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QUITO — A plan to leave major oil reserves in Ecuador's Amazon basin untouched in return for a major international donation was in jeopardy Thursday after Foreign Minister Fander Falconi resigned.
Falconi spearheaded the 3.5-billion-dollar initiative until President Rafael Correa on Saturday called the payment conditions he was negotiating with the United Nations "outrageous."
Correa even threatened to start drilling for oil in June at the ITT camp in Yasuni National Park unless conditions changed.
Last month, the president said the nature-for-oil plan would be called off in June, instead of at the end of this year, if Ecuador did not get the promised funds -- half the value of the 850 million barrels of oil the ITT camp is estimated to hold.
"We will not submit. Let them know that this country is nobody's colony. We won't accept shameful conditions. Keep your money," Correa said late Tuesday after Falconi resigned.
Correa, however, made it clear negotiations had not failed.
Falconi said Wednesday the six-month deadline for the initiative was tantamount to killing it, but predicted the clauses stipulating payment conditions would be signed in two weeks.
He also cited pressure to begin drilling for oil.
"I can't give you any names," he said, but mentioned that in 2007, state-run Petroecuador "had a unit ready to exploit the camp for a few years."
The countries behind the money offer in the nature-for-oil deal were not involved in the negotiations between Ecuador and the United Nations Development Program (UNDP), Falconi said.
"They're not demanding that the conditions be this way or that way. That really would be outrageous," he added.
Roque Sevilla, who headed the technical commission behind the plan that resigned en masse along with Falconi, told AFP that between 1.5 and 1.7 billion dollars have been pledged so far, with Germany (910 million) and Spain (241.8 million) leading the pack that included France, Sweden and Switzerland.
Sevilla also said the conservation projects the donations are intended to support "have been sovereignly chosen by Ecuador."
The former official also confirmed Petroecuador's interest in seeing the deal fall through.
"Petroecuador feels very uncomfortable about losing 20 percent of Ecuador's oil reserves under the deal," he said, adding that the company has plans to pump the oil from the ITT camp to a new refinery it will start building with Venezuela on the coast in June.
Sevilla was quick to note that Caracas had no part in the deal under discussion and that extracting oil from the untouched reserves would take a few years at best.
Correa came up with the initiative in 2007 and plans to use it as leverage in global warming deals, such as the carbon-emission quotas included in the Kyoto Protocol.
The president says that by preserving the Yasuni National Park home to several nomadic Indian tribes, Ecuador will spare the Earth some 410 million metric tons of carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions that contribute to global warming.