A key government official responsible for developing the Yasuní-ITT proposal to keep some of Ecuador's oil in the ground, has recently handed in her resignation. Juana Ramos resigned her post citing ‘personal reasons’. This follows the resignation of Alberto Costa, the main architect of the groundbreaking proposal from his position as chair of Ecuador's Constituent Assembly.
What does all this mean?
None of the officials have cited lack of support for the Yasuní among their reasons for resigning. But it is no secret that the body headed by Juana Ramos was badly set up, under-funded and under resourced. Unsurprisingly, its achievements have been disappointing – to put it politely.
All of which helps to create the impression that the Rafael Correa’s government is ‘not serious’ about saving Yasuní. An impression reinforced by the fact that the Government has again been in talks with oil companies eager to exploit the Yasuní-ITT field.
However, it has always been the Government’s policy to pursue a twin-track approach: to try and get the international community interested enough in saving the rainforest to come up with compensation for loss in oil revenues, while at the same time talking with the oil companies in case the plan fails.
The Government’s ambivalence – or worse – is not reason to give up the campaign to save Yasuní. On the contrary. It makes it all the more urgent and imperative that international pressure is exerted on Ecuador to keep the oil in the ground.
For those of us in other countries, that means putting pressure on our own governments to back the Yasuní-ITT. So far only the Spanish Government has come up with an offer, for four million euros. The German Government has said it will support the initiative, but has yet to define how.
Time is running out. Ecuador has said that if there is not more backing for the scheme by October the oil field will be licensed for exploitation.
However, there is a glimmer of hope from another quarter. The Constituent Assembly – which is in the process of drawing up a new draft constitution for Ecuador – has recently approved the first reading of a clause that will forbid oil exploitation in designated national parks – of which Yasuní is one.
If this clause gets through its second reading, it will form part of the draft constitution which will be presented to the people in a referendum within the next few months.
Meanwhile, we need to keep the pressure our governments (for addresses click here) to do their bit to Save Yasuní – not only for its own sake but because it would provide a do-able model for helping poorer countries to keep fossil fuels in the ground, to protect their rainforests, and help save our global climate.
See the July issue of New Internationalist – Viva Yasuní – Life vs Big Oil
And here is a heartfelt open letter that Ecuadorian writer and environmentalist Fabrico Guamán (see NI 413) sent to his President, Rafael Correa, from the foot of the Andes:
Of dignity and indignation
Letter to the President of the Republic of Ecuador
A few months ago (eight to be exact) I wrote you a letter, and am still awaiting a reply. But since waiting has been our custom, I am writing to you again, not in the hope that you in your dignity will deign to reply, but, as one hopes in these situations, that you will not leave us with folded arms in the face of such abandonment of dignity (note the small letters).
Just a few months ago my son was born; he’s called Amaru. He was conceived and born in this green-painted citizens’ revolution, with the expectation that he would live his life surrounded by these winds of change. In order to bring a new life into this world one must think about it seriously, not only because of the curse of global warming, but because of those certainties which become illusions through those dignitaries who govern from above and who, in one way or another, screw up those of us below, and especially the smallest.
In my earlier letter I told you, ‘if for you (and the other dignitaries) Amazonia remains as it is (oil, big money, neo-liberalism, exploitation, pollution and cultural extermination), don’t count on us in building that mirage and that lie of a country…’
To be honest, when I listened to you and the other dignitaries discussing the possibility of preventing the flow of oil from the ITT field, situated in our Amazonia, I was suspicious. But after hearing you in Government House, in several Saturday radio programmes, before the United Nations, and finally in that blessed, resounding event ‘Latin Climate’, by then I was convinced. But it was a pretence of greenness, just a façade.
This time I’m not going to talk to you about the environment, or biodiversity, or peoples in voluntary isolation, or the reserves of the biosphere, or the left or the right, but simply about DIGNITY and SOLIDARITY – hollow and empty words in these globalized times.
I say to you that my grandparents told me, ‘the present is spoken of as individual, the past and the future as communal. Thus death is a matter which only has power in an individual sense, and life is only possible communally’.
