During the past week there have been important developments in the ongoing efforts to prevent a massive invasion of National Protected Forest in Northwest Ecuador.
During the last week of September an inspection was organized by Fundacion Los Cedros personel and the Ministry of Environment acompanied by police from the Garcia Moreno station of the invasion by topographers and land speculators in the Manduriaco Alto sector of Bosque Protector Los Cedros.
While logistical problems delayed the inspection untill the group had actually left the reserve area, tecnical personel from the Ibarra office of the Environment Minstry we able to find suficente evidence to qualify the intrusion.
More importantly all along the route the inspection team, some 10 people all together, was met by local residents who manifested thier support for the protected area and oppostion to the land speculators.
A suprising coalition of land owners, people who support the presence of mining companies and ordinary small holders were coming together to defend the reserve from any type of take over of what people described as their reserve.
By the time the inspection team returned to the town of Chontal after three days in the bush we were met in the evening by a group representing a broad range of local interest including comunity development organizations and workers for mining companies. They were returning from a Paroquial Govermnment meeting where they had set the date and called for a general community meeting on protecting the reserve called for by the president of the parroquial council.
On Friday 5 of October the meeting was set for the community of Magdalena Bajo as several local community members involved with the invasion plans were residing there.
10 police officers of the Judicial Police, including chief of the JP Major Baez, investigative branch of the police, were present in representation of the Governers office in Ibarra and the Ministry of Government from Quito.
The president and 4 council members from Garcia Moreno attended along with the presidents of 8 communites and over 60 interested citizens.
Presentations were made by Fundación Los Cedros personel and Ministry of Environment staff about the history and legal status of Bosque Protector Los Cedros after which the meeting opened for all to voice their opinions.
Resolutions taken by this community forum included total rejection of plans to colonize Los Cedros, demands for an investigation of the national land grant agency and police action to prevent any further incursions into the reserve. If these mesures proved to be inefective then the communites themselves left no doubt that they were comited to intervene on a defensive level and engage in direct action.
Major Baez asked for some time to organize regular patroling of the area around Bosque Protector Los Cedros and some time to infiltrate the organizaion behind the invasion plans so as direct action could be taken against the leaders. But from now on the invaders were to be notified that they were no longer welcome in this area and police would be present when ever they held meetings they would be disbursed in order to make clear they were involved in illegal activity that would send them to jail if they continued.
If it proved that this was insuficent to discourage the invasion plans, direct action against the invaders on a community level would be supported by the Judical Police.
The level of cooperation being given by the Goveners office of Imbabura Province in Ibarra has to be aknowledged a the key factor in providing a law enforcement presence at this critical time for the conservation of Los Cedros. While some logistical support will be necessary to provide for patroling in the reserve area by no means is this support to excede basic food and ocasional lodging for patrols called to discourage invader activity.
But many thanks also have to be given to the organizations and people of the communities surrounding the reserve for coming together when the reserve is under extreme pressure.
Also it must be said after years of division planted for the benfit of extractive industries in the Parroquia of Garcia Moreno the communites from both sides of an artificial divide have come together over a more important issue.