Original Yasuni Proposal Would Have Made Ecuador a Pilot Project for Green Development

The failure of this initiative points at an important issue of our times, the necessity to balance civilization’s growth and the well being and preservation of our planet and its biosphere.

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Story Transcript

OSCAR LEÓN, TRNN PRODUCER: On October 3, 2013, Ecuador’s National Assembly authorized the project to drill for oil in the Yasuní national forest, which is a biosphere reserve and home of endemic tribes and unique animal species.

It is estimated by the Ecuadorian government that in that area, there are around 920 millions barrels of crude oil.

The original proposal called Yasuní-ITT came from the “good living”, or sumac kawsay, an ideology that has been a fundamental component of Ecuador’s revolutionary process.

Alberto Acosta explained the concept of good living.

ALBERTO ACOSTA, FMR. CHAIRMAN, ECUADORIAN CONSTITUENT ASSEMBLY (SUBTITLED TRANSL.): Sumac kawsay is a Quechua word for “good living”. It is a different way of understanding development that could solve the world’s problems–the ones you mentioned, the energy crisis, a potential food crisis, the environmental crisis, the social crisis, and the economic one. The solution to all this has to do with rethinking our ways of living. It is about living in harmony within ourselves, among ourselves, with our families, with the communities and the rest of inhabitants of our planet. Living in harmony is the fundamental piece, specially with nature, our mother nature. We have to stop trying to control and impose our agendas on nature.

LEÓN: The Yasuní-ITT initiative could have been beneficial for the planet in many ways:

• preventing the release of an estimated 400 million tons of CO2 into the atmosphere, further warming the planet;

• preserving the unique biosphere and the tribal people’s millennial culture;

• developing a new “all green energy” initiative, bringing with it the social and economical benefits of such a large task;

• preserving the forest and planting new trees in areas devastated by logging;

• turning the settlers from unsustainable crops to organic sustainable ones.

President Correa has taken credit for the initiative many times, but according to journalist Joan Martinez Alier writing for ALAI, radical ecological groups like Acción Ecológica and Oilwatch should get the credit for conceiving the original proposal. He details that Alberto Acosta, then minister of energy, passed it to Correa, who decided to support it.

Esperanza Martinez from Acción Ecológica confirmed to us that it was Oilwatch the organization responsible for the original draft back in 2005.

A first negotiation commission was formed, led by Roque Sevilla, a successful tourism entrepreneur, along with many other respected figures in a number of fields. This initiative, called Yasuní-ITT, did gather international attention.

The UNDP (the United Nations Development Program) and the German Parliament committed to the effort as long as there were clear audits to prevent corruption, a common practice in the past Ecuadorian administrations. For that, an agreement with the UNDP was to be signed. The UN development agency was to comanage the fund, where donors will have deposit the money. The date was set: November 9, 2009 on Copenhagen, Denmark. Not only Germany, but Spain, Belgium, Sweden, France, and many others where among the list of possible donors.

On November 5, 2009, four days before the signature of the pre-treaty, President Rafael Correa canceled the trip to Denmark and prohibited its signature. Sevilla and almost every other top negotiator resigned after a speech by the president where he called the conditions to supervise the spending of the money “shameful” and “an affront to Ecuador’s sovereignty”.

On 2010, an oil and energy reform law was passed, forcing all 24 contracts to be renegotiated. Half of the companies opted out of the country. So private energy companies were not prone to help Ecuador in its “green initiative”. The political implications of this are considerable, especially added to the obvious breakdown in the negotiations with UNDP and European countries.

As a result of the conditions Correa’s new team brought forward, with no oversight on the spending of the money donated, only $13.3 million were deposited by August 2013.

Finally, on August 15, 2013, Correa proposed the exploitation for oil in the Yasuní.

RAFAEL CORREA, PRESIDENT OF ECUADOR (SUBTITLED TRANSL.): More than six years ago, with much joy, enthusiasm, and perhaps a level of naivete, we introduced to the world the Yasuní-ITT initiative.

