Signs of lasting trauma in people evicted to make way for giant mine in Ecuador

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Battles with the government and army over land and mining rights has caused indigenous Shuar people long-term psychological damage, report says

Months after they were evicted from their homes to make way for a mine, almost half the population of an Ecuadorian village is suffering from psychological damage, experts have said.

Psychiatrists found 42% of the indigenous Shuar people of Tsuntsuim village suffering from mental health problems and trauma. Many of the villagers had been involved in violent confrontations with Ecuadors military as they were removed from their homes.

The mental ordeal has manifested itself in depression, severe headaches, insomnia, tremors and tachycardia (a racing heart rate). Trauma caused by the displacement and anxiety about what would happen to them next were the main triggers for these symptoms, said the authors of the report, which was released by a group of doctors, psychiatrists and indigenous rights activists.

Children were particularly traumatised by the noise of the helicopters and drones that had circled overhead during the eviction, according to medical researchers.

Residents said the soldiers destroyed crops and set animals loose. They were left without any kind of economic or food options and were pushed into forced migration, said Fernanda Solz, one of the reports authors and a doctor with the Movement for the Health of the Peoples of Latin America. This is a process of impoverishment and a loss of subsistence and sovereignty.

Shuar
People began returning to their homes in Tsuntsuim in May, five months after they were forcibly removed, when military and police abandoned their posts there. Photograph: Kimberley Brown

Tsuntsuim is one of the latest communities affected by Ecuadors mining industry, which is being promoted as necessary for growth in the developing nation. According to Ecuadorian law, everything in the ground belongs to the state. The money earned from extracting its bounty be it minerals or petroleum funds public services.

But researchers say the opposite is true. This development model impacts communities, said Erika Arteaga, a doctor with the Latin American Association of Social Medicine (Alames), a co-author of the report. The mine displaces people, and the impact is direct. Its this industry that makes children lack nutrition.

The territorial conflict around Tsuntsuim peaked in August 2016 when those living in the Shuar village of Nankints were forcibly evicted from their homes by the army because they were living on the site for the planned San Carlos Panantza copper mine.

Ecuadorian government officials claim the Shuar had no land rights and were living there illegally, while the Shuar community claim the region as part of their ancestral land.

After the eviction, residents made several attempts to re-enter Nankints leading to an aggressive standoff with the authorities in December 2016. The then president, Rafael Correa, called a state of emergency in the province of Morona Santiago and sent in extra forces, who raided homes and made several arrests in Tsuntsuim, where most of the people from Nankints had fled. Nankints is now a military protected mining camp, surrounded by barbed-wire fencing.

We suffered a lot, said Maria Natalia Nankamai, who was chased out of both Nankints and Tsuntsuim. The kids were screaming when the helicopters flew overhead, but we couldnt do anything. She stayed with relatives for months before moving back to Tsuntsuim in May.

Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/global-development/2017/oct/17/signs-of-lasting-trauma-in-people-evicted-to-make-way-for-giant-mine-in-ecuador

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