The campaign to force a national referendum on President Rafael Correa’s plan to drill for oil in the Amazonian Yasuní nature preserve is closing in on its goal of 600,000 signatures. Supporters of the drive say they have more than 480,000 signatures.
According Antonela Calle, a leader of the anti-drilling campaign, more than 60,000 volunteers are participating in the drive. “We are certain that we will reach 600,000 and hope to collect more since all the signatures will not be valid,” she said.
The petition asks potential signers the question, “Do you agree that the Ecuadorian government should keep oil in the Yasuní-ITT block in the ground indefinitely?”
In Cuenca, petition takers are posted in several locations in Parque Calderon during daylight hours.
When voter petitions are turned in to CNE by campaign managers in April, the government has 15 days to validate signatures. Within 15 days CNE must announce the result and prepare for an election if the amount of signatures meet the legal threshhold.
In August, President Rafael Correa announced the government would proceed with plans to extract Yasuní oil, following the failure of a plan to have other countries pay to keep it in the ground. “The world has failed us,” Correa said, and said Ecuador needed the revenue to continue to develop. He ordered studies to determine extraction methods that would result in the least amount of environmental damage to the area.
Those opposed to oil drilling announced they would begin collecting voter signatures to force a national vote on the issue.
In September, polls showed overwhelming voter opposition to drilling but after Correa stumped the issue, polls in December showed 55% support.
In 2007, Correa had announced a plan that asked other countries to contribute $3.6 billion to maintain a moratorium on 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.
Photo caption: Protesters of the Yasuni oil drilling plan in Quito, in September.