Indigenous groups are up in arms over Ecuador’s decision to open over three million hectares of untouched Amazon rainforest to oil development.
What’s going on? In 2010, Ecuador was admired for its commitment to close off Yasuní National Park to oil drilling, where an estimated 846 million barrels lay untapped – its largest oil reserve.
And last year, the country won an epic battle with Chevron after it despoiled Amazonian rivers with 16 billion gallons of oil sludge from 1964-1990.
But now, the government is pitching oil contracts to Chinese oil companies (and others), without consulting with the indigenous people that live there.
"Any drilling activities on our lands will be met with fierce resistance. We’ve seen the impact of oil extraction in Ecuador and the world and we know that it only brings contamination, poverty, and cultural destruction. We will defend our sacred lands and culture as we have for millennia," says Jaime Vargas, President of the Achuar Nationality.
"These guys are not thinking about development or about fighting against poverty," Andrés Donoso Fabara, Ecuador’s secretary of hydrocarbons, told The Guardian.
Ecuador owes $7 billion to China, more than a tenth of its GDP. China helped fund Ecuador’s biggest hydro plant and may soon finance a $12.5 billion oil refinery, reports The Guardian.
"My understanding is that this is more of a debt issue – it’s because the Ecuadoreans are so dependent on the Chinese to finance their development that they’re willing to compromise in other areas such as social and environmental regulations," Adam Zuckerman, environmental and human rights campaigner at Amazon Watch, told The Guardian.
Last year, the Inter-American Court on Human Rights ruled to prohibit oil development in the Sarayaku, an area that’s only accessible by boat or airplane, specifically to preserve its rich cultural heritage and biodiversity. The ruling also made it clear that indigenous groups must give "free, prior and informed consent" before the government can pursue oil development on their lands.
In 2008, Ecuador was the first country in the world to codify the rights of nature into its constitution. Articles 10 and 71-74, recognize the inalienable rights of ecosystems to exist and flourish, gives people the authority to petition on the behalf of ecosystems, and requires the government to remedy violations of these rights. Bolivia is the only other country that has also done this.
Ecuador’s constitution is the first to recognize legally enforceable Rights of Nature, or ecosystem rights. Article 71-74 prohibits extraction of non-renewable resources in protected areas. Moreover, the production of monocultures will be avoided for reforestation and rehabilitation of the soil.
Clearly, these acts violate Ecuador’s constitution. It looks like Ecuador’s government is also ditching the commitment not to drill in Yasuni National Park: