Ecuador.”

Far from fostering dialogue, this gesture “gives a direct message to the people that the President has turned his back on <them> , has gone to seek refuge  where the representation exists of the International Monetary Fund, exacting more sacrifice form the people and, by his not staying in the capital and receiving the people, dialogue is being denied,” continued COICA’s leader.

Here is a translation of Zenit’s interview in Rome with Gregorio Diaz Mirabel, special guest in the Special Assembly of the Synod and Coordinator of COICA.

* * *

–Q: How is this subject being addressed in the Synod in which you are taking part?

–Diaz: We have asked REPAM, which is the Church’s representation in Amazonia, with her Bishops, her Cardinals, to raise their voice so that the violence will stop and dialogue be established. At present, the Episcopal Conference of Ecuador has also issued a press release saying that they are going to try to seek dialogue, but we have told them to respect the voice of the leaders, of the protest and the indigenous uprising and that they connect with that language, that they support the conditions of the Movement for Dialogue and we have also asked Pope Francis to analyze the situation and to really see the background of what is happening in Ecuador, so that he can make a pronouncement in favor of life  and of the people.

–Q: Did you make concrete mention of this crisis during your intervention in the Assembly?

–Diaz: Yes, in the Minor Circles. In the one I am in, which is being directed by Cardinal Aguiar of Mexico, there were two or three Bishops of Ecuador and there are two Quechua Indians that also form part of the structure of the Church. Well, I spoke as representative of the Indian organizations asking, at the beginning, for solidarity with what is happening in Ecuador, that the truth be made known, that the background of the Indian protest be related to the care of our common home, in the language of the Church; it is related to this Synod. Those are actions that are being discussed here, how to go about taking care of our common home, however, the governments of Amazonia don’t want to hear the people of God, I said here, the governments don’t want to hear the indigenous peoples. So the Church must express herself; we have asked that she express herself, we were told it’s going to be done in a document of support to Indian brothers and that we are also planning to have the Church ask for a formal meeting with the governments of Amazonia. In this case, to <ask> Ecuador now, but if you look at all the countries, they are not respecting the rights of the indigenous peoples. There are no previous consultations. That’s true in all the countries of the Amazon Basin. There are no consultations regarding development projects for Indian communities; they <are simply> imposed. So we have asked Pope Francis to seek dialogue with brothers of the Amazon. Today it’s Ecuador, but tomorrow it could be Colombia, day-after-tomorrow Bolivia . . .

–Q: A summit has been called for October 28 in the Vatican for the rulers of the Amazon States with the Pope. Has this been confirmed in the Synod?

–Diaz: No, nothing has been confirmed yet. What we do know is that Brazil is the largest existing part of the Amazon. It’s a planet; the Brazilian Amazon is almost a country in itself. It’s the largest of the nine countries and, at present, it’s being trampled, like Ecuador. There is a President <in Brazil> who has decreed the destruction of Amazonia. He has opened the Brazilian Amazon to livestock, to miners, to palm oil, to soya . . .  he has opened the agricultural frontier for Amazonia.

Sonia Guajajara has been in touch with us and wants to be present at the end of the Synod, to hand in a document — also of the Brazilian Amazonia — with the Social Movements and some other countries involved in territorial fights.

–Q: As a special guest, you can’t vote but you can intervene, no?

–Diaz: On the last days, the Synodal Fathers remain alone, they approve the Final Document but we — special guests, auditors, experts, etc. — have two or three weeks to write, exact, speak . . . so that the protection of Indian territories is reflected in the Document, of the Indian peoples of voluntary isolation, for a stop to the violence, extractive activities, cattle raising, so that a strong document comes out in this connection. If we want to protect Amazonia, we already know who the people are that are destroying it; we already know the interests that are behind all this: governments, businesses. The document that is going to come out must be very strong. In can’t be something lukewarm . . . And the Pope must make a strong pronouncement.

–Q: What do you think of the Synod’s proposal to create an Ecclesial Observatory for the protection of the Indians’ human rights? Do you think it will answer their needs?

–Diaz: It’s a good proposal, but we are saying that if they do things alone, we are not in good tune with the Synod. It’s a good idea but all the sectors must be allied there, we too, as leaders of the communities and organizations.

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Rosa Die Alcolea

Profesional con 7 años de experiencia laboral en informar sobre la vida de la Iglesia y en comunicación institucional de la Iglesia en España, además de trabajar como crítica de cine y crítica musical como colaboradora en distintos medios de comunicación. Nació en Córdoba, el 22 de octubre de 1986. Doble licenciatura en Periodismo y Comunicación Audiovisual en Universidad CEU San Pablo, Madrid (2005-2011). Ha trabajado como periodista en el Arzobispado de Granada de 2010 a 2017, en diferentes ámbitos: redacción de noticias, atención a medios de comunicación, edición de fotografía y vídeo, producción y locución de 2 programas de radio semanales en COPE Granada, maquetación y edición de la revista digital ‘Fiesta’. Anteriormente, ha trabajado en COPE Córdoba y ABC Córdoba.

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