You say, or said, ‘For the first time an oil country, Ecuador, where a third of its resources depend on the exploitation of that resource, renounces that income for the wellbeing of humanity and invites the world to contribute to that effort through just compensation, so that together we may establish the foundations of a more humane and more just civilisation.’
We are many, the men and women of below who have laboured for many years that proposals of this kind might arrive where they have arrived. In my own case, the Yasuní has been my school, my home, my dreams; it has been the place where I began to understand the words and ways of my grandparents; it has been Amazonia for me and for many like us.
It is here, too, where our elders told me that ‘to know the intentions of those who seek power one must not listen to voices directed downwards, but to those directed upwards. One must listen to what is offered to those who command in reality.’
Our elders are not mistaken. And as they told me in similar circumstances: ‘We confront things that are impossible today,’ and they added: ‘Time is always short, but there is no shortage of hopes.’
The proposal called Yasuní-ITT, for those of us who continue to daydream, is an act of that DIGNITY, but especially of that SOLIDARITY clothed in rebellion and joy and written (and lived) in capital letters.
But that DIGNITY is missing in those dignitaries who believe these words are synonyms, or at least equivalents, of delay or postponement.
That SOLIDARITY is conjugated in the collective, in the past and the future.
To leave the oil under the ground, with everything which that implies, is an act that shows not only dignity, but, above all, solidarity. Solidarity with our elders, with the departed, with our memory, with our past. Solidarity with our young, with those yet to come, with our dreams, with our hopes of another today. Solidarity with our environment and with those around us, that is, with our planet in its global roundness.
Our elders teach us on their journey that ‘solidarity which does not give without conditions, without expecting anything in exchange, is no more than another kind of usury, which sets out to profit from others’ pain and struggle’.
In other words, for those above, for those dignitaries, ‘solidarity is no more than an investment.’
And in the same words, ‘To expect something in exchange or to attach conditions to a worthy act of solidarity is unworthy, and solidarity has no part in it.’
It is equally unworthy and lacking in solidarity to make us think that the Yasuní is the ITT or that Block 31 is not the Yasuní.
These ambivalent and opaque positions not only destroy, among other things, the true interests in defence of this region and this Planet, but they also try to impose rules according to the logic of the winner (in this case the oil companies and Brazil).
What unites the oil magnates and the ruling classes, apart from greed, arrogance and ignorance, is their bad memory. The cynicism with which these persons throw away their memory lets them speak and act as if they had not spent more than 40 years abusing their power and exercising it for their own profit.
The main offering of these persons does not seem to be, then, as they order those below to be told, ‘to live in harmony’ and keep the Yasuní as it is, as we would hope. Rather it is the typical rhetoric, learnt in the great centres of knowledge, of ‘economic and social stability’, that is, ‘increasing gains for the rich, increasing misery and losses for the dispossessed, and a system to keep the discontent of the latter in check’.
And as I also said in the missive mentioned above, ‘we know that the more resources are ‘invested’ in education and health at such a cost (I refer to nature and our culture), the more our future is mortgaged, as it has already been for more than five hundred years.’
And while it sounds strange to say this to a government which labels itself ‘left’ and ‘green’, so also our elders told us of the various masks and shadows that they adopt in order to appear to be what they are not. Our elders told us that ‘tomorrow’s radicals will be (are now!) tame lambs in the corrals of Power. They will remain (did remain!) radical until they get (got) their hands on the budget.’
In other words, ‘today’s office-bearers share out charity money to wash their faces, they congratulate each other on their prudent maturity, they stuff their briefcases with banknotes and speeches, and their hearts with alibis to cloak their betrayals and broken promises’.
Most unworthy, and nothing to do with solidarity, is that the demand comes from above that the solution or the alternative should come from below. Blindness is the same, whether from the left or the right.
To summarize, up there reign unworthiness, brazenness, cynicism, shamelessness.
And so, as the journey of our elders announces the storm, ‘now is the hour to begin the struggle to make all those up there, who despise history and despise us, account for themselves and pay’ (including those who now hold full power).
From the foot of the Andes
Fabricio Guamán is a writer and environmental activist working in the Amazonian region of Ecuador