Campaigners hit the road in Ecuador ahead of vote to halt oil drilling in park

Quito, Aug 14 (EFE).- Indigenous people and environmentalists set out Monday on a tour of a dozen Ecuadorian cities to urge a “yes” vote in the Aug. 20 referendum on ending oil production inside a national park in Amazonia.

“We find ourselves here today because we are going to start a caravan for peace, for life, for nature,” indigenous activist Helena Gualinga said in Quito.

Appealing for “peace in the jungle,” she said that the communities living in Block 43-ITT in Yasuni National Park “are suffering right now from the impacts of the petroleum industry.”

More than 13.4 million Ecuadorians are eligible to cast ballots in next Sunday’s referendum, which coincides with early general elections.

The referendum is the culmination of 10 years of legal battles and a petition drive by the YASunidos environmental collective, which gathered more than 757,000 signatures.

Yasuni National Park is a global treasure trove of biodiversity, with more than 2,000 species of vegetation, 204 mammal species, 610 avian species, 150 amphibian species, and more than 250 species of fish.

The park is also home to three indigenous peoples who choose to live in isolation from the modern world – the Tagaeri, Taromenane, and Dugakaeri – whose territories abut Block 43-ITT.

Members of the Waorani indigenous community in Yasuni traveled to the capital Monday to join the caravan, whose centerpiece is a flat-bed truck loaded with life-sized and larger-than-life-sized models of some of the creatures that inhabit Yasuni.

Gualinga stressed that the referendum will mark the first time such a decision about the exploitation of natural resources will be decided on the basis of a vote of the people.

Block 43-ITT is a place that is “critical for climate mitigation” and for maintaining “the climate equilibrium on the planet and in Ecuador,” she said.

“We Ecuadorians have a chance to make history, to set a very important precedent at the level of democratization of climate policy,” Gualinga said.

Lola Piaguaje, vice president of the Confederation of Indigenous Nationalities of Ecuadorian Amazonia (Confenaie), said that a decade of oil production in Block 43-ITT “has polluted us, has damaged rivers, has brought illness.”

“We want to tell the entire world, all of the Ecuadorian citizens, that today is the moment to decide, that it’s the moment to save our lives, that it’s the moment to demonstrate to the entire world that ‘yes we can,'” said Zenaida Yasacama, vice president of Conaie, the country’s most powerful indigenous organization.

She also challenged the claim that halting oil production in 43-ITT would cost Ecuador’s government $1.2 billion in lost revenue, insisting that continued drilling would only benefit “those who have more.”

Block 43-ITT (Ishpingo, Tambococha, Tiputini) accounts for 11 percent of the roughly 480,000 barrels of oil produced daily in Ecuador, while the more than $10 billion generated by the oil industry in 2022 constituted 8.5 percent of the country’s gross domestic product.

During the first year of his 2007-2017 tenure as president, Rafael Correa launched the Yasuni-ITT Initiative, which envisioned Ecuador’s leaving more than a billion barrels of oil in the ground in exchange for $3.6 billion from the international community, half the market value of the petroleum at 2007 prices.

Correa abandoned the plan in 2013, noting that wealthy nations pledged only $336 million and delivered a mere $13.3 million.

EFE ime/dr

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