New Internationalist

‘Speak to us first!’

Issue 413

What do locals think of the Ecuadorian Government’s proposal to keep the oil in the ground? Fabrício Guamán has been asking them.

Photo: FABRÍCIO GUAMÁN
Photo: FABRÍCIO GUAMÁN

Marlon Santi
President of Ecuador’s indigenous organization CONAIE

As a representative of the indigenous movement – I represent 14 ‘nations’ – my main goal is to reclaim and defend our human rights which have been trampled upon.

The Yasuní-ITT proposal was born within the indigenous movement. We have been calling for the development model to be changed so that, instead of oil, alternative ways are sought which will benefit humanity. Now we hear the speeches coming from the Government… It would be magnificent if it worked, if other countries were interested, but we will have to see… Oil is oil.

We are not close to the Government, but we are campaigning for countries like Germany, France, Switzerland, to support the proposal. We don’t want a ‘moratorium’; we want the crude to be left in the ground forever. The problem is that there is not enough interest at a world level; at the moment there are, I think, three countries that are interested. If Ecuador sets this example, it could change the economic and extractive models in other countries too.

We are proposing two things: first, that in territories where there is at present no oil exploitation, [indigenous] peoples reject the extension of the oil frontier. Second, in indigenous territories where there is already exploitation, indigenous communities should participate in the benefits and gains from oil to secure the future of their people.

Our message to the Government is that it should have a clear position on the model of development. If it only sees Mother Earth as a space that must be exploited to generate wealth, leaving those who live in the region destitute, then this is not a model but just a necessity of capitalism.

The Government should recognize that the largest part of the territory is inhabited by indigenous people; it must work with those who have been most excluded from the life of the country.

The international community needs to be vigilant on the human rights of indigenous peoples. It needs to support models of development which are changing in some countries, such as Bolivia, and calling a halt to imperialism.

Photo by yasunigreengold.org / Mauro Burzio
Photo by yasunigreengold.org / Mauro Burzio

Ana Rivas
The Mayor of Orellana canton, Orellana Province

We are the oil heart of the nation; 63 per cent of the oil that maintains this country comes from our subsoil. We have 50,000 inhabitants from all over the country and from abroad. We also have indigenous people who constitute 20 per cent of our population. Our priorities are to achieve a better quality of life, health, education and basic services for all. We have a local government model of citizen’s participation, with a participatory budget.

The main obstacle is the incomprehension of successive national governments. We are seen only as the ‘milk cow’ of the country, not as human beings with many problems to deal with. It pains us that governments, especially this one, carry on handing over concessions for oil exploitation to transnational companies. We now see that it has granted an environmental license to exploit Block 31, a process which had been totally paralyzed for the past four years. And this government is supposed to be on the Left! They speak of human rights, of democracy, of consulting with the people, but we feel we are living in a camouflaged dictatorship; that the government is kneeling before the transnationals and global powers.

The Yasuní-ITT proposal, as it is talked about in public, is a good one but I don’t feel they really want to do it. The proposal to keep the oil in the ground originally came from the grassroots organizations and local governments. But the Government’s intentions are hard to see – in this canton, they are about to exploit 200 wells. This is happening silently, on the edges of the law.

There needs to be more dialogue between national and local government; we are not the demons we have been painted to be. There are people in the Government camouflaged as leftists who are defending the rights of the oligarchs. But we are open to dialogue because this zone is so important for the country; we have the country’s most important resource and they should talk with us.

The international community needs to be alert to what is going on, especially in sensitive zones where large economic forces are at play. Global powers are involved whose only interest is money and the well-being of their own people, and who view the rest of us as obstacles. I think that those in the international community who want to create a more equal and just world need to pressure the Ecuadorian Government to dialogue with those whom it has harmed, humiliated and trodden underfoot.

Photo by FABRÍCIO GUAMÁN
Photo by FABRÍCIO GUAMÁN

Manuela Ima
President of the Association of Waoraní Women

We women started to organize ourselves when we saw that the male leaders were going away to work in the city but were not bringing back money for education or health. So we decided we would get moving, empower ourselves. If we didn’t do it, who was going to lead?

Our work was principally to defend our territory. We had no help, no money, we just did it. In our meetings we talked about health, about territory, and how to maintain our culture. Always we thought of our children and of how we would not let the oil companies enter; that’s how we began. They called us bure, ants that work together, gathering good leaves and guarding them. We women also use the term wema which is a bird that makes a good nest to protect its young. While the male helps very little, the female weaves the nest. We took up this idea: we are like these birds; let’s get to work! Bit by bit our organization has grown; those of us who are trained go out to other communities to pass on our knowledge.

The oil companies can destroy us. We don’t like anything to do with them. And now there’s talk of climate change which is going to happen in our territory as well… Therefore we women say: ‘No more petrol companies! No more pollution!’

There’s a lot of contamination left by Repsol in Waoraní territory. We are looking for help to get that information out, on video, in the press. In the past we women didn’t talk about these things. But without animals, without food, without trees, how will we survive?

We think that the Yasuní-ITT proposal is a good idea; we have talked with the Vice-President who said they would not exploit the oil. He needs to keep to his word and let us live, let us develop tourism. If the Government supports us, we will support the Government. It pains us to think that the Government receives money for oil which should be for us, which should be for those who live in the rainforest, for the good of the whole community. If anyone wants to do anything in our territory, they should speak to us first. We would like the international community to help us communicate our message that we don’t want petroleum companies: we want to live in peace, in health.

Photo by FABRÍCIO GUAMÁN
Photo by FABRÍCIO GUAMÁN

Alexandra Almeida
Acción Ecológica (Friends of the Earth, Ecuador) oil region co-ordinator

We at Acción Ecológica have supported this proposal with our campaign ‘Amazonia for life’ to make the public aware of the need for it to happen and to pressure the Government in case it’s not achieved by the deadline given.

We are demanding not only that ITT is not exploited but also Block 31 (which is next to it, inside the Yasuní National Park). There are other blocks currently being exploited whose operations are highly questionable and which should be reviewed. All the oil contracts in the country have irregularities and lack legality and legitimacy.

Once it’s certain that neither ITT nor Block 31 are to be exploited, the dedicated funds can be used to restore the Park and to look at the possibility of expelling the companies, or at least making sure that they do not expand.

The proposal was launched in June 2007 but by October in the same year an environmental licence was granted to Petrobras to operate Block 31. This was like the Government boycotting its own proposal. These kinds of signals weaken the proposal at an international level. The one year deadline is very short to implement a proposal of such importance – it needs to be extended or the amount requested reduced.

Sadly, the existence of the Yasuní-ITT proposal has given an impetus to a massive intensification of production in other areas that are already being exploited. Petroecuador plans to drill another 80 wells. The Government is saying that if it does not drill these wells, it will have to exploit Yasuní-ITT. This is producing conflicts with local people who have been affected for a long time, and involves new problems, new pollution and, in general, greater poverty. What we hear the Government saying is: ‘We will give you ITT but hands off everything else’. This does not make sense, and is not consistent with a ‘citizens revolution’ government.

We think it’s essential for the international community to give economic support based on the principle of shared but differentiated responsibility. We are extracting the resource but it’s [mainly] others who are consuming it and emitting the gases that are causing global warming. It’s also necessary for the international community to launch strong campaigns to reduce the consumption of fossil fuels and to investigate alternative energy sources.

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