The leader of the Sarayaku, Kichwa community in Ecuador, has fought oil companies for more than twenty years. For her struggle, she has been tried, slandered and threatened with death —yet, she has never caved in. Who’s afraid of Patricia Gualinga?
Patricia Gualinga is sitting in a noisy cafe, on a central street in El Puyo, a cement enclave in the middle of the Ecuadorian Amazon. It’s a Friday in February 2019, shortly after ten o’clock in the morning. El Puyo —an urban hive of merchants, oil workers, NGO staffers servants and environmental activists— is uproarious early on. A brief Amazon downpour has cleaned the environment and cooled the asphalt.
In the midst of the rumble of the escapes of tuned motorcycles, of loudspeakers that begin to blare their music on the street, of blenders that crush sour and sweet fruits into juice, Gualinga arranges her black hair, long and beautiful like an endless waterfall, opens her deep black eyes as she remember that the only time he had spoken publicly about the indigenous cause of Ecuador had been in 1992.
“that they give us our territories.”Patricia Gualinga.
Just graduated from school, at 18, Gualinga walked along 500 kilometers with 1200 other indigenous people of 148 communities belonging to the Organization of Indigenous Peoples of the Province of Pastaza (OPIP). They walked from the jungle to Quito, where they expected to meet with the Ecuadorian government to discuss land rights. In the middle of the march, a reporter approached the group of young people in which Gualinga was, and asked her what they asked for. “Something very simple,” she recalls, answering,”that they give us our territories.” The clarity and eloquence of Patricia Gualinga was even then already visible —although it would take a few years to show completely.
OPIP’s march of 1992 changed the historical relationship between the indigenous peoples of Ecuador and the State. They arrived at a puzzled Quito on April 23, where a group of activists greeted them with roses and refreshments. The first thing the indigenous people did when they arrived in the capital was pay tribute to Jumandi, an Amazonian leader who was quartered by the Spaniards in the 16th century. At 11 o’clock in the morning they were received by the then President of the Republic, Rodrigo Borja, who two years earlier had rejected the demands filed by OPIP. “[The indigenous people] are trying to create a parallel state in which Ecuadorian laws and authorities are not in effect,” Borja had said.
But the indigenous organization, led by the Confederation of Indigenous Nationalities of Ecuador (CONAIE), of which the OPIP was a part, had pushed the government to the negotiation table. It was the first time that a delegation of Amazonian peoples crossed the colonnade of Carondelet Palace, the presidential seat, on an official visit. “This is your house,” Borja told them.
One of the leaders of the march, Valerio Grefa, began his speech before the president, and an array of ministers and generals of the Armed Forces, saying that they were there “representing all the lives of the jungle.” Patricia Gualinga’s eyes moved, restless, from one side to the other, as she processed what she saw and heard.
One of her aunts spoke to President Borja in the name of the Sarayaku people —which in their language means ‘river of corn’— in an imperfect Spanish, but with a very clear message: “This is the face of the Amazonian People,” she told him. Patricia Gualinga remembers the emotion of those days —”I participated with a lot of passion”— but at 18 she did not know —how could she— that her destiny would be to become the most visible face of her people’s resistance over the next two decades. Her brother Eriberto, a filmmaker who travels around the world showing his films about the Sarayaku resistance, says that his sister “made her own lifestyle, without giving up or forgetting that she was a sarayaku, but from where she was”. Time would put her exactly at the center of her people’s cause. It was just a matter of waiting.
The third resolution of the 1992 agreements was that the State would continue to administer the natural resources underneath those ancestral lands.
Every story of resistance is an unfinished story. The first part, that of 1992, ended with the formal recognition of more than one million hectares to more than 100 indigenous communities throughout Ecuador. During the more than twenty days of negotiations, Patricia Gualinga and hundreds of other indigenous people camped in the historic El Ejido park in Quito. At the end, it was decided that the Army would control a ‘security zone’ of 40 kilometers on the border with Peru (with which Ecuador had an intermittent war at that time) and that the Yasuní National Park would be expanded by 270,000 hectares. The third resolution of the 1992 agreements was that the State would continue to administer the natural resources underneath those ancestral lands. That final determination would perpetuate the constant conflict between corporations and the State against indigenous peoples.
