Legal experts agree that voters’ decision to end oil production in Yasuní cannot be ignored

Jan 25, 2024 | 0 comments

Although President Daniel Noboa has joined several National Assembly members in recommending a delay in ending oil production in Yasuní National Park, legal experts say the idea is a “no go.”

An oil production facility in Yasuní National Park.

In the May national election, Ecuadorians voted 60% to 40% to end operations in the park, considered to be one of the most biodiverse regions on world. According to its sponsors, the referendum should have been presented to voters in 2014 but was stopped by “fraudulent and undemocratic” tactics of the government of former president Rafael Correa.

Among the suggestions first put forward by members of the Social Christian and Citizens Revolution Assembly members, are a one- or two-year delay in ending production, a revote on the public referendum ending operations, or ignoring voter intentions altogether.

Noboa says he supports the one-year option based on Ecuador’s internal armed conflict against criminal gangs. “Under the emergency, I believe a delay is justified for the purpose of fighting terrorists and providing funding for essential government services,” he said. “I respect the vote and that’s why I only suggest a one-year delay in dismantling Yasuni ITT operations.”

The government estimates that the Yasuní oil fields would contribute about $1 billion a year to the national budget if it is allowed to maintain operations.

The Cuenca-based Yasunidos Collective, which sponsored the May referendum, has expressed outrage at the idea of a delay. “This indicates a total betrayal on the part of Daniel Noboa who, as a presidential candidate, supported the referendum,” said Yasunidos spokesman Klever Calle. “Now, suddenly, he becomes a connoisseur of the oil market and wants to keep pumping.”

Calle added: “So, like Rafael Correa and Guillermo Lasso, Noboa is invoking the specter of emergency to ignore the will of the people.”

According to legal experts, the debate is a non-starter. “The vote cannot be ignored and there can be no delay,” says constitutional lawyer Juan Vidal. “Ecuador’s constitution guarantees the right of citizen participation through direct democracy in a consultation and the people’s decision cannot be over-ruled. The issue cannot go forward in the Assembly, even with the support of the president. The case is closed.”

President of the Azuay Bar Association Rubén Calle (no relation to Klever), agrees with Vidal. “The referendum must be respected, and no delay will be allowed. If it is necessary, the Constitutional Court will step in and tell the president and the Assembly to proceed no further with this.”

Klever Calle says he is not “seriously worried” about the referendum result being delayed or ignored. “The Assembly’s and Noboa’s plan will go nowhere according to those who understand the constitution. We are prepared to fight but I doubt it will be necessary.”

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