After a decade of fighting to save the Yasuní National Park, Ecuador will end oil extraction in this environmental reserve. This was decided by 58.9% of the more than 10.2 million Ecuadorians who have voted in the referendum held this Sunday to stop oil exploitation in block 43 of the ITT (which extends through the areas of Ishpingo, Tiputini and Tambococha). This is a historic consultation, because of what it means for the environmental movement and because it is the first time that a popular initiative consultation has been carried out in this Latin American country. With the victory of the yes, the current oil exploitation is suspended and new contracts for the extraction of this resource cannot be signed.
According to the ruling of the Constitutional Court, which opened the door to holding the plebiscite, the State will have a maximum of 18 months “from the notification of the official results” to execute “the results of the consultation.” In addition, according to the opinion, with the triumph of the yes the State will not be able to initiate “new contractual relations to continue with the exploitation.” Ramiro Ávila, a lawyer for the Yasunidos collective, explains that this means that in a year and a half “not one more drop of oil can come out, let alone expand the oil block” 43-ITT.
But Ávila contrasts that there are technical problems linked to existing facilities, such as drilling, pipelines and roads that have been built, which can delay the complete restoration of the area. The dismantling must be “progressive and orderly” and will be carried out by the State. Ávila also points out that it is the beginning of a transition towards a different development model that is not based on the aggressive extraction of natural resources, but “on conservation and recognition so that the peoples who live in those places have self-determination and no dependence on extractive companies”.
“With this consultation we have shown that the Ecuadorian people, today and 10 years ago, have always been in favor of keeping oil underground. When there is no nature, you cannot eat, money cannot be taken, eaten, breathed… What Yasuní gives us is more important than that supposed progress that never comes,” Pedro Bermeo, spokesman, told EL PAÍS excitedly. of the Yasunidos collective, which has led the legal defense of this protected area.
Bermeo attributes this victory to the support of a hundred organizations, social movements and, especially, indigenous peoples and nationalities. “They are the ones who have been experiencing extractivism and know what mining, oil, diseases due to pollution, the cancer rate three times higher is… It is those people who have carried out this campaign.”
a decade of struggle
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The Yasuní National Park—located in the Ecuadorian Amazon, in the provinces of Napo and Orellana—was declared a Biosphere Reserve in 1989. It is one of the areas with the greatest biodiversity per square meter on the planet, according to the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (Unesco). In its more than one million hectares, it is home to more than 300 species of amphibians and reptiles, almost 400 types of mammals and 600 species of birds. In addition, it is home to indigenous peoples in voluntary isolation: the Tagaeri and Taromenane.
Saving the Yasuní has been the work of a decade of a group of environmentalists: the Yasunidos. They were formed in 2013, when President Rafael Correa put an end to the campaign to leave oil underground: the Yasuní ITT initiative. A project that tried to prevent oil exploitation in exchange for compensation of 3.6 billion dollars from the international community. 13 million dollars had been raised, barely 0.37% of what was expected. “What we were asking for was not charity, it was co-responsibility in the fight against climate change. The world has failed us,” Correa said then on a radio and television channel.
Social sectors came together to collect signatures and promote a popular consultation so that Ecuadorians decide whether or not to exploit this area. In April 2014, more than 757,623 signatures were collected, but the authorities of the National Electoral Council (CNE) at that time, in charge of verifying the authenticity of the signatures, annulled half of them. And the query was blocked. And, in 2016, the oil exploitation of the Tiputini and Tambococha fields began by the state company Petroecuador.
In 2018, the new CNE authorities audited the process and verified that the necessary signatures had been delivered. Two years later, the electoral body granted a certificate of legitimacy, a requirement to carry out the consultation. And in May of this year, the Constitutional Court ruled in favor of a popular consultation and approved the proposed question that read: “Do you agree that the Ecuadorian government maintains the ITT oil reserves, known as Block 43, in the subsoil?” indefinitely?”
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