Rafael Correa would end up, against his own word, authorizing and promoting its exploitation, and, in the process, accusing environmentalists and leaders like Gualinga of being enemies of the State.
Yasuní National Park would return to the headlines 20 years later, when president Rafael Correa promised in 2007 not to drill it to obtain oil. Six years later, an authoritarian Correa would end up, against his own word, authorizing and promoting its exploitation, and, in the process, accusing environmentalists and leaders like Gualinga of being enemies of the State. But, in 1992, that story seemed closed, and Patricia Gualinga, the calmest of her siblings, would take a path that would take drive her away from activism for the time being.
At the beginning of the 21st century, she was learning something that would be extremely useful in the life that awaited for her in her near future: she had an important position in the Ministry of Tourism of Ecuador. “I was the regional director of tourism,” she says, smiling, as she looks over the balcony of bamboo cane of the cafe where she speaks.
Gualinga had come to the office with the same impetus that, years later, would make her the leader of the Sarayaku people. Her family had decided to open a small tour operator company, because the law at the time did not allow communities to directly manage visits to their lands. “It occurred to me that we could invite the Minister of Tourism for her to see that we did not have rights to manage our own tourism, but only companies did.” Gualinga wrote “one of those many letters that one sends and ministers do not answer”. However, the minister, whose name was Rocío Vásquez, replied, promising that she would go to Sarayaku.
Receiving a Minister of State was something that had never been done in the community.
Receiving a Minister of State was something that had never been done in the community. Gualinga, who was then in her twenties, realized that mobilizing a figure of such high status was going to require expensive and specialized logistics. “I had no idea how I was going to get the Minister to Sarayaku,” she says, as if she was feeling again the same surprising realization of that moment. Gualinga decided that there was only one way to move a Minister of State through the jungle: by helicopter. She just had to find someone to lend her one.
She traveled to Coca, the city where the headquarters of the Fourth Division of the Ecuadorian Army that patrols the entire Amazon are, to ask to speak with the general who commanded it. For a week she went every day to knock on the barracks’ doors asking for a general whose name she no longer remembers. They gave her typical answers, designed to wear her down: that the general was in Gualaquiza, in the south, that his superiors had called him to Quito, that he had returned but had left immediately to Macas, near the border with Peru. “Tell him that Miss Patricia Gualinga is looking for him,” she repeated to the cadets who attended her, somewhat bewildered by her plaid pants and t-shirts tied to her navel. “Write the message, please”, she would tell them and leave, and return the next day, to repeat the same routine. She was the one, in the end, who wore the soldiers down. “Maybe he received me out of sheer curiosity, to know who was this girl who was looking for him every day,” Gualinga says with a half smile, as if acknowledging the dimensions of her audacity.
Three months later, she called the young sarayaku to offer her to direct the entire office of the Ministry of Tourism in the Ecuadorian Amazon.
When she met the General, she not only asked for a helicopter, but told him it had to be the largest one the Army had: a Russian made MIL MI-171. “I do not know what allure I had that day, or what mood the General was in, but he told me he could have the chopper, and that he would also come.” A few weeks later, Minister Rocío Vásquez, a vegetarian who could not eat the meat she offered, visited Sarayaku, along with military and advisors. When the helicopter landed, raising an ancestral and yellow dust, the first thing Vásquez asked was to speak with Mrs. Gualinga, the one who had organized the visit. When they pointed out a girl in checkered trousers and a shirt tied to her navel, her face made the same expression that the conscripts at whose door Patricia Gualinga stood asking for a General, but Minister Vásquez did not say a word. She ate what she could, danced, drank the ancestral beverage of chicha, and left. Three months later, she called the young sarayaku to offer her to direct the entire office of the Ministry of Tourism in the Ecuadorian Amazon.
Patricia Gualinga turned down the Minister’s offer. “I was scared,” she says. The tumultuous times of the banking crisis of Ecuador came, and President Jamil Mahuad fell from power. Ecuador was a bankrupt country, in which eight of every 100 inhabitants (that added more than a million) had left, by all possible means, legal and illegal, risking their lives to look for a better one, to countries like Spain, Italy and the United States.
Ecuador only had to offer, to those who would pay for them, the commodities it produced without much effort. Among them, the biggest of all, oil.
With a decimated banking industry, in which 70% of all the banks in the country went bankrupt, without a sound industrial complex, and in full process of dollarization (before exiling for good to Boston, Mahuad had ordered the death of the national currency, the sucre, which would be replaced by the US dollar, at the rate of one dollar for every 25,000 devalued sucres), Ecuador only had to offer, to those who would pay for them, the commodities it produced without much effort. Among them, the biggest of all, oil.
Mahuad was succeeded by his vice president, a good-natured lawyer named Gustavo Noboa, who tried to lead the country through the crisis. His Minister of Tourism was once again Rocío Vásquez, the vegetarian who had summoned the sarayaku leader in plaid pants to public service. Once again she called the same young sarayaku woman and made her the same offer.
Patricia asked her family. Her brothers told her that it would be too big a burden. “I was scared: how was I going to speak in public?” she says. “I did not really know what the State’s structure was like, nor how it worked.” She was doubtful. Yet her father, one of the most respected shamans in the community, told her to accept the position, for he had foreseen it would all go well.
“The State and the oil companies have called us terrorists since the 70s, when I was a boy, but everything intensified in 2002.”Eriberto Gualinga.
And everything went well until it started to go wrong. At the beginning, Minister Vásquez gave Gualinga authority and resources. The office of the Ministry of Tourism in Puyo ceased to be a dark office relegated to a building without shine or staff. But, around the same time, Noboa, the head of Vásquez, reauthorized the concession of the Sarayaku territory to the Argentine oil company Compañía General de Combustible (CGC). “The State and the oil companies have called us terrorists since the 70s, when I was a boy,” says Eriberto Gualinga, “but everything intensified in 2002.” The concession had been made six years before, during which the oil company several times tried to enter the Sarayaku territory, where 65% of the 200,000 hectares that CGC had a government —but not ancestral— permission to prospect and extract oil. The contract had not been consulted with the Sarayaku people, but in a time of need, the Ecuadorian government offered all the guarantees for the Argentine corporation to restart its exploration —and none to the very owners of the land, the Sarayaku.
It was a time of division for Sarayaku: some leaders were enchanted by corporate siren songs and the resistance began to crack. It was then that the leaders of the indigenous nation believed that they could find in Patricia an ally for the cause of the Sarayaku people. “She was a very well known person. She had worked in the radio, at the Andean University and had been in the Ministry. She had a lot of credibility, ” says Eriberto Gualinga. Three historical leaders of the Sarayaku people, Marlon Santi, José Gualinga and Heriberto Viteri, went to talk to the provincial director of the Ministry of Tourism to ask her to leave the government flanks and return to her village to meet her fate. “It was a difficult decision,” she recalls.
“If there is something you always have, is your people. So I decided to go with my people, the Sarayaku people”.Patricia Gualinga.
He had made a career, she was the top Ministry official in the region, she had gained authority and experience. At the same time, she thought, government jobs are ephemeral, as they are dependent of the volatility of politics. “But there was something true,” says Gualinga, from the café where she speaks, in Puyo, looking through the intermingling of bamboo cane and ferns that hang and fall on a poster that shows a group of Amazonian women declared in resistance, where she appears in the center. “If there is something you always have, is your people. So I decided to go with my people, the Sarayaku people. “
“Everything was suspended, education, health, work on the land. The only task we were focused on was defense”Eriberto Gualinga.
When the State and the oil company attacked, the Sarayaku were paralyzed. “Everything was suspended, education, health, work on the land. The only task we were focused on was defense,” recalls Eriberto Gualinga. The community organized peace camps along the trails that link the 135,000 hectares of Sarayaku land to patroll it. “There was no time or energy for anything else. Even if you’re from the jungle, the jungle burns you out: defending it from within costs all your energy, “ the filmmaker says. It was a revealing time for Sarayaku’s youngest: “We connect with the historical leaders”, Eriberto says, “we saw them, we met them, we went out with them to the beaches and the jungle, we learned from them”. People like his father, Sabino, his mother Corina Montalvo, his uncles, the Viteri family, and other leaders assumed the legendary role of guardians of the territory.
“The question I asked myself was: Who do we go to if justice in Ecuador did not respond?”Patricia Gualinga.
It was during this time of crisis that Patricia began her work in sarayaku defense. Without being formally a leader, she led communication and relations with the mestizo world, including the state and oil companies. “The question I asked myself was: Who do we go to if justice in Ecuador did not respond?” she says. Her role was focused on getting the national media and radio in Quito interested in what happened in the Amazon. “Patricia is a bridge between a world, the Sarayaku world, and multiple other worlds”, says Viviana Krsticevic, director of the Center for Justice and International Law (CEJIL) based in Washington. That connection would achieve the sympathy and empathy of people from all over the planet with the common cause of the Sarayaku.
“Things happen for a reason,” Gualinga reflects, twenty years on, “At the Ministry, I had a job that I liked, but the best of it was how it later it served me for the sarayaku struggle.” She attracted the media’s interest to Sarayaku —which, in turn, nurtured international interest in what was happening in the Ecuadorian Amazon. Her time in government, academia and the media had left her not only with communication skills, but with crisis management abilities. “I learned something that in the indigenous world is not very internalized: documents”. In the indigenous world, eminently oral, the value of the word is supreme. “In the mestizo world, one’s word is not enough,” she reflects.
The Sarayaku people faced a prepotent state in a society (the Ecuadorian) that still lacked clear environmental awareness, and that, however, retained a marked contempt for and ignorance of the lives of ancestral peoples.
The Sarayaku people faced a prepotent state in a society (the Ecuadorian) that still lacked clear environmental awareness, and that, however, retained a marked contempt for and ignorance of the lives of ancestral peoples. The fight was not going to be simple.
Yet, as in all conflicts, the calculation of costs and sacrifices did not rule out an attempt to resolve the lawsuit on the discussion table. The manager of the oil company CGC called the Sarayaku representatives to a meeting. He summoned them to an elegant hotel in Quito. The Sarayaku had been in the capital over three weeks by then, trying to stop the extractive machinery. “We did not have money, nor anything to eat, we wanted to return to Puyo, but we still had meetings pending, so we could not leave,” Gualinga recalls.
Tired and hungry, they went to a meeting where the oil company tried to win by means of seduction. “Very friendly, as they usually are, they offered us abundant food and drink,” Patricia Gualinga, who was then not yet 30 years old, remembers. “I knew deep down that it was a trap, so I only accepted a glass of water.” Her choice led her colleagues to also resist the gargantuan corporate temptation. In a moment of the meeting, Gualinga remembers that she took the floor and spoke frankly: “You are not going to enter our territory,” she told the Argentine oil executives. “Then they showed their true colors: the manager, surnamed Soldati, shouted at me ‘you are a capricious girl, the government has given us the rights and can militarize them and will do it.” There would be no armistice possible. The war —an unequal war— was declared.
The confrontation intensified in 2003. The government of Gustavo Noboa was over. The presidential elections were won by Lucio Gutiérrez, the former military who had led the coup d’état that overthrew Jamil Mahuad. With him, his ministerial cabinet decided to bank on large scale oil exploitation. The governmental apparatus was set in motion to fulfill the promises made to CGC —and to many other oil, mining and timber companies. Patricia Gualinga organized media interviews for the Sarayaku leaders, organized the women, got international allies and funds to finance the resistance.
Patricia Gualinga went to get legal help from anyone who wanted to give it to her. This is how she met Mario Melo, one of the lawyers who would defend Sarayaku from the oil and state attack. “Together with another leader, Cristina Gualinga, they came to request legal support in the face of the invasion they were suffering,” Melo recalls.
In parallel, in the jungle, the harassment escalated. In January 2003 in Jatún Molino, a community bordering the Sarayaku territory, an assault was reported on a Sarayaku group traveling in canoes along the Bobonaza River. From the shore, they were shot at.
soldiers and CGC security personnel detained leaders Elvis Fernando Gualinga, Marcelo Gualinga, Reinaldo Gualinga and Fabián Grefa, and, allegedly, tortured them
Later, the Sarayaku people denounced before the Inter-American Human Rights Commission that their passage on the river —the main means of communication they have— was blocked. At the end of that month, soldiers and CGC security personnel detained leaders Elvis Fernando Gualinga, Marcelo Gualinga, Reinaldo Gualinga and Fabián Grefa, and, allegedly, tortured them: they were tied up and left for an hour on the ground. Grefa was forced to kneel next to a rifle and taken photos of, “apparently for the purpose of accusing him of carrying weapons,” according to a document from the Inter-American Court.
In May, the Commission granted precautionary measures to the Sarayaku, but the harassment did not cease. On the contrary, the government said, according to a response sent to the Commission, that “the residents of Sarayaku had threatened neighboring communities and that the Fourth Command of the Amazon would have initiated a security operation to prevent ‘criminal activities’ on the part of the indigenous people. ” In addition, the government said that precautionary measures were being used to prevent certain persons from being brought before the ordinary courts, and that many of the allegations made by the Sarayaku people in their request were exaggerated or false. Gualinga recalls that General Oswaldo Romero, Chief of the Joint Command of the Armed Forces of Ecuador (the highest military authority in the country), flew in a helicopter into Sarayaku to tell them that it was better that they surrendered. “Otherwise, they would militarize the town.” The soldiers and military officers who arrived with him belonged to the Fourth Division of the Army, the one that, not such a distant time ago, had lent a helicopter to Patricia Gualinga to transport an enthusiastic minister. Eriberto’s cameras recorded the raid.
The confrontation escalated until in 2005, during a march of the Sarayaku people, they were attacked on their way to Puyo. “They were dressed as oil workers,” Gualinga recalls, “the oil company gave them all the supplies for the attack.” It was a Friday, and there was no authority to take responsibility for what was happening. “We took 10 flights of wounded people,” Gualinga says. “There were people missing, they said that my youngest brother had fallen into the river.” That night she did not sleep.
The State could not continue with its actions against the people —nor allow the oil company to enter the territory— Sarayaku, at the risk of having to pay millions in compensation or generate even more evidence in the case that was being discussed in the Court.
Like the rest of the Sarayaku leaders, she was in distress. But in a moment of clarity, Patricia wrote to the lawyers who represented them before the Inter-American Commission in Washington. “I sent them an urgent SOS to our attorneys at the Center for Justice and International Law. The next day the Court intervened: that same day the commission had sent a request for protective measures for the Sarayaku people,” she recalls. The State could not continue with its actions against the people —nor allow the oil company to enter the territory— Sarayaku, at the risk of having to pay millions in compensation or generate even more evidence in the case that was being discussed in the Court. For seven years, until the case was sentenced, in 2012, the measures protected Sarayaku.
