Business & Economy

Ecuador indigenous communities oppose effort to ban oil production in Amazon block

Ishpingo, Ecuador, Jun 22 (EFE).- Proponents of a ban on oil production within a portion of the Ecuadorian Amazon’s Yasuni National Park are being opposed in that effort by at least two of the seven indigenous communities that reside in the area of influence.

The matter is to be decided in a plebiscite that will be held on Aug. 20 in conjunction with an early general election scheduled for that same day.

The Yasunidos environmental collective is promoting the referendum with the argument that oil drilling adversely affects the natural heritage of Yasuni, one of the world’s most biodiverse areas, and endangers indigenous communities that live in voluntary isolation.

Following a 10-year legal battle to approve the plebiscite, Ecuadorians will now vote on whether to halt production in Block 43-ITT (Ishpingo, Tambococha and Tiputini), the country’s fourth-most productive block with output of 55,000 barrels per day.

A “yes” vote would mean leaving the block’s vast reserves, which state oil company Petroecuador values at nearly $14 billion, indefinitely underground.

But a spokesman for the Boca Tiputini community, part of the Kichwa indigenous group, said he does not share the vision of the referendum’s promoters.

Lauro Papa explained that he supports drilling in that block because compensation agreements reached with Petroecuador “have given us development, health and education.”

An assembly therefore has been convened for June 30 in Boca Tiputini to bring together the 16 Kichwa communities in Aguarico Canton – the region of the northeastern province of Orellana where the 43-ITT block is located – and express support for a “no” vote in the plebiscite.

“We’ll meet up to tell the Ecuadorian people that keeping the oil underground isn’t responsible because it affects all Ecuadorians,” Papa said.

That resident of Boca Tiputini said the community’s relations with Petroecuador have been cordial since oil production began at the block in 2016, adding that the various compensation agreements have included programs in the areas of employment, health, education and infrastructure.

“In the environmental aspect … the oil company has acted responsibly. So far, we haven’t had any pollution in our territory,” Papa said.

Mary Grefa, another spokesperson in Boca Tiputini echoed those sentiments and denied that inhabitants of the community were divided over the issue.

“All of the parishes in the canton oppose the idea of the oil staying underground,” the woman said.

“They come to us saying not to keep drilling, but we don’t agree. Thanks to the company, we have everything,” she added.

Panenky Ohe Huabe, president of the Kawymeno community, part of the Waorani indigenous group, criticized the Yasunidos collective for not having been in the area when a prior consultation was held in the communities to approve Petroecuador’s entry.

“As owner of Block 43, we want drilling to continue because we live from that. If they want to talk, they’re welcome to come,” Huabe told reporters from different media organizations, including Efe, who visited the Block 43-ITT’s area of influence.

Huabe also criticized the president of the Waorani Nationality of Ecuador (Nawe), Juan Bay, for opposing the Kawymeno community’s position and calling for the end of the oil industry at international conferences.

In addition, the Kawymeno community’s president underscored the operation’s environmental protection efforts and said he had never seen any oil spills.

He also challenged the promoters of the referendum to go a step further and push for a ban on oil drilling throughout the Amazon region and not only in the ITT.

If the “yes” side emerges victorious in the referendum, Petroecuador will have to abandon Block 43-ITT within a year and the Ecuadorian state will lose $1.2 billion in annual income from the sale of crude, according to figures from that state oil company. EFE

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