The people of Ecuador are rising up to refound their country as a pluri-national homeland for all. This inspiring movement, with Ecuador's indigenous peoples at its heart, is part of the revolution spreading across the Americas, laying the groundwork for a new, fairer, world. Ecuador Rising aims to bring news and analysis of events unfolding in Ecuador to english speakers.

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Ecuador wants money to leave oil reserves untapped

Monstersandcritics, May 23, 2007

New York - Ecuador wants to keep the Yasuni National Park's rich biodiversity and its estimated 900,000 barrels of oil untouched, if the world can provide 350 million dollars a year for health and educational programmes to the indigenous people living there.

So far, there have been no takers.

'We are interested in biodiversity. We are not thinking of owning money, and life is more important than money,' said Cecilia Velasque, clad in colourful, traditional dress and a black hat at the United Nations Permanent Forum on Indigenous People at UN headquarters in New York.

There are more than 300 million indigenous people around the world, as recognized by the UN General Assembly. Once a year, their representatives meet in New York to demand their rights, often criticizing governments for failing them.

Velasque said there are four indigenous nationalities living in Yasuni National Park, grouping about 1,500 people. The government says that indigenous people form about 8 per cent of Ecuador's population, but Velasque and her people claim 30 per cent across the country.

At the indigenous conference at the UN, Ecuadorean government official Lourdes Tiban called on the international community to provide 350 million dollars to compensate for leaving the Ishpingo- Tiputini-Tambococha (ITT) oilfield unexploited. Drilling for oil could threaten the rich biodiversity.

UNESCO, which is trying to save the world's natural treasures by designating world heritage sites, declared the Yasuni park a 'biosphere reserve' in 1989.

'If the world truly is interested in saving the planet, the government of Ecuador has decided to sell the oil, but keep it in the ground,' she announced. 'Ecuador is now looking for financial resources from the international community that compensates the nation for not exploiting the oil.'

'I call on the United Nations agencies, member states, intergovernmental organizations and NGOs to consider Ecuador's proposal,' Tiban said.

Ecuador's efforts to preserve its eco-systems under the government of leftist President Rafael Correa have received support from US- based conservation groups.

'We now have an unprecedented opportunity to work with a progressive administration (in Ecuador) in order to save one of the greatest spots on earth,' said ecologist Matt Finer of Save America's Forests in Washington.

'What are urgently needed now are viable proposals from the international community to President Correa.'

Max Christian of the Sustainable Development and Conservation Biology programme at the University of Maryland said, 'This presents a landmark opportunity to sequester up half a billion tons of carbon dioxide while conserving Yasuni's astounding biodiversity and cultural heritage.'

Bordering Ecuador, Peru also has significant oil reserves and apparently is looking for a deal similar to Ecuador's proposal.

Finer said that the fight to exploit Ecuador's oil reserves has pitted the government, particularly the Energy Ministry, against four oil companies that have obtained licenses to drill: Petrobas of Brazil, Sinopec of China, PVSA of Venezuela and ENAP of Chile. Those companies have been told to hold on to their drilling plans until the government decides how to proceed.

Ecuador, one of the world's poorest nations, has external debt of 15 billion dollars owed to the World Bank and the Inter-American Development Bank. Half of its 13 million people live in poverty.

The Yasuni park is considered one of the world's most biologically rich regions. It shelters numerous important mammal species including the endangered Amazon tapir and at least 10 monkey species.

The indigenous tribes - the Waorani, Tagaeri, Taromenane and Zapar - living in the park are completely dependent on the rainforest for survival. They say that their lives would be completely disrupted if the oil field is opened for exploration.

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