Resistance of Kichwa people of Santa Clara against Piatúa hydroelectric power plant

Text and photographs: Tuija Veintie

River Piatúa in Santa Clara, Pastaza still flows free.

Piatúa is a secret river. It has power that no other river has. If I am feeling bad, tired or stressed, I go to the Piatúa river and in the river I start feeling good again. The river cures me” says an upper secondary school student in Santa Clara, Ecuador. Our research group is currently conducting research activities in this region and our interviews with and photographs taken by upper secondary school students show the special role that river Piatúa carries for the students as a sacred river and an important place for recreation and social gatherings. For the students, their families and the small-scale farming the river is a necessary source of water. In addition, the river Piatúa brings income to the local people through tourism as the clean water and landscapes attract tourists interested in nature, recreation and water sports.

Clouds have been gathering over future of the crystal-clear waters of river Piatúa. The Piatúa hydroelectric power plant project, run by Genefran S.A., is located in Santa Clara, between the provinces of Napo and Pastaza. Local Kichwa organisation, PONAKICS (Pueblo originario Kichwa de Santa Clara), claims that the power plant project threatens the environment, livelihoods and culture of the Indigenous communities in the Santa Clara area. Furthermore, the power plant project violated the rights of the Santa Clara Kichwa people as the construction work initiated without prior consultation.

In September 2019, as a fruit of Indigenous resistance and the arguments on lacking prior consultation, the Pastaza provincial court decided to suspend the execution of the hydroelectric power plant for a period of three months. The court determined that Genefran S.A. has to fulfil their legal responsibility of prior consultation as well as conduct further technical studies related to the construction of the power plant.

In defense of their territories, the Kichwa community of Santa Clara demands Genefran S.A. to withdraw their construction machines from the area and annul the hydroelectric power plant project. Local resistance is supported by other Indigenous organisations of the Amazonia, including the national umbrella organisations of CONFENIAE (Confederación de las nacionalidades Indígenas de la Amazonia Ecuatoriana) and CONAIE (Confederación de nacionalidades Indígenas del Ecuador) as well as the transnational umbrella organization of the Amazonian Indigenous organizations, COICA (Coordinadora de las Organizaciones Indígenas de la Cuenca Amazónica).

In September, our research group witnessed manifestations organised by Indigenous organisations. Representatives of organisations of several Amazonian Indigenous nationalities and the umbrella organisations gathered in Santa Clara to support the local Kichwa communities in their demand to defend their territories. The manifestation took place on the main road between Santa Clara and Tena, stopping the traffic for over 30 hours.

Indigenous organisations gathered to demand that Genefran S.A. withdraws their construction machines from the Kichwa territory. Santa Clara, 19 September 2019.
Piatúa resiste – Piatúa resists. Santa Clara, 19 September 2019.

Sources of information:
Corte de Pastaza resolvió paralizar la ejecución del proyecto hidroeléctrico en Piatúa. El Universo, 5.09.2019.

Ecuador: COICA rechaza proyecto hidroeléctrico que afectaría al río Piatúa. SERVINDI 22.06.2019.

Interview data in Santa Clara, Pastaza, March and September 2019.