The Oil Industry in Ecuador is in Check in the Yasuní Park

In August there will be a popular consultation that aims to put an end to oil exploitation in a field in the heart of the Amazon, in Ecuador. We tell you about this situation.

Yasuni National Park

Photo: Flickr-Diego Tirira

LatinAmerican Post | María Fernanda Ramírez Ramos

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Leer en español: La industria petrolera en Ecuador está en jaque en el parque Yasuní

On May 9, the Constitutional Court of Ecuador approved the holding of a popular consultation that seeks to protect the Yasuní National Park from oil exploitation. Said consultation will take place on August 20, together with the extraordinary general elections. This consultation has strongly shaken the country’s oil industry, generating much controversy, but also hope, since the Yasuní National Park is one of the largest natural and biodiversity reserves in the world, located in the heart of the Amazon.

This popular consultation comes after more than 10 years of struggle by social groups, grouped under the name Yasunidos, who wanted the approval of oil exploitation in this park to be submitted to the vote of the population. “Do you agree that the Ecuadorian government keeps ITT crude, known as Block 43, indefinitely underground?” is the question that Ecuadorians will have to answer at the polls next August. If the yes wins, the crude reserves found in the subsoil of the Ishpingo-Tambococha-Tiputini (ITT) axis, known as Block 43-ITT, must stop being exploited.

Currently, Petroecuador exploits the resources in this area. It is estimated that this is the most productive field in Ecuador and represents around 12% of oil production, with 55,000 barrels of oil per day. If this is translated into money, according to the data of the same company, it generates 1.2 billion dollars a year. These figures explain why this popular consultation has generated so much controversy.

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Oil or nature: opposing positions

The Court’s decision has generated a meeting of opposing positions between different actors involved in the environmental conflict and citizens, who will finally have the decision in their hands. On the one hand, Yasunidos points out that the exploitation of the ITT is a huge threat to the ecosystem that is home to enormous biodiversity. Likewise, it has 2 main arguments for people to vote yes.

  1. There are alternatives: according to Yasunidos, the income of the 110 largest economic groups in the country represents 62% of GDP. However, your tax burden could be higher. In this sense, they propose that an additional increase of 1.5% in taxes for economic groups could generate an additional 2 billion dollars to preserve Yasuní. On the other hand, they point out that despite the high oil income generated in the past, the country has not been able to overcome poverty, refuting the idea that oil is the definitive solution.
  2. Life and human rights: within the Yasuní there are uncontacted indigenous peoples. For this reason, Yasunidos denounces the lack of recognition of indigenous peoples in voluntary isolation by national authorities. It ensures that the Ecuadorian Constitution prohibits exploitation in the territories of uncontacted peoples and establishes protection measures. On the other hand, it emphasizes intergenerational justice and climate change. “Efficient, coherent and organized response to climate change, hence the current climate emergency continues to worsen; a fact that will affect the young generations even more,” they indicate.

On the other hand, Petroecuador assures that the reserve is very well managed and that they have made large investments in making oil extraction compatible with the protection of the ecosystem. This was stated by Ramón Correa in an interview for EFE Verde: “It is the best managed field from an environmental point of view.” However, experience and various scientific studies indicate that it is impossible to extract oil without causing damage to the environment.

The paradox is that precisely the diversity and natural wealth of the Amazon is today one of the greatest treasures on earth. However, Ecuador is in a difficult economic situation, with a high external debt and very high poverty rates. In these scenarios, the proposals to exchange environmental services for debt make more and more sense. “The story of this place, Yasuní National Park, provides a practical example of how global financial forces continue to corner developing countries into exploiting some of the most biodiverse regions in the world,” says a comprehensive report in The New York Times that talks precisely about oil exploitation in the country.

The case of Ecuador is becoming so complex that indigenous communities have also had conflicts among themselves due to their positions on the popular consultation. According to EFE Verde, at least two of the seven affected communities agree with oil extraction, since they find sources of employment there. However, the majority of indigenous communities are in favor of not exploiting their lands. Juan Bay, president of the Waorani Nationality of Ecuador (NAWE), said in a Yasunidos statement that after five decades of oil exploitation, his people have not achieved any social, economic or political development. However, he has also pointed out that the big economic interests behind the oil industries are fomenting these disputes.

For the moment, the campaigns of the parties that support the yes and no will continue until August, trying to get the favor of the citizens who have in their hands a decision of great importance for the preservation of the Amazon.

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