By Fernando Gimeno
Quito, Aug 4 (EFE).- Less than two weeks after the Aug. 8-9 Amazon Summit in Brazil, Ecuadorians will vote in an unprecedented referendum on whether oil production can continue inside a portion of Amazonia.
Located inside Yasuni National Park, Block 43-ITT (Ishpingo, Tambococha, Tiputini) accounts for 11 percent of the roughly 480,000 barrels of oil produced daily in Ecuador.
And the more than $10 billion generated by the oil industry in 2022 constituted 8.5 percent of Ecuador’s gross domestic product.
More than 13.4 million Ecuadorians are eligible to vote on the future of oil production in Yasuni in the referendum, which coincides with early general elections on Aug. 20.
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.
The outcome of Ecuador’s referendum could have an impact in the other oil-producing Amazon nations: Brazil, Colombia, Peru, and Venezuela.
“Ecuador is going to send a message to the world,” says presidential candidate Yaku Perez, an environmentalist who wants to see his country be the first to take a major step toward abandoning petroleum.
But people in the oil industry say that crude production is compatible with conservation of Amazonia and point out that an end to drilling in Yasuni will create a hole in the government’s finances.
A curious aspect of the referendum is that production will continue in three other blocks inside Yasuni that have been exploited since the 1980s regardless of the verdict on Block 43-ITT.
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.
In campaigning for a “yes” vote on halting production in Block 43-ITT, YASunidos points to a history of disastrous spills resulting from ruptures in the pipelines that carry oil from Amazonia to ports on the Pacific coast.
Since 2009, the equivalent of more than 46,000 barrels of oil have escaped into the environment from Ecuador’s pipelines.
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.