The organizers of a petition drive to save the Yasuní nature preserve from oil drilling are claiming they are being harassed by the government.
The drive is within its last month and is closing in on its goal of obtaining the 580,000 voter signatures necessary to force a national referendum on the issue.
Jorge Espinosa, a spokesman for the Yasuní group, criticized the government on Wednesday for offering critical opinions about the petition drive. In particular, he called comments by Domingo Paredes, president of the National Electoral Council (CNE) “inappropriate.” CNE is the agency that will certify the signatures collected by the Yansui supporters.
Espinosa has also charged the government with intimidating petition drive organizers and petition takers in major Ecuadorian cities, often physicially.
Because of government tactics, Espinsosa said his group now plans to collect as many as one million signatures, instead of the 600,000 originally planned. “We need to have many more than required because we think the government will otherwise make it difficult for us to get the question on the ballot.”
The petition drive to save the Yansui from oil drilling followed President Rafael Correa’s decision in August to open the area for production. Six years ago he had asked world governments to provide money to keep the oil in the ground to protect the fragile Yansuní environment. International money collected fell far short of the goal and Correa announced last year that his government would proceed with drilling.