The history of Sarayaku and their continuing struggle for justice in the face of such enormous obstacles, the role played by CDES and the CIDH (Comisión Interamericana de Derechos Humanos-Inter-american Human Rights Commission, a branch of the Organization of American States), really do read like the tale of a people betrayed long ago.
I might have believed this too, if it weren’t for José sitting in front of me, speaking in the present tense about how his own life was threatened as a consequence of the work he and CDES were doing with Sarayaku. “I don’t really like to talk about it,” he told me solemnly. “Even though it’s a part of the story, it’s not a memory I enjoy having.” With every word, my eyes, I’m sure, just grew bigger and bigger in wonder.
This wonder came from many sources, a reaction from many different parts of the story about Sarayaku.
First, the same question as always when it comes to human rights abuses-how can a government so blatantly betray its own people?
Second, awe in the face of such dedication and bravery as was shown, without pomp, by José and his clients.
Third, disbelief that CGC, the Argentine petrol company in question here, could continue to perpetrate such horrible acts forcible trespassing and torture of the Sarayaku people who were guarding their territory.
And finally, a sense a relief and encouragement because of the most recent events in the Sarayaku case: On July 6, 2004, the Inter-American Court of Human Rights passed down a decision in favor of Sarayaku-a legal decree that the Ecuadorian government must guarantee the life and personal integrity of the members of the Sarayaku community.
We can only hope that Gutiérrez and his state will abide.
The Sarayaku case is important not only because it represents such a milestone achievement for both CDES and its clients, and for indigenous peoples in the Americas in general, but also because it is representative of each area in which CDES works. It is really a keystone example of the importance of Amazonian issues, economic, social and cultural rights, and the destructive effects of globalization.
The struggle of these people will now go down in the history books and perhaps the next generation of human rights advocates will read about it and wonder about the people who lived and breathed the Sarayaku cause. I feel lucky just to have had contact with some of them and have realized that each history-whether current or ancient-was at one point real.
Posted By Christina Fetterhoff
Posted Apr 5th, 2007