President Correa recently decided to allow oil drilling in certain parts of the Yasuní, not only risking irreparable damage for this unique natural reserve. It may also negatively influence the life of indigenous nations or even risk the destruction of the culture of indigenous people in voluntary isolation. The decision therefore faces resistance in the Ecuadorian society but also constitutional concerns. Overall, this issue is a fight of ecology versus economic interest, and it is a struggle of the rights of indigenous people versus national interest.
The presidential decision to exploit oil in a part of the Yasuni National Park immediately became a controversial subject in the Ecuadorian society, particularly in the academic world, in the social sector, young people, environmentalists and indigenous people. In this part of the Amazon forest more than 1100 species of trees and vines, more than 600 birds, nearly 200 of the amphibians and reptiles and up to 165 mammals are native.
The villages of the Quichua, Shuaras, Huaorani people and others neighbour the oilfields. It is certain that there are inhabitants, which are not contacted and remain in voluntary isolation. The justice minister, Lenín Lara, however said there are no isolated communities in the oilfields where the drilling is planned.
Opponent groups demanded a national plebiscite on the issue. The President of the Indigenous Alliance of CONAIE, Humberto Cholango said: "The Government should consult the people
and not only the National Assembly".Tarquino Orellana, former constitutional judge, said that the Assembly cannot declare oil exploitation as "national interest" because it would violate Art. 57 of the current Constitution. The claim of unconstitutionality was registered at the Constitutional Court on fifth September.Meanwhile the leading legislative commission of biodiversity (Comisión de Biodiversidad ) discusses the issue to prepare the vote on the decree in parliament. Four legislative committees responsible for making an analysis of the presidential order to declare national interest of Yasuní blocks 31 and 43 recommended the approval of the request under certain considerations.
Protest around the country continue. Yasunidos.org reports about the "activities for the defense of #Yasuní nationwide". It is not known yet when the Constitutional Court will decide. As El Universo reported on 13 September, a second proposal for a question in a referendum was sent to the Constitutional Court of Ecuador.
In the 1960's oil discoveries marked the beginning of Ecuador's change from a rural, undeveloped country to a growing economy. But yet the country remained one of the poorest in Latin America. After a major economic crisis at the end of last century the country was forced to take the US Dollar as the national currency. Hundreds of thousands of Ecuatorians migrated and the country was in uproar.
In 2006 Raffael Correa, economist and PHD from the University of Illinois, got into power. He initiated a reform of the petroleum industry, including an increase in the percentage of petroleum revenues. He spent it on social programmes for the poor. He accused foreign oil companies of failing to meet existing environmental and investment regulations.
In 2007 President Correa proposed at the UN General Assembly to refrain from exploiting the oil reserves of the Ishpingo-Tambococha-Tiputini (ITT) oil field within the Yasuni National Park,in exchange for 50% of the value of the reserves. The Yasuni-ITT Trust Fund was officially launched in 2010. It was administered by the trust fund of the United Nations Development Program. Pledges totalling more than $100 million were made until the end of 2011. In July 2013, the commission on the Yasuni-ITT Initiative's progress concluded that economic results were insufficient. Promises of countries did not result in actual payments. Mr Correa the decided to cancel the plan on August 15, 2013 by issuing a presidential decree. He argued that Ecuador needs its natural resources to overcome poverty and wants to ensure “responsible extraction” of the oil. Because of constitutional demands to become valid, the decree needs the approval of the National Assembly, which has to issue a declaration of "national interest".
In a constitutional referendum held in Ecuador on 28 September 2008, people had ratified a new constitution, drafted by the Ecuadorian Constitutional Assembly. The new constitution recognised the rights of nature, a concept which comes from the indigenous tradition of Mother Nature, or in the language of the indigenous people’s language Pachamama. Kichwa and Shuar. The two most-widespread indigenous languages became official languages, alongside Spanish in Ecuador that has 14 indigenous nationalities and a huge biodiversity.
- Yasunidos introduce themselves in a You Tube clip
- Ecuador's instruments of direct democracy in the Direct Democracy Navigator
Text by Dr. Klaus Hofmann
Dr. Klaus Hofmann works as an academic scientist on the Direct Democracy Navigator, which features direct democracy procedures and practices worldwide. The Navigator is a global information and collaboration platform based on the general typology of modern direct democracy. Dr. Klaus Hofmann is a member of Democracy International. He works in the office of Democracy International and Mehr Demokratie in Cologne, Germany. You can contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org .