An indigenous community in the Ecuadorian rainforest says they "will die fighting to protect the rainforest" after they say they were swindled by an oil company into signing away rights to 70,000 hectares of one of the most biodiverse areas in the world.
But the state-backed oil company, PetroAmazonas—backed by the Ecuadorean army—plans to begin prospecting the Kichwa village on the Napo River on Tuesday, The Guardian reports.
PetroAmazonas, one of the biggest oil companies in South America, originally offered the village a new school, university places for village children and better healthcare, but dropped those provisions before the chief of the village signed away the rights to the land for $40 per hectare.
But the community secretary, Klider Gualinga, said 80 percent of the village opposes the deal, which he says has not yet been finalized. He told The Guardian, "People think it is dishonest and the oil company is treating them like dogs. ... They're very upset and worried. We have decided to fight to the end. Each landholder will defend their territory. We will help each other and stand shoulder to shoulder to prevent anyone from passing."
"If there is a physical fight, it is certain to end tragically," Shaman Patricio Jipa said. "We may die fighting to defend the rainforest."
It makes me feel sad and angry. Sad because we are indigenous people and not fully prepared to fight a government. And angry because we grew up to be warriors and have a spirit to defend ourselves. I wish we could use this force to fight in a new way, but our mental strength is not sufficient in this modern world.
There is huge concern the oil company will move quickly to clear the land. When that happened elsewhere, they used armed troops, beatings and abductions to remove those who stood in their way.
Jipa and his wife, Mari Muench, a British businesswoman, are fighting the plan.
Scientists say a single hectare in this part of the Amazon contains a wider variety of life than all of North America. The Amazon rainforest and other tropical forests are also among the earth's best defenses against climate change, absorbing some 20 percent of carbon dioxide produced by burning fossil fuels.
"Protecting the Amazon basin, which contains the largest tropical rainforest on the planet, is critical to our planet's climate stability," according to Amazon Watch.
Following is a video from The Guardian about the threat from oil companies near Yasuni national park: