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'Green' government shuts down leading environmental group

In March, environmentalists were shocked to hear that the Ecuadorian Government had shut down Acción Ecológica (Environmental Action), withdrawing the legal status of one of South America’s best-known environmental groups, reports Daniel Denvir in Grist magazine. Acción Ecológica, which has played a central role in the ongoing campaign to save the Yasuní rainforest, has in recent months supported indigenousled mass protests and highway blockades against President Rafael Correa’s support for large-scale mining.

Health Minister Caroline Chang initially claimed that Acción Ecológica failed to undertake the work specified by the country’s NGO charter. But as a public outcry arose in Ecuador and criticism poured in from civil society organizations around the world, including Amnesty International, Chang changed tack, saying that it was simply an administrative matter. Nonetheless, it meant that Acción Ecológica suddenly had no legal right to operate. ‘If the elimination of our legal status is a retaliation against our organization’s opposition to government policies such as large-scale mining and the expansion of the oil frontier,’ said Acción Ecológica leader Ivonne Ramos, ‘it would set a precedent for authoritarianism that is intolerable in a democratic regime.’

In his 2006 election campaign, Rafael Correa spoke in favour of environmental rights. But disagreements over mining, and the concessions awarded to foreign companies, have created a growing rift between the President and the country’s grassroots movements. Nonetheless, Correa’s Government is not immune to pressure, and has since reinstated Acción Ecológica, albeit on a provisional basis. In an open letter, Ivonne Ramos expressed her gratitude for all the national and international support they have received. ‘With your words and support we feel closer to that great wave, ever more universal, defending life and nature, which finds a home in the struggle of each and every one of us.’

New Internationalist issue 422 magazine cover This article is from the May 2009 issue of New Internationalist.
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