Inside the heroic Amazon tribe that took on monster diggers that ripped apart the rainforest – World News

Deep in the Amazon rainforest, Josefina Tunki stands proud and defiant in front of two abandoned 20-ton excavators.

The huge yellow machines belonged to illegal miners and were confiscated by the local community. Their drivers were told to “drive away”.

The machines are also the prey of an ongoing war between legal and illegal miners, greedy for copper and gold, and the people who live in this paradise.

This was one of the most inaccessible and pristine places on earth, with lush vegetation and abundant wildlife – until the miners and their giant diggers arrived.

But if you thought you could make your way through stretches of pristine rainforest and over indigenous rights, you’d have to think again.

Josefina Tunki, President of the Shuar Arutam people, stands in front of the confiscated excavators


Adam Gerrard / Daily Mirror)

And they weren’t counting on Josefina — a strong, determined 60-year-old who knows that fighting for the survival of her homeland, her people, and her precious way of life is the most important thing she’s ever done.

The Mirror traveled to Ecuador to meet them and see first hand the impact of mining on this beautiful place.

Josefina says: “The destruction in our area is great. We have 96 acres [the size of 134 football pitches] untouched forest, and it is in this forest that the mining companies are invading.”

Josefina is the first female president of the Shuar Arutam people, an indigenous nationality in the Ecuadorian Amazon, and says the government has made many concessions to her country.

“That’s why we’re making so many demands, nationally and internationally, that they understand what we’re going through. Once they destroy it, it will never be the same.”

Drone images show the damage just two excavators can do in the rainforest


Adam Gerrard / Daily Mirror)

Matriarch Josefina dedicated her life to protecting the rainforest and serving her people. She has no children of her own but essentially sees herself as a grandmother and mother to nearly 10,000.

If someone threatens her “children”, Josefina intervenes – hence the fate of the miners and their excavators.

Josefina is a force to be reckoned with – she wanders for hours barefoot through the jungle with its huge trees that harbor tropical birds, scales waterfalls and scrambles through caves in search of ancient medicines from plants.

She says: “We have to make it clear to people that we are not only doing this for ourselves, but for the planet.”

She fights against the multinational corporations who want to bleed the Amazon dry.

The community is upset about the damage


Adam Gerrard / Daily Mirror)

Mining exports could bring in $4 billion by 2025, according to the Ecuadorian government, and the US, UAE, Switzerland and Italy are key markets for Ecuadorian gold.

For centuries, the indigenous people fiercely protected their lands from outsiders, but recently an additional weapon has been added to their arsenal – technology.

All Eyes on the Amazon is a project led by the charity Hivos in partnership with Greenpeace and the Coordination of Indigenous Organizations of the Amazon Basin (COICA) that equips indigenous communities with the technology to bolster their defenses against extractive activities such as oil and mining strengthen and logging.

As we converse, mining company planes fly overhead and survey the area, a constant reminder of the threat the PSHA lives under.

“They always fly here now,” says Josefina.

A small plane flies over the community of Maikiuants, which is believed to be owned by a mining company


Adam Gerrard / Daily Mirror)

Hivos and its partners are providing satellite imagery and drones so forests can be monitored from above, training people in data collection and mapping while supporting lobbying and awareness campaigns.

People have learned to mobilize and now indigenous guards are on duty 24/7 at the entrance to the territory to keep the legal and illegal miners out.

The information collected can then be used in court to ensure the legal protection of territories.

We joined observers on patrol to visit a site that had been destroyed a few months earlier by illegal miners who had tricked the community.

Guard Estanislow Nantip at the entrance to the Maikiuants community


Adam Gerrard / Daily Mirror)

Observers often wander for hours through the vast jungle in search of evidence of man-made destruction.

On patrol, devastating drone images show illegal miners clearing more than a kilometer of rainforest in search of copper and gold.

