The fate of the Yasuni-ITT initiative supported by 90 per cent of the Ecuadorian population now rests with the National Assembly and what it decides to do or not to do.
The Assembly has already made one decision by omission when it failed to denounce the environmental license granted to PetroAmazonas for Block 31 – even though the license legally requires the Assembly’s authorization. This omission allowed the so-called Yasuni Plan B to advance.
Pursuant to Article 407, and in consideration of the fact that that it has already pronounced on two occasions against the exploitation of oil in ITT (14 March 2008 and 8 December 2009), the National Assembly should now act to protect nature and peoples in voluntary isolation, and if there is any doubt what lies in the national interest, should conduct a referendum on the issue.
The National Assembly has an obligation toward society as a whole and is not an appendage of the executive. It is a forum for public deliberation that must reflect the country’s social and political diversity. If there is any national issue on which political actors and social advocates have expressed clear opinions, it is Yasuni, whose relevance is both domestic and international. Every Ecuadorian, whether living at home or abroad, has felt pride in being part of Yasuni. In different ways, children, youth and adults have all made their views known on more than one occasion.
To exploit oil in Yasuni means renouncing what has been considered the government’s most important single initiative. If the Yasuni initiative failed to generate the expected finance, and no coherent solution emerged other than to resort to Plan B, that is the government’s own fault. None of this can justify the extraction of crude oil from Yasuni National Park.
It is not that the world did not understand the Yasuni initiative. It is rather that the government was an ineffective advocate for it, lacking conviction and unable to provide guarantees.
If the president petitions to exploit oil in Yasuni, it is the Assembly which must apply for a permit and which should, as an act of good faith, arrange for a referendum.
In order for there to be a fully informed consultation, we Ecuadorians need to understand several things:
Who will exploit the Yasuni oil?
Recent events indicate excessive interest on the part of Chinese business in Yasuni’s oil. Chinese business has formulated an exploitation plan. Chinese interests are already present in Block 14, which connects older exploitation zones with ITT; have joined Repsol in a consortium bent on exploitation of Block 16; and are exploring in Block 31
How is damage to the environment and nature to be avoided?
Both transnational and national corporations have a record of doing grave damage to the environment even though both have claimed that they were using clean technology. In the case of Chevron-Texaco alone, more than $19 billion is due in reparations. Who will assume the environmental costs of the exploitation of Yasuni?
Who will defend the country’s interests?
In the Chevron-Texaco case, evidence has been presented that oil companies not only cause environmental and social damage, but also, in order to be able to act with impunity, rely on different ways of attacking, defaming and pressuring the state.
How will the lives of peoples in voluntary isolation be guaranteed?
Noisy and intrusive oil operations, together with the presence of third parties, have already led to violence and death in the territories of peoples in voluntary isolation. The only way of guaranteeing the lives of isolated peoples, in accordance with international regulations, is not to intervene in their territories. These peoples count on special guarantees of protection.
What will happen to the contributions already received under the Yasuni-ITT initiative?
Many people, children included, have made contributions to the cause of the non-exploitation of Yasuni oil. Advertisements have been launched, ethical commitments made, investments put into research, public monies expended … how will these accounts be closed? Who will assume responsibility for satisfying donors that the right thing has been done?
False claims of “responsible exploitation”, “use of the latest technology”, “reliance on horizontal drilling” and “adequate waste management” habitually made by the oil industry are bound to be repeated with regard to Yasuni. But beware of a new fallacy as well: that Yasuni can somehow be conserved in the face of oil exploitation through REDD projects, which are actually unconstitutional.
The only dignified, democratic and just way out is not to exploit ITT, and if there are any doubts, to conduct a national referendum.