Accessibility links

Ecuador To Drill For Oil In Pristine Amazon Reserve

  • RFE/RL

Ecuadorian President Rafael Correa

Ecuadorian President Rafael Correa

The government of Ecuador says it will begin oil exploration in a pristine tract of Amazon rainforest after nations failed to fund a conservation plan that would have paid the country not to drill in the area.

In a televised address late on August 15, President Rafael Correa announced his decision to open up previously untouched areas of the Yasuni National Park for potential drilling.

"It is with profound sadness but also with absolute responsibility to the people and our history that I have had to make one of the most difficult decisions of my governance," he said. "Today, I have signed the executive decree for the liquidation of the Yasuni-ITT trust fund and through it, ended the initiative."

Yasuni boasts some of the planet's most diverse wildlife. A single hectare of its land contains more tree species than in all of North America. It was designated a world biosphere reserve by UNESCO in 1989.

The area is also home to two indigenous tribes, the Tagaeri and the Taromenane, who fear that drilling will compromise their ancestral homeland.

To keep the tracts off-limits to oil companies, Ecuador had hoped to receive some $3.6 billion from the international community over 12 years through a UN-administered fund. The amount represents about half the estimated value of the oil that would otherwise be leaving the area.

Environmentalists hailed Correa's initiative when he launched it in 2007, saying he was setting a precedent in the fight against global warming by reducing the high cost to poor countries of preserving the environment.

Destruction of the rainforest and the burning of fossil fuels are key contributors to the warming of the Earth caused by human activity. According to estimates, preventing the drilling would have kept more than 400 million tons of carbon dioxide from going into the atmosphere.

But Correa said the plan had only received less than half a percent of its monetary goal. He argued that the country must expand its oil reserves in order to better meet the needs of its largely impoverished population.

"I believe that the initiative was ahead of its time and it could not and it would not be understood by those responsible for climate change," he said. "We have also had bad luck in that the launching of the initiative coincided with the worst global economic crisis in the last 80 years. But let no one be fooled. The fundamental reason for the failure is that the world is a great hypocrisy and the logic that prevails is not of justice but a logic of power."

Some observers said the plan attracted little funding in part because Correa insisted that Ecuador alone would decide how the donations would be spent.

The Ecuadorian leader has now commissioned technical, economic, and legal studies regarding drilling in the area, which he said he would use to seek the backing of the country's national assembly for the move.

In making his announcement, he also downplayed the potential impact of oil drilling in the area, saying it would affect only 0.01 percent of the Yasuni basin.

Environmentalists and others, however, were not reassured. Scores of protesters gathered in front of the presidential palace shortly after Correa's announcement.

According to the Yasuni trust fund, 78 percent of Ecuadorians are against drilling in the park.

With reporting by Reuters, AFP, the BBC, and "The Guardian"