Claiming that “the world has failed us,” President Rafael Correa said Thursday night that he is giving up on a plan to persuade the world’s rich countries to help Ecuador protect a pristine section of the Amazon rainforest from oil drilling.
He said that the country needs the revenue from oil production in the Yasuní National Park and said that studies should begin immediately to determine how to proceed with the least amount of environmental damage.
In 2007, Correa announcd a plan that asked other countries to contribute $3.6 billion to maintain a moratorium on drilling in Yasuní. located in northeastern Ecuador. The area was declared a biosphere reserve by the United Nations in 1989 and is home to a number of indigenous groups.
At the time, environmentalists applauded the initiative as a bold move to protect the planet against global warming and to preserve an untouched piece of the Amazon jungle.
To date, only $13 million has been collected for the project, with another $22 million pledged. “It was not charity that we sought, but co-responsibility from the world’s nations in the face of climate change.”
Although Correa said that the global recession was partly responsible for the lack of response, he chiefly blamed “the great hypocrisy” of nations who emit most of the world’s greenhouse gases.
The decision to drill is sure to generate strong protests from indigenous groups in the Amazon region. Members of two organizations that represent jungle residents say they will “fight to the death” to stop development in what they consider their homeland.
The government says that the estimated 800 to 1,000 million barrels of heavy crude in the Yasuní will generate as much as $9 billion in revenue over a 10 year period. Correa said that the money was needed to continue improvements in education, health care and infrastructure. “We will protect our environment but the needs of people must come first,” he said.
Correa is sending his proposal to the National Assembly where there is sure to be heated debate. Although Correa’s party enjoys a large majority in the assembly, several party members are from the Amazon and say they are prepared for a fight.
Both opponents and supporters of drilling say that it could be years before the issue is resolved. Based on a reading of the constitution, some say that the final decision on drilling must be made by the country’s voters. In a poll taken last week, 86% of respondents said they were against Yasuní drilling.
Correa says his oil production proposal involves no more than 1% of the Yasuní park’s 3,800 square miles. “This will be an intensely environmentally sensitive project,” Correa said.
Yasuni is not the only oil drilling that Correa’s government plans in the rainforest. He is also seeking to auction oil concessions in 13 blocks of 770 square miles each south of Yasuní, close to the border with Peru.
Photo caption: Yasuni National Park