Ecuador’s National Assembly on Thursday gave the go-ahead for oil from Yasuni National Park, an Amazonian nature reserve in the northeastern part of the country.
Approval followed a 10-hour debate, with supporters of President Rafael Correa winning by a 108 to 25 margin. Four legislators were absent and did not vote.
Environmentalists had hailed the initiative when it was announced in 2007, saying Correa was setting a precedent in the fight against global warming by lowering the high cost to poor countries of preserving the environment.
Correa had sought $3.6 billion in contributions to maintain a moratorium on Yasuni drilling. But he said Ecuador managed to raise just $13 million.
The drilling plan faces challenges from environmental and indigenous groups, who are collecting signatures in an effort to force a national referendum.
Dates have not been set for the beginning of drilling.
Loan sharks, including a gringo, arrested in sweep
Police arrested 18 suspected loan sharks in a sweep of Cuenca and Gualaceo yesterday, confiscating money and loan collateral. The arrests were part of a sweep of suspects in Azuay and Santa Elenda provinces.
Police say the loan sharks, many acting in concert, charge borrowers interest rates as high as 27% per month (324% per year) and frequently use threats and violence to make collections. Those who provided information to police prior to the arrrests were not identified because of threats to their lives.
Amongh those arrested was a North American who is suspected of providing funds to a loan shark working out of a tienda on Gran Colombia. The suspect’s name was not released.
A spokeman for the national police said that the loan sharks, known as chulqueros, prey on victims who do not quality for loans at banks or cooperatives. Many of those who use loan sharks, are gathering resources, police say, for a trip to the U.S. The spokeman warned that those providing money or other assistance to loan sharks, are considered equally culpable if arrested. “Some foreigners do not understand the consquences and think this is an easy way to make money. They need to know what happens if they are caught,” said the spokesman.
In Cuenca, the focus was on several businesses on Calles Padre Aguirre and Gran Colombia. Among the loan colleratal collected by police were deeds, jewelry fire arms, uncashed checks.
In earlier loan shark cases, those convicted were sentences to 18 months in prison.
Police have set up a hotline to collect information about alleged loan sharking. Phone numbers are 1-800-CRIME, or 1-800-335486.
Police launch anti-crime information campaign
Police are distributing information cards and brochures at 18 locations in Cuenca in an effort to combat crime, particularly for pedestrians. The information offers pointers to minimize the risk of assault and robbery.
Crime prevention suggestions include avoiding the wearing of jewelry or showing other valuables, traveling with limited amounts of cash, avoiding poorly lit areas, altering daily walking routes, avoiding walking in an inebriated state, and not stopping to pick up items on the ground.
The crime prevention campaign, called Unite for Safety, will continue through October.
Photo caption: Scene from the Yasuni preserve