Thursday - Jul 18, 2019

Present and future of Ecuador’s Yasumí National Park

Indigenous people from Yasuní, Ecuador.

by Orsetta Bellini

In the midst of a conflict between indigenous peoples living in the park, the Ecuadorian government will evaluate the continuity of the Yasuní-ITT Initiative.
Yasuni National Park is a wonderful part of the Amazon in northwest Ecuador. The park is second in biodiversity in the world and is home to indigenous peoples. The richness of Yasuní also lies in its soil: 20 percent of the country’s oil reserves, present in the park are some of the “assets” of the place called ITT (Ishpingo-Tambococha-Tiputini).
By late June, Ecuador’s President Rafael Correa will evaluate the continuity of the innovative Yasuní-ITT Initiative. “The logic of the initiative is that Ecuador would leave the oil reserves found in the Yasuní National Park, if he can collect funding from the international community – individuals, countries or organizations”, Osvaldo Leon, coordinator for the Ecuadorian Latin American Information Agency (ALAI), told El Reportero. “The government says we will not undertake oil explorations, but we need money for development programs. The initiative was welcomed, especially in Europe, but because of the economic crisis, many have backed down”.

The proposal was initiated by the Ecuadorian government in March 2007 and aims to keep the Yasuni underground reserves of 846 million barrels of oil untouched in the ITT field. In return, Ecuador asks the international community for at least $3,600 million, equivalent to 50 percent of the resources it would receive for oil exploration. However, also in March 2007, the government signed a memorandum of understanding with Brazil’s Petrobras, China’s Sinopec and Chile’s ENAP over the potential exploitation of ITT. In fact, the project also includes the “option B”, which allows operations in the ITT in the event that the initiative does not reach the target amount.

“It will be a difficult decision for the government because the project has been welcomed by the people of Ecuador. In terms of image, it will be difficult to opt for the exploitation of Yasuni”, says ALAI’s Osvaldo Leon. In fact, only the area of Yasuni ITT is still virgin. Since 2012, Petroamazonas started working in Block 31, an area of 200,000 hectares, of which 80 percent belongs to the park. Furthermore, from Yasuni’s Block 16, Repsol draws about 45,000 barrels a day, the Bloc Tigüino is operated by Petrobell and blocks 14 and 17, by the Chinese company Petroriental, in the border of the ITT.

The pressure of the companies operating in Yasuni is the main cause of conflict that since 2003 is bleeding the park dry. Ever since oil companies are operating in the park, indigenous peoples are being pushed into new territories because of the pollution and noise, making it difficult to hunt and to fish. Furthermore, while some Waorani peoples such as the Taromenane and Tagaeri decided to live in voluntary isolation as an extreme form of resistance to preserve their own culture, other Waorani groups accepted the presence of multinational oil companies. According to Napoleon Saltos, director of the School of Sociology at the Central University of Ecuador, some of them supported the interests of companies and have signed partnership agreements, even some leaders gave in to them.

On March 5, a group of Taromenane surpassed a Waorani couple with their boats. After a few weeks, a Waorani group in their speedboats and armed with rifles – which according to the online newspaper El Sol de Pando were provided by the same companies – fire and shot against a Taromenane cabin. Thirty people died in the dispute and two girls were abducted.

Priest Miguel Angel Cabodevilla, a scholar on the indigenous peoples of Yasuni, claims that the government is responsible for the “Policies for the Protection of Peoples in Isolation”, established in April 2007. It needs to comply with Article 57 of the Constitution of Ecuador, which states that: “the territories of peoples in voluntary isolation are irreducible and intangible ancestral possession, and they shall be closed to all extractive activities”.

Due to this tense situation, Correa will revise the initiative. By the end of April, the head of the negotiating committee for the Yasuni-ITT Initiative, Ivonne Baki, said the initiative has raised 9 percent of the total, since the government reached $ 336 million (it is unclear if it has actually raised the money or it only has been committed) and the goal is to get 3,600 million in 12 years. “The target will be achieved if in the next 12 years between 250 million and 290 million dollars are raised per year,” said Ivonne Baki. Unfortunately, this is difficult to meet, particularly in a moment of economic downturn.

“I think that eventually the Yasuní will be exploited, under the rationale that we cannot stay poor, while living over a sack of gold, so the government’s oil policy is going in this direction,” complains Ermel Chavez, leader of the Front for the Defense of the Amazon. “There are other alternatives for raising the funds that the government requires not to exploit the ITT. For example, by applying improved technology we could get more oil from existing fields where production is declining. Another way to raise money could be to stop the fuel subsidies to big companies. Furthermore, in our view, conservation should be a state policy, without conditions.”