In response, the angry community confiscated the two diggers and they still sit proudly in the middle of the village as a warning to others who dare pass by.

Marcelo Urkuch, one of the leaders of the PSHA, down by the river


Adam Gerrard / Daily Mirror)

Down by the river, which until recently was untouched, Marcelo Urkuch, one of the PSHA leaders, explained: “Some diggers arrived at the indigenous guard and said they were coming to build ponds for fishing and to clean up the land [so it could] gain weight.

“So they tricked us and we let them in. But they actually mined for gold and copper.

“The observers realized that this was happening and it cannot happen without consultation.

“So we took action and thanks to the observers who gathered evidence of what happened, the Shuar assembly decided to throw the miners out.”

According to the Ecuadorian constitution, indigenous peoples must be consulted and then consent to any activity in the areas.

Marcelo says the people gave the illegal miners an ultimatum.

“We told them, ‘You can go on good or bad terms, but you have to pay something for the damage done.’

“They didn’t pay, so we took their excavators.”

Rhian Lubin with Josefina Tunki


Adam Gerard)

It was a small victory for the PSHA, but the damage was already done.

Marcelo says: “The water in the community started to get dirty, the children are by the river, our people live on the banks of the river.

“The Shuar Arutam people have a very strong principle of defending our territory and defending nature and the environment.

“When we see that, we get so frustrated because we’re never asked, we’re never asked, we realize what happens when it’s too late.”

Thanks to the technology provided by the All Eyes project, the PSHA can keep a close eye on illegal mining like this one.

“They won’t come back here again,” says Marcelo. “We’re very conscious now, so we’re deploying our surveillance team and guards to keep an eye on our territory.”

Monitors and their families on patrol


Adam Gerrard / Daily Mirror)

Carlos Mazabanda, Ecuador’s country coordinator of the All Eyes on the Amazon project, was shocked to see the damage caused by the two dredgers, but says it only scratches the surface of what is happening in Ecuador’s Amazon region.

Legal projects that have been given the go-ahead by the government are often much larger in scale than illegal operations.

“We’ve seen how it starts,” he says. “For me it was really shocking, I didn’t think these machines would go that far. The damage was really big. But they were stopped in time.

“The government says illegal mining is terrible because there are no ‘environmental controls’ and only illegal mining has an impact on the environment.

“But to me, the legal mining of the multinationals is also illegal because they conduct these activities without respect for the rights of the indigenous people.

“It’s so important to build a really strong organization and a good monitoring team.

“If the indigenous people don’t have that kind of control over their territory, really bad things could happen.”

The indigenous people here have welcomed the intervention of Hivos and its partners, but in an ideal world it would not be necessary.

Above all, they want to be left alone.

Municipality of Maikiuants in the heart of the Amazon of Ecuador


Adam Gerrard / Daily Mirror)

“We don’t want confrontation, we don’t want mining, but we want to produce because we have a lot of resources here that we can get ourselves,” says Marcelo.

“But the government is selling our land to transnational corporations for more money because it’s more profitable than supporting indigenous and local communities.”

There is still work to be done, but thanks to the program, 6.97 million hectares of the Amazon in Ecuador, Brazil and Peru are being monitored.

The program is working to raise more funds so it can continue vital work throughout the Amazon.

“We need to keep all eyes on the Amazon because there are already many threats,” says Carlos. “We have work to do to continue monitoring assistance programs, legal action and helping the organizations continue their work.”

Marcelo adds: “The jungle is very big and we need equipment, time, money and resources to be able to monitor everything that happens on the territory.

“If we see logging or mining, legal or illegal, we don’t care. We keep an eye on our territory because we don’t want anything to happen here.”

  • All Eyes on the Amazon is funded by the Humanistic Institute for Development Cooperation and the Dutch National Postcode Lottery. To learn more, visit Inside the heroic Amazon tribe that took on monster diggers that ripped apart the rainforest - World News

Fry Electronics Team

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