Environmental activists who staged a sit-in last week at the National Electoral Council (CNE) in Quito say the fight to stop oil and mining projects in Ecuador is just beginning.
Specifically, the protesters known collectively as the Yasunidos, were demanding that the CNE allow a national referendum on oil drilling in the Yasuní National Park, in Ecuador’s eastern Amazonia. The group claims that the government of former president Rafael Correa illegally blocked the referendum in 2013 by refusing to accept 300,000 voter signatures.
At the time, CNE cited several reasons for not accepting the signatures, including the fact that they were not on officially approved forms. In total, the Yasunidos collected 757,000 signatures, about 600,000 of which were required for a referendum.
“We were defrauded and people of Ecuador were defrauded by the government and today we are demanding justice and that the referendum be allowed to go forward,” says Yasunidos leader Antonella Calle. “We now know through email and phone records that the president and his cronies directed CNE to stop our petition because he wanted to exploit the oil in the jungle. This was confirmed by an investigation of the Citizen Participation Council.”
Calle added that Correa broke a promise to protect the Yasuní, considered by biologists to be one of the most bio-diverse place on earth, when he allowed oil drilling to begin in 2014. “He lied when he said he would preserve the jungle and then he illegally stopped our referendum,” she says.
In 2007, Correa announced a plan that asked other countries to contribute $3.6 billion to maintain a moratorium on oil drilling in Yasuní. The area was declared a biosphere reserve by the United Nations in 1989 and is home to a number of indigenous groups, including the Waoranis. Five years later, after the preservation campaign had raised less than $50 million, Correa claimed that “the world has failed us” and announced that oil production in the area would begin.
Currently, there are three oil production sites in the Yasuní.
When the anti-drilling petition drive began in 2013, Correa denounced the Yasunidos as “spoiled children” and “silly environmentalists.”
According to Calle, the fight against oil and mining extraction is just beginning. “This is a national crusade supported by millions of Ecuadorians,” she said. “We are joining our friend in Cuenca, Yaku Perez, to fight the destruction of our land and the pollution of our water. The next government will have to listen to us.”
Perez has taken his case against mining in Azuay Province to the Constitutional Court, asking that a province-wide referendum be allowed to determine if mining is allowed.
Calle says that President Lenin Moreno has followed Correa in “betraying” Ecuador’s natural heritage. “On the most important issue, there is no difference between Correa and Moreno. Both want to rape the land for money and the voices to stop this will prevail in coming elections.”