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The Organization That’s Giving Power to Environmental Activists in the Amazon

Photos: Courtesy of Amazon Watch

On International Women’s Day in 2018, in the bustling Amazon jungle town of Puyo, an indigenous leader named Salomé Aranda addressed hundreds of women from rainforest communities in southern Ecuador. They came together to denounce decades of oil extraction and they agreed to reject plans to open their territories to new oil projects.

Women like Salomé are the face of the global uprising against climate change and the fight to defend the earth. Indigenous leaders are leading movements to end deforestation and human rights abuses by the oil industry. They’re rejecting fossil fuels and finding innovative energy solutions to keep their communities vibrant and thriving.

Power to the Protectors

At Amazon Watch, we launched “Power to the Protectors” in 2016 to transition remote communities resisting oil expansion in the Amazon to autonomous solar power and communications tools. This project was developed to address the dependence on fossil fuels in remote regions of the Amazon, as well as the costly and dangerous method of delivering gasoline or diesel to remote areas.

This summer, on a 10-day trip by car, plane, and canoe, we installed solar panels and solar-powered radio systems, and provided walkie-talkies in three communities across Southern Ecuador, including Salomé’s community Moretecocha. 

“This project is essential support for our efforts to keep new oil extraction off our lands and help protect our forests, for our families, our way of life, and the world,” Salomé says. 

We’ve worked with the U’wa people of Colombia, the Sapara people of Ecuador, and the Munduruku people of Brazil. We support these communities at workshops and trainings on their legal rights to self-determination, and to resist oil infrastructure on their territories. The solar and communications hardware is the next essential step in this collaboration.  

Energy Independence Saves Lives

The Amazon is one of the most dangerous places in the world to be an environmental defender. After Salomé spoke out against a powerful Italian oil company, unknown assailants attacked her home, hurling rocks at her house, and threatening her and her family. 

In 2014, a U.S. citizen in Ecuador was expelled after working on a solar project with the Achuar people, who are resisting oil drilling in their territory. Across the world, more activists are killed for resisting extractive industries than in any other environmental sector.

Solar energy means remote Amazon communities can communicate more efficiently with each other and the outside world without relying on fossil fuels. It’s true energy independence and it quite literally saves lives where Earth defenders are at risk.

Leila Salazar-López, Executive Director, Amazon Watch, [email protected]

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