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  • Demonstrators protest Lenin Moreno

    Demonstrators protest