Oil exploitation to reduce poverty in Ecuador?

President Rafael Correa announced Aug. 15 that he now support drilling for oil beneath Yasuní National Park because the international community failed to fund US$3.6 billion Ecuador requested in exchange for not tapping into the Ishpingo, Tambococha, Tiputini (ITT) block, located in this protected area.

International cooperation only brought in US$13 million — 0.37 percent of what the government demanded to compensate for abandoning the project.

Correa said the drilling was necessary to reduce the country’s poverty levels. He dismissed the objections of environmental communities, which had hoped the national government would preserve the Yasuní National Park, considered one of the most diverse areas on earth.

At the same time, the government has also increased what it expects to receive from the exploitation of the ITT. While the reserves were originally valued at $7.2 billion during the Yasuní negotiations, that figure has jumped to $18.2 billion, reinforcing the government’s argument that drilling will reduce poverty by eliminating the housing deficit and providing basic services, schools, hospitals and other public works to the people.

The National Assembly must vote on the presidential order to drill the ITT, and several of its committees are reiterating the party line. The commissions of Economic Development, Justice, Collective Rights and Autonomous Governments already have issued positive reports.

Referendum

Environmentalists and the indigenous movement have proposed a referendum to ask: “Do you agree the Ecuadorian government should keep the ITT oil below-ground indefinitely?” The groups submitted the proposal to the Constitutional Court and are preparing to collect the 600,000 signatures needed to carry out this project.

Another group of young people raised the issue with the Court to declare Ecuador free all extractive activities, weakening the position of indigenous and environmentalist groups. Finally, more than 30 mayors in the Amazon, who are up for reelection in February, arrived in Quito and proposed a third matter with the Constitutional Court, supporting ITT drilling and allocating the income to fight poverty.

Municipal elections to be held in 2014 have strengthened local authorities’ support for the president, even those who criticized him earlier, as they are all seeking the support of the ruling party for their re-election. Several of the mayors who now support oil drilling in Yasuní were elected by the Plurinational Pachacutik Movement, the political arm of the indigenous movement and staunch opponent to the government today.

A referendum raises doubts in the human rights sector, not only because there is the risk of losing the vote, but also at stake is the survival of communities who live in the Yasuní National Park.

With the three issues before the Constitutional Court, and considering that organization’s fidelity to government policy, the court is very likely to proffer a response that strengthens the government’s position. That would dismantle the indigenous and environmentalist proposal, which hasn´t garnered the collective support required to curb the president´s decision to drill the ITT— a project that will surely affect the delicate Yasuní ecosystem, even if the government argues that it will affect one per thousand of the park’s 982,000 Hectares (2.4 million acres).

Source: Luis Ángel Saavedra | Latinamerica Press

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