(by: María Celleri)
As is true of most uprisings, the protests against drilling for oil in the Yasuni National Park in Ecuador were fervently ongoing in August of last year, but have severely diminished. Still, although mass media coverage has forgotten about the Yasuni, protests do indeed continue in Ecuador in an effort to stop president Rafael Correa from allowing Chevron to drill in two oil reserve lots inside the park.
Just a few weeks ago, the Yasunidos Collective gathered in El Ejido Park in Quito to continue to collect signatures in favor of stopping the President’s efforts. As of mid-January, Yasunidos has collected around 150,000 signatures. This is a reminder that although international media coverage forgets collective efforts when they have diminished in size and fervor, the protests in favor of protecting the Yasuni continue and should continue because they affect everybody.
Background: Yasuni ITT
The Yasuni ITT Initiative begun in 2010 by current Ecuadorian President Rafael Correa. The initiative proposed that Ecuador would refrain from exploiting the oil reserves in Yasuni National Park, which contains 20% of the country’s oil reserves if the international community covered 50% of the economic costs of preserving the Yasuni. The progressive and socialist president had made an unprecedented move, a radical change for a country that had undergone financial crisis after having privatized their oil industry and sold of their rights to private American companies at the end of the 20th century.
In August 2013, president Correa announced that the Initiative would be terminated because “the initiative was ahead of the times, and could not or would not be understood by those responsible for climate change,” exclaimed Correa. The initiative was terminated under the presumption that the efforts made had not been enough to protect the Yasuni. The quote above is interesting because it places the blame on the international community and their failure to both promote environmental protection and awareness, while presumably ignoring the president’s plea to balance the pressure of capitalism and the global economy to sell the oil preserves at the cost of exploiting the land and displacing the populations living there; not to mention the failure to combat the pervading globalization of neoliberalism.
What the initiative did was highlight the ways that the international community is complicit in the exploitation of a national resource, hence, asking them to help stop the exploitative mechanisms of the global economy. By pointing to the international community’s failure, Correa attempted to displace the anger that the Ecuadorian indigenous, environmentalist, and student movements demonstrated upon his announcement. Let’s be clear, Correa is not and was not acting alone in his decision to stop Yasuni ITT, but as head of the state, we see the ways in which the local/global divide that Correa has attempted to blur with the Initiative become reinstituted during the protests.
After Correa’s announcement to terminate the Yasuni ITT Initiative, fervent protests began across the country. The biggest demonstrations were in Quito, in front of the presidential palace. Most demonstrations were organized by the Confederation of Indigenous Nationalities of Ecuador (CONAIE) and Confederation of Peoples of Kichwa Nationality (Ecuarunari). Protestors were attacked by police forces, which bombarded protestors with rubber pellets. Many others were also arrested; among them, CONAIE president, Marco Guatemal and Ecuarunai president, Carlos Perez. Perez stated, “We are not doing anything that goes against the law, nor are we looking to destabilize the government, we are just against this extractivist model.”
The national uprising, headed by indigenous-rights groups, environmentalists, and youth movements, speak to the growing disenchantment with progressive president Correa. While denouncing the neoliberal models that had, according to Correa, ‘looted’ the country, the termination of the initiative was met with confusion and disappointment. Especially after Correa’s statement that activists where acting ‘childishly.’
Although mass media seems to have forgotten the Yasuni, perhaps because there is no more fervent uprising to cover, organizations continue to work against the extraction that is forthcoming. According to article 104 of the Ecuadorian constitution, a state action will go in for popular vote if 5% of the population denounces it. Hence, organizations are working fervently to collect signatures; a total of 600,000 must be collected by mid-April. Although only Ecuadorian citizens can sign the petition, it is important to remember the global impact of the decision.
It is indigenous-rights activists that have been working hard to stop the extraction. The lots that will be used for the extraction are inhabited by two indigenous peoples that have, until now, been undisturbed. Correa’s presidency saw the birth of a new political movement for Ecuador, as well as a new constitution in 2008, declaring the country a plurinational and intercultural state that promotes Sumak Kawsay (Art of Good Living), which follows a sustainable form of living with Pachamama (Mother Earth).
Aside from the importance for local communities, Yasuni National Park counts with 5,000 plant-, 2,274 tree-, 596 bird-, 271 reptile-, 499 fish-, and 204 mammal-species to one of the most diverse ecosystems of the world. Drilling in Yasuni would cause major deforestation and increase CO2 emission, producing ripple effect throughout the globe. As it already is, climate change cannot be ignored, given the events of the past few months: the Polar Vortex, major droughts in the west coast of the United States and Africa, and snowfall in Egypt and the Philippines, just to name a few current events.
Who is the international community that Correa refers to in his pleas and complaints, who is complicit in the exploitation of natural resources and climate change? Well, we can’t be sure. This community seems to be different governments, institutions, and celebrities that donated to Yasuni ITT, administered by the Multi-Donor Trust Fund of the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP). But how are we all complicit and at the same time affected by the exploitation of the Yasuni? Why is it important to not forget efforts no longer in the news and our Facebook and Twitter feed?
It seems more imperative to challenge Correa’s assertions and use of vague terminology such as, “international community” by remembering that drilling in the Yasuni imbricates the local, national, and global community.