There was a reason Ecuador’s president, Rafael Correa, chose to announce his support for an initiative to forgo exploiting the Tiputini, Tambococha and Ishpingo oil fields under the Yasuni National Park – home to indigenous peoples and one of the most biodiverse places on earth – on 5 June 2007: 5 June, today, is the United Nations’ ‘World Environment Day.’
But how many people noticed that – almost exactly seven years later, following the Correa administration’s decision to abandon its officially-declared support for what has become known as the ‘Yasuni-ITT Initiative’ in which Ecuador wouldn’t exploit the oil in return for international financial compensation, following a long series of steps making it clear that a ‘Plan B’ to exploit the oil has been moving forwards at the same time, and following attempts by a collective of Ecuadorean environmental, indigenous and other civil society organizations, YASunidos, to force a referendum on the issue only to have the National Election Council (NEC) claim more than half of the signatures they collected were invalid – the Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) of plans by state oil company PetroAmazonas to exploit the Tiputini and Tambococha fields was approved by Ecuador’s Environment Ministry on 22 May, which just so happens to be the United Nations’ ‘World Biodiversity Day’?
And how many people noticed that, buried deep in the Environment Ministry document approving PetroAmazonas’s EIA, the first steps in that process were actually taken all the way back in 2010 on 9 August which just so happens to be, if you can believe it, the United Nations’ ‘International Day of the World’s Indigenous Peoples’? Indeed, that was just six days after Ecuador agreed with the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) that the latter would establish and administer a fund to collect financial contributions to not exploit the ITT oil.
The 22 May and 9 August dates are probably just cruel coincidences, but revealing ones nonetheless. Oil operations have already had, and will continue to have, significant negative impacts on Yasuni, according to scientists, and any contact with the indigenous peoples who live in ‘voluntary isolation’ there could kill many of them. Indeed, Ecuador’s Constitution states that violating such peoples’ rights ‘will constitute the crime of ethnocide’ – which explains why Ecuador’s government now claims there is no evidence of indigenous peoples in ‘voluntary isolation’ near the ITT fields or the neighbouring concession despite the fact it acknowledged they were there while it still officially supported the ‘Yasuni-ITT Initiative’ and was seeking funds.
YASunidos responded to the NEC’s verdict with claims of ‘fraud’, among other things, and has since appealed its decision and requested a re-count. According to a recent media statement, a team of academics has now conducted ‘statistical analysis’ and, according to one member of the team, Pablo Duque, YASunidos did collect enough signatures to force a referendum.
Kichwa organization ECUARUNARI responded to the NEC by filing a lawsuit demanding that operations in the ITT fields – as well as the neighbouring concesion, Block 31 – are suspended on the grounds they will constitute ‘crimes of ethnocide and ecocide and against individual and collective rights enshrined in the Constitution and international treaties.’
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