The San Isidro páramo is known by its Kichwa name, Chilca Tingo Chaupi Urku, and is located some 20km uphill from the village itself, in Cotopaxi province. Following land reform in the 1960s and the formal abolition of the ‘hacienda’ system of Indigenous enslavement, this land was granted as patrimony to the families of 34 ‘huasipungueros’ (indentured/forced laborers on the hacienda estate) who were part of the ancestral community of Juigua San Isidro. These were people who had recently gained the freedom to live and work outside the hacienda and who had to fight fiercely in order to acquire land rights for their community. The páramo has thus for a long time been a symbol of solidarity. Today, it is also a site of collectivity and cooperation. In recent decades, community conservation work in the páramo has involved planting native trees and protecting endemic flora, in addition to pursuing the legal campaign for ‘protected’ status.
Many in San Isidro also see the páramo as a living being — as ‘our refuge’ and ‘our sister.’ The páramo is symbolically a source of strength and also, very tangibly, a source of life. As María Rojas, a leader within San Isidro, told local news, “If we don’t have the páramo, we don’t have water… and without water, there’s no life. Without water, there are no crops; there’s just nothing. Without water, we would die.”
Yet, even while its vital ecological importance is gaining wider recognition, the páramo is still seen by a powerful minority as a source of natural resources ready for exploitation. For the good of communities like San Isidro and, indeed, for the sake of the world as a whole, there is a clear need for a broad environmental movement that foregrounds páramo protection. All available strategies will need to be used — including the legal defense of its APH status as a legally protected hydrological area— if society at large is to heed, and act on, the words of María Rojas and others living on the frontlines. To be successful, páramo protection will need to be led by the Indigenous and campesino communities who share the richest histories and everyday entanglements with these unique lands. San Isidro’s recent achievement is a crucial step ensuring the páramo continues to thrive for generations to come.
This article was originally published on Toward Freedom and republished with permission. Read the original here.
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