What we were asking was not charity; it was joint responsibility in the struggle against climate change. We were going to be the main contributor in this, despite the fact that compared to other nations we are not a significant polluter. We would have sacrificed $3.6 billion in oil revenues. The compensation demanded made perfect sense in environmental and economic terms. It constituted fair payment for generating environmental resources.

Without the Amazon jungle, the main lung of the world, life on the planet would probably disappear. Despite that, Amazon countries like ours receive nothing in return for a resource that is vital for all life.

The proposal was intended to raise the world’s awareness, and to create a new reality, going from words to deeds, demanding joint responsibility from the international community in the struggle against global warming.

Unfortunately, we have to say that the world has failed us.

LEÓN: This decision angered ecologists, students, indigenous, and citizens in general, among which there are many former Correa sympathizers, mainly educated middle class. While there have not been massive protests, many denounce police repression and official harassment and intimidation by the administration, which has also launched a massive media campaign favoring Yasuní’s exploitation.

President Correa accepted a popular vote on whether the Yasuní can be drilled for oil or not. Now the activists need to gather over half a million signatures to qualify for such process.

CARLOS ANDRÉS VERA, JOURNALIST: What I learned is that economic considerations are not the only considerations worth considering, worth taking. Right now we are talking about economics. We’re not talking about environment and the people living in these environment. And we’re not talking about their value and we’re not considering their true value. This cannot be measured in dollars. This can not be measured, you know, in economic terms.

LEÓN: According to Cedatos-Gallup, on September 2013, while 76 percent of Ecuadorians approved the Yasuní-ITT initiative, only 36 percent believed the oil should be exploited, in case the international community fails to donate the money. But by October, just 30 days later, 55 percent of Ecuadorians backed the president’s decision.

Despite popular support to the idea of drilling, intellectuals and scientists express worry. The scientific journal PLOS ONE recently published an open letter from 100 scientist from many different countries expressing their concern for potential risks they believe the Yasuní and all of the life it contains face after this decision.

FERNANDO EHLERS, JOURNALIST, TV HOST: But there is always this 1 percent that can go wrong. And when it does go wrong, it can contaminate and can pollute hundreds and thousands of acres, especially because oil, once it gets into water, it can move very fast and pollute large areas that are almost impossible to clean up afterwards. So I think even though the technology may be there, the will for have a clean operation may be there, the statistics show that it’s almost impossible to have an oil operation that’s 100 percent free of contamination.

LEÓN: In Ecuador’s new constitution constructed under Correa’s first administration, in Article 57.7 it mandates a consultation with local communities before establishing any project that can impact the zone. On point 11 it forbids to displace any indigenous groups from their ancestral lands. There are many other precise regulations that normally will ban the oil drilling in the Yasuní National Park and world biosphere reserve.

Father Miguel Angel Cabo de Villa is perhaps the person who has spent more time with the Waorani. With more than 30 years working in the area, he has written many books about them.

MIGUEL ANGEL CABO DE VILLA, PRIEST, 30 YEARS IN THE AREA (SUBTITLED TRANSL.): If Ecuador mean what the Constitution says and the government really mean his words, then the first investment to be done is in knowledge of the facts.

What good is it for, all the laws and promises, all the sweet talk, if we don’t know who is there and who isn’t, where and how many they are? We have never done a serious attempt at knowing about it.

The big oil bosses keep saying, “Can you prove to us that there is people there in Block 31?”

I told him, “Sir, you obviously haven’t read your country’s own Constitution at all. In there you can find a concept called presumption. In there it says, ‘If they are presumed to be there, presumed only, you can’t drill in there’. It does not need to be proven.”

Now, in the National Assembly, people who are not aware of the subject, who is not prepared for it, in only four days had to decide about drilling, when in six years no effort was made to collect any information about the subject. I find this unbelievably cynical.

LEÓN: The failure of this initiative points at an important issue of our times, the necessity to balance civilization’s growth and the well-being and preservation of our planet and its biosphere.

For The Real News, this is Oscar León.

End

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