In 2010, Patricia Gualinga was working in Lima, as an advisor at the Andean Community of Nations, when one of the leaders of the Sarayaku people, Franco Viteri, called her. “He told me they needed a strong woman to be a women’s leader.” In the indigenous peoples of Ecuador, each indigenous nationality has a women’s leadership position. “But in our people, the post did not have much strength.” Gualinga took office in 2011. “Only then did I realize that I had never formally been part of the leadership, that I had spent doing things without having any formal position.” It had been ten years since she had left the ministerial offices to dedicate herself to the defense of her people.
The process before the Inter-American Court had advanced, and was in the stages before it was resolved. In 2012, Gualinga participated in the final hearing. Much had changed since the victory of 2005. In 2007, a young economist named Rafael Correa, whose only political experience had been directing for six months the Ecuadorian Ministry of Economy, had swept through the presidential elections with the promise of “refounding the Fatherland”. He won with the support of a cross-party platform of left-wing organizations, environmentalists and indigenous people. Correa had promised not to drill Yasuní National Park for oil, and included an innovative set of rights for nature in the new Ecuadorian Constitution, approved in 2008.
But very soon, his government turned towards extractivism. It started losing its environmental and indigenous allies. He parted ways with his mentor, the economist and nature activist Alberto Acosta. Correa was intolerant of the press, virulent with his detractors. He made great roads and energy mega-projects. His enemies accused him of allowing corruption, of being allergic to criticism, his followers justified everything he did.
Correa repressed social protest, especially that linked to opposition to oil and mining extraction.
Correa repressed social protest, especially that linked to opposition to oil and mining extraction. He called environmentalists, who, like Acosta, opposed extraction, “childish”. The criminalization of the defense of indigenous territories intensified. José Serrano, who was one of the Sarayaku people’s lawyers in their cases before the Commission and the Inter-American Court, joined the Correa government. “He was a person to whom we had great affection and appreciation,” Gualinga recalls, “that’s why it hurt so much when we saw how he changed and how he started to persecute us.”
Serrano would become the almighty Interior Minister of the Correa’s government. Under his command was the Police who repressed and imprisoned people who had previously been their defendants.
To such a government the Sarayaku face on the hearing of 2012 at Inter-American Court. The lawyers of the Sarayaku gave Patricia Gualinga three roles. “I would be the main witness, make the final petition to the Court and be the translator of the other witnesses.” Again, the size of the task seemed huge. “It was too much responsibility on my back.” Gualinga should not only prepare the witnesses for their testimony before the Court: she had to obtain funds to take a delegation of more than 50 Sarayaku women to the hearing, that took place at the seat of the Court, in San José, Costa Rica. “At some point, I felt sick. But in the end I was able to give everything I had to in the Inter-American Court. ” The lawyer Melo says that “Patricia was always a pillar in the defense”.
“In these collective struggles, the ability to empower the movements of leaders like Patricia Gualinga has been essential.”Viviana Krsticevic.
Viviana Krsticevic, executive director of the Center for Justice and International Law, that was also part of the legal defense of Sarayaku, says that struggles like those of Sarayaku are never of one person, but of entire communities. “In these collective struggles, the ability to empower the movements of leaders like Patricia Gualinga has been essential.”
After years of resistance, in June 2012, the Court ruled against the Ecuadorian State. The face of Patricia Gualinga, the tower of sarayaku dignity, was portrayed in media around the world.
The great victory that meant the condemnation in the Inter-American Court was followed by the persecution that the Ecuador government undertook in 2013 against a self-convened group of Amazonian women to oppose the eleventh oil round —an untapped oil field bidding process in which companies from such different places, as Chile and Belarus, were interested in.
The first march to protest it was organized by Gualinga. They were just Sarayaku women walking towards Quito. For 15 days, Patricia spoke on all the radios and television stations that gave her space. “At the end of the last interview, on the Cristal Radio station, my voice was going off until it fade completely. I could not talk for a week.”
