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Ecuador: National Assembly Approves Drilling in Yasuní National Park

By Brendan O’Boyle | The Argentina Independent | October 4, 2013

The Ecuadorian National Assembly voted Thursday to permit the drilling for petroleum in two sections of the Yasuní National Park in the country’s eastern Amazon basin. The decision comes just seven weeks after President Rafael Correa announced the failure of the Yasuní-ITT initiative, a project that sought to indefinitely prohibit oil exploration in the Yasuní in exchange for international donations equal to half of the reserve’s projected income.

The approved measure, which will allow oil exploration in the park’s 31 and 49 blocks, was passed with the votes of 108 of the assembly’s 133 members. The assembly cited “national interest” as justification for its decision. Ecuador’s constitution forbids “activities for the extraction of nonrenewable natural resources” except in the case of national interest as determined by the National Assembly.

President Correa says the exploration will only affect .01% of the park. Additionally, the legislation promises the protection of indigenous communities that live in the affected areas and excludes extractive activity from the Yasuní’s “untouchable zone”, the largest section of the park, which is to be preserved in its natural state as a wildlife sanctuary. The project will be run by state-run oil company Petroamazonas.

Fifty days ago, Correa requested authorisation to begin oil exploration within the park, declared a global biosphere reserve by UNESCO in 1989. The move has intensified national debate over drilling in the Yasuní and saw the president embark on a countrywide tour to convince oppositional groups of the economic and social need to drill in the wake of the Yasuní-ITT initiative’s failure.

In support of the president’s new initiative were 30 mayors from towns in Ecuador’s Amazon basin who travelled to Quito last month to express their support for the measure. Additionally, just last Friday 180 mayors signed a statement in support of the move to drill in the Yasuní.

However, opposition from ecological and indigenous rights groups remains high. On 28th August, police were accused of firing rubber bullets against protestors who had gathered in response to Correa’s initial remarks on opening the Yasuní up to exploration.

In the past month, the opposition has called for a national referendum, a request denied by the Constitutional Court.

Humberto Cholango, head of the Confederation of Indigenous Nationalities of Ecuador, told Ecuadorian newspaper El Universo that he was confused by the court’s decision. “There was a referendum over bullfighting in 2011, so why would you not consult the people on this issue of such importance, which threatens the lives of indigenous peoples as well as the reserve’s enormous biodiversity.”

Despite the rejection, the opposition pushed until the last moments before the vote.

Three community leaders from Ecuador’s Amazon region were invited to speak before the assembly on the final day of the debate. The first two spoke in favour of the government’s proposal, citing a need for economic development and a belief that the government would do its best to protect the local environment and communities.

The third speaker, a Guaraní woman named Alicia Cawiya, steered away from her prepared speech and delivered an emotional plea in an effort to change the minds of those about to vote.

“All we want is that you respect our territory, which we have preserved and cared for,” pleaded Alicia. “Leave us to live how we want. This is our only proposal.”

October 4, 2013 - Posted by | Economics, Environmentalism | , , , ,

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