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Open Letter to President Correa: Save the Yasuni Initiative

 

The Yasuni-ITT Initiative is a proposal by the government of Ecuador to refrain indefinitely from exploiting the oil reserves of the Ishpingo-Tambococha-Tiputini (ITT) oil field within the Yasuni National Park, in exchange for 50% of the value of the reserves, or $3.6 billion over 13 years from the international community. The reserve has around 846 million barrels, or 20% of the countries proven oil reserve. The rationale is to conserve bio-diversity, protect indigenous peoples living in voluntary isolation, and avoid CO2 emissions.


The Yasuni-ITT Trust Fund was officially launched on 3 August, 2010.  It will be administered by the Multi-Donor Trust Fund of the UNDP. After receiving pledges totaling more than its goal of $100 million by its deadline of the end of 2011, the Ecuadorian government announced in early 2012 that it would move forward with the Yasuni ITT Initiative. (From Wikipedia)

Map of Ecuador's Yasuni National Park

Map of Ecuador’s Yasuni National Park

The Yasuni National Park is a highly bio-diverse area of the Ecuadorian Amazon which, together with the neighbouring Waorani reserve, is home to around 3,000 Waorani, who were initially contacted in the 1950s by members of the Summer Institute of Linguistics missionary organization. There are also two closely related uncontacted groups, the Tagaeri and the Taromenane.

The Park, and the Waorani reserve, have long been targeted by oil and gas companies, and illegal loggers. Several oil roads have been built into the Waorani territory.

Now, it appears that the Initiative is falling apart.   Following is an open letter to President Correa from Amazon for Life (Amazonia por la vida)  reminding him of his promises and requesting him to return to the initiative.   Please circulate this letter and request that they join in the fight to save the Yasuni.  

Mr. President Correa:

We wish to register our opposition to the way that the Yasuni-ITT initiative is being dismantled without proper public discussion and review and to what appear to be attempts to make petroleum exploitation in Yasuni National Park a fait accompli.

A concession of dubious legality has been awarded for Block 31; a new road inside Yasuni National Park is being built, literally paving the way for extraction; pipelines are being installed; an oil-extraction corridor to the ITT fields is being prepared for the Chinese company PetroOriental. At the same time, a negative assessment of the state of the Yasuni-ITT initiative is being prepared which claims that international interest in the initiative is lacking.

All of these actions, which are being undertaken in advance of any publicly-announced decision about oil exploitation in Yasuni, seem designed to ensure as quick a start to oil exploitation as possible.

They are of a piece with other recent actions with high environmental costs: the growth of large-scale mining in various regions of the country, the opening of the oil frontier in the south central Amazon region, the advance of genetically-modified crops and large-scale dams, the criminalization of social protest, and the control and disciplining of critical NGOs. They can only be seen as part of a process of decision-making by stealth.

Waorani Village in Yasuni National Park

Waorani Village in Yasuni National Park

The role that the current assessment of the Yasuni initiative is playing in this process is of particular concern. Of course, it is true that the Yasuni initiative has not worked – at least not as expected- yet it has received immense recognition worldwide, with more than four million references to it on the internet alone. Clearly, the reasons for the initiative’s disappointing record need to be reviewed before any decision on it is made public. Why has the initiative fallen short of expectations? What is the nature of its shortcomings? Who is responsible?

Mr. President, let us reflect on what has characterized the history of the Yasuni initiative:

Lack of understanding of the initiative’s scope. The Yasuni-ITT initiative was not an isolated, one-off technical proposal, but rather a pathway, a transition. It embodied a proposal for genuine civilizational change. To question oil, capitalism’s fundamental commodity; to call attention to the impacts extraction has had on nature and the environment (and ultimately people); to question the commodification of nature through carbon markets; to try to map out a future without petroleum: all of these aspects of the Yasuni initiative were born out of the experience and deep reflection of the society.


To traditional development, which makes one-sided reference to industrialized nations, was counterposed sumak kawsay and harmonious relations with nature. Yasuní was to be one of the first addresses of utopia – the very antithesis of what it appears to have been for your government, namely just another profit-making alternative.

Lack of conviction regarding the initiative’s possibilities. The promotion of Yasuni Plan B revealed that there was less conviction behind the initiative’s original conception than in continued investment in extraction and in the expansion of national indebtedness. Anticipated oil sales and need for state revenue ended up imposing a discourse of necessity.

At the same time, zero support was provided to communities that had been investing in alternatives to the imposition of an economy based on scrambling for crumbs from the oil industry – for example, community tourism efforts through which local people manage and control their own territories, building and maintaining cabins, trails, ponds that provide income without sacrificing the forest.

Inhabitants of Yasuni

Inhabitants of Yasuni

Lack of capacity on the part of implementing agencies. Why was the leadership of the historic Yasuni initiative offered to a person whose principal qualification was that she had once spent US$12 million organizing the Miss Universe pageant in Ecuador during the government of Lucio Gutierrez? Who had stood against the local plaintiffs in the Texaco reparations case, instead taking a position clearly in favour of the oil company? Was this the person best equipped to present, in dialogue with potential donors, the contents and spirit of the Yasuni initiative?

Lack of tools. The work of the Yasuni Trust Fund, the body delegated to solicit contributions, was from the beginning characterized by weaknesses, delays and limitations. The Trust did not even include in its documentation a geographically-precise representation of the boundaries of the park area. It insisted on viewing Yasuni’s oil only in terms of carbon emissions equivalents.

The lack of guarantees or non-exploitation was never resolved, and the general public was only able to contribute via a belatedly-established internet account, which did not always work, and which did not offer any guarantees or support to donors. Who would give money to any state without assurances that it will use it in the specified way? How can people be asked to write such blank checks, given the history of abuses of past Ecuadorian governments?

Lack of negotiating strategy. Why was the Yasuni-ITT initiative addressed only to governments? Why did it turn its back on the general public of the countries in question and not create innovative methods through which they could act on their enthusiasm for the proposal?

How appropriate was it for the initiative to concentrate so much of its effort on, for example, the government of Germany, which relies on the oil business to keep its automotive and financial sectors going, and whose West LB even organized the finance for the OCP Heavy Crude Pipeline? Or on the government of Spain, which had previously interceded on behalf of a company operating within the Yasuni park, where a mining venture has destroyed many hectares with the excuse that it would provide jobs that in fact never materialized?

Or on the government of Italy, which has been only willing to write off a debt previously categorized as illegitimate? Unsurprisingly, the Yasuni initiative failed in its negotiations with the US government, which has not even signed international climate agreements; with the government of China, which has its own thirst for oil; with the government of Canada, which is a prominent backer of extraction of raw materials from other countries; and with governments of Arab countries, who have used oil to build islands of luxury.

At the same time, approaches were made to companies with dubious reputations. Throughout, the initiative paid no heed to the proposals, requests and tools offered by social organizations and environmentalists who tried their best to sustain the initiative.

Mr. President, to declare that the Yasuni proposal has not succeeded without exploring why would be nearly to acknowledge your government own failures. In reality, the innovative proposal to leave oil in the soil will continue to be fundamental to the future of this country — and that of the whole world — long after you have left the presidential office.

Amazonia por la Vida Campaign

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One Comment

  1. Quite the controversial and typical hypocrisy from a government official; dis the USA (and legitimately so,) whilst reversing position on all and every promise to the natives in your own backyard, not to mention the constitutional mandates for earth rights, human rights .
    Truly impossible to get behind the person who exalts in such duplicity.