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4170 - Of Indigenous Loggers, Monstrous Environmentalists and Oxygen Theft. Chachi Perceptions of the Environment

The Esmeraldas region on the Pacific coast of Ecuador has seen great environmental changes in recent times. After the so-called rubber and banana booms of the early 20th century, the palm oil industry and commercial timber extraction have become pivotal in the present day and age. Such activities are a mixed blessing for the Black and indigenous Indian inhabitants of the region. While some Black timber traders and Chachi (Indian) politicians have managed to acquire a modest fortune, the overall majority find themselves in a situation of abject poverty. The paper focuses on how Chachi people deal with the implications of rapid environmental change and the inequalities that are associated with it. However, this is not just a story of how they defend their ancestral territories against illegal logging and outside encroachers such as the Colombian FARC-guerrilleros who operate just across the border. It is also, and perhaps foremost, about the way in which internal disagreement is handled by indigenous leaders and their respective supporters. In order to illustrate this, I investigate a momentous quarrel that broke out in 2004 regarding the Chachi involvement with an environmental NGO. While one faction strongly argued in favour of an alliance with the NGO, another faction believed this would weaken their position vis-à-vis the logging companies. The former pleaded for the benefits of the NGO’s forest cover protection scheme, but the latter suspected a conspiracy - the environmentalists allegedly plotted to steal Chachi oxygen by means of high-tech satellites. This specific example gives me the opportunity to discuss - more generally - the complexities of implementing conservation projects in indigenous territories.

Keywords: Ecuador, logging, territorial defence, Chachi Indians

Author: Praet, Istvan (Roehampton University, London, United Kingdom/Ver Königr)

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