On August 15, 2013, Ecuador´s President Rafael Correa announced the end of the Yasuni-ITT proposal, an innovative and one of a kind proposal that would keep “oil in the soil” in exchange for financial contributions from the international community to offset a portion of Ecuador´s forgone revenue. In addition, Correa said that the national oil company, PetroAmazonas would move forward with plans to exploit the Ishpingo, Tambococha, and Tiputini oil fields located within the Yasuni National Park.
It was a sad and frustrating day for many Ecuadoreans (polls cite 90% support for the proposal) and for many more people around the world.
The Yasuni-ITT proposal was the result of years of advocacy and mobilization by conservation and indigenous groups to protect the Park. The proposal finally reached approval in 2007 and formal recognition in 2008 through Ecuador’s new Constitution that extended rights to Nature. The initiative consisted of protecting the Yasuni National Park known for being the most biodiverse, ecologically sensitive area in the Amazon and also home to the Tagaeri and Taromenane indigenous peoples, living in voluntary isolation.
Ecuador´s “green” constitution includes the right to nature (article 71). protection of protected areas (art.407), the right to consultation regarding decisions by the state that could affect the environment (art. 308), and recognizes the territories of indigenous peoples living in voluntary isolation as intangible –meaning all extractive activities are prohibited — (art. 57), as the violation of this right means ethnocide.
How did the end of the Yasuni-ITT proposal come about? For Correa, it was simple… “The world has failed us,” he said.
But how far has the current government genuinely been interested in making the proposal work? Oil companies are already operating on the border and inside the park, among these Andes Petroleum, Repsol, Petroamazonas, Chinese company PetroOriental and other companies that have been quietly preparing for the abandonment of the proposal and start the concession round X and XI. Perhaps Plan B (exploit the park) had always really been on equal footing with Plan A (not to drill for oil).
Following Gudynas, I also ask the uncomfortable question: will the end of the moratorium to drill oil mean the beginning of the fall of the Rights to Nature?
Since Correa’s announcement, supporters of protecting Yasuni are calling for a referendum to stop this unilateral decision by Correa. To force the referendum, supporters would need to present a petition signed by 5% of the country’s 10 million voters. . Some challenges facing supporters include repression by police during peaceful protests and threats made by the President particularly to young people to withhold their entrance to Universities. So, another tough question for Ecuadoreans today: how can civil society have their voices freely heard by the central government and will alternatives to extraction be seriously considered?