Only three candidates respond to ‘most important’ issue of the election, the Yasuní referendum

Aug 7, 2023 | 0 comments

Of Ecuador’s eight presidential candidates, only three responded last week to a Quito’s newspaper question of where they stood on the Yasuní oil referendum. Yaku Pérez and Fernando Villavicencio said they would vote “yes” to end oil production while Otto Sonenholzner said he believed the “yes” vote would prevail, creating a funding crisis for the next government.

An oil rig in Yasuní National Park.

The La Hora reporter who submitted the Yasuní question to the candidates said he was not surprised that five candidates did not respond. “The consultation is very controversial and expressing a strong opinion could have an impact on the election outcome,” said Juan Martin. “It is probably the most important issue on the August 20 ballot, even more important that who wins the presidency, since a ‘yes’ victory will present a huge problem for the next government.”

Yaku Pérez, who stated his support of a “yes” vote on the referendum before the campaign began, called it a “no brainer” to end oil extraction in the Amazon. “Saying yes to Yasuní is defending water, life, biodiversity, and taking care of the planet,” he said. “The Yasuní is our identity, it is an essential part of the lungs of the world, the Amazon.”

Pérez calls “selfishly insane” the claim by defenders of oil drilling that Ecuador cannot live without the income from Yasuní. “They say we will lose $1.2 billion a year, but this is a lie. The real number is $148 million, equivalent to 0.5% of the general budget.”

According to Pérez, there are several ways to recover the lost funds. “We can begin by collecting the $2 billion in taxes owed by large economic groups. This is not the crisis the oil defenders claim it is.”

Villavicencio agrees with Pérez but says the long-term impact of a “yes” vote will require a “fundamental readjustment” of national values and the way the government raises money. “I am the only candidate who knows Yasuní intimately. I have been to the park many times and have toured its great waters system. Only a madman would destroy the Yasuní for money. This candidate is going to vote ‘yes’ on the consultation.”

Villavicencio says recovering lost revenue from Yasuní oil will force the government and Ecuadorians to prioritize the country’s needs. “Yes, there will be hundreds of millions of dollars to replace to finance education, health and public works but this must be faced for the benefit of our future. My government will propose a comprehensive reform of the public finance system to meet critical needs without destroying the environment. First, we must confront and eliminate inefficiencies, waste and corruption, and thus compensate for the reduction in revenues.”

Although he was equivocal about whether he supports “yes” on Yasuní, Sonenholzner assumes it will pass. “We must accept the reality that the Amazon is a great treasure that everyone needs, not just Ecuadorians but the world. It is difficult to oppose the idea of preservation.”

On the other hand, Sonenholzner says the next government must deal with the “people’s decision” and restore the lost income. “First, we must be clear in our priorities for the country. Then, we must develop a program to replace revenues from oil. We must combat tax evasion and ensure everyone is paying what they owe. Those who have more, must pay more, and my government will ensure that they do. Finally, we will seek efficiency in government by allowing the state to do more with less, thus protecting the resources of all Ecuadorians.”

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