Land is not negotiated, only defended
Several women of other nationalities —Shiwar, Sapara, Waorani, Shuar and Achuar— joined the movement. That was how the ‘Amazonian Women’ were born. The group brought together indigenous women who follow a single precept: land is not negotiated, only defended. That year, they delivered a manifesto to Rafael Correa, already in the final phase of his metamorphosis towards extractivism. “He told us to go to Panacocha to see the millennium city, the poor guy said crazy things, he said we would change our minds when we saw that city. Obvious that he did not know us”.
Correa had managed to undermine the credibility of the indigenous leadership, basically made up of men. The rise of the ‘Amazonian Women’ gave him a new contradictor, a feminine one, who questioned him in a less virile key, a frequency that Correa did not dominate. “We would pay that heavily,” Gualinga says.
Amazon women were called to, in November, stand at the steps of the Ministry of Hydrocarbons, where negotiations for the oil fields were held. “There was an incident: a Belarusian executive came out and the people chased him, accusing him of damaging our territory. Correa used that to sue several people —among them myself, Margoth Escobar, Nema Grefa, and other women and leaders.” He accused them of terrorism and sabotage. In May of 2017, Correa left the power in the hands of his supporter, Lenin Moreno, with whom he would soon alienate himself in the midst of accusations of treason and sedition. The Amazonian women, however, remained.
That same year, Patricia also left her posting as Sarayaku Women’s Leader. “I thought that, at last, I was going to have a life of tranquility.” She had been offered the presidency of the Sarayaku people and she, once again in her life, had said no. “I could not: my dad is 95 years old and my mother 85, I had spent all my time in the fight, my husband had also lived by the swing of my processes”. Almost thirty years later, the enthusiastic young civil servant had become a symbol of resistance: “I admire her for her tireless struggle not only for her people, but for all peoples,” says Margoth Escobar, another of the Amazonian women persecuted for her opposition to the extraction of resources in the Ecuadorian Amazon. Mario Melo, the Sarayaku lawyer, believes that Gualinga is the face of a larger struggle: “She is an honest woman, tremendously committed,” Melo says, “She has become a leader among the indigenous peoples of the entire world.”
But three decades after the fight, Patricia Gualinga thought it was right to dedicate herself to her family. The vagaries of partisan politics had led her twice to be a candidate for elected office. Twice she lost. “I am no good for demagogy, neither to hug everyone, nor to smile at everyone, nor to say things half-way.” Her brother Eriberto, with a smile, confirms it: “My sister is a temperamental woman, not in the bad sense”.
Patricia Gualinga was ready to take a break from the bustle, decided to withdraw from public life. But every story of resistance is an unfinished story. “And yes I lived a few months of tranquility, until January 2018, at one o’clock in the morning, someone threw rocks at my house, breaking the glasses of windows, shouting that the next they would kill me”.
No matter who is in government: the oil companies are always in power.
Gualinga was shocked. “It was supposed to expect these things during my term at the leadership, not now,” she says. But then she realized that new oil rounds and the opening of new oil blocks were approaching. No matter who is in government: the oil companies are always in power.
No one knows, upto to today, who did it. The only thing Gualinga knows is that the attack regrouped the ‘Amazonian Women’ of 2013. They gathered at the same cafe in El Puyo where they have always met, which belongs to the family of fellow activist Margoth Escobar. They said they would not be intimidated. “They do not know us. They do not know me, ” Gualinga says. A few weeks later, she was granted the Environmental Activism Outbreak Award from the International Film Festival of the Canary Islands, which in previous editions recognized the work of other activists such as Berta Cáceres, Ikal Angelei and Ruth Buendía.
That morning of February 2019, El Puyo lives and dies in the paradox of oil —which is the great Pyrrhic victory of Ecuadorian progress, which reached the absurdity of parading its first barrel of oil in a military parade, as if it were a national hero. Patricia Gualinga continues to speak with that voice that never loses the sweet and stern tone in which she has spoken to oilmen, ministers and international courts, and says, as if revealing her secret: “It is in the greatest dangers when I am most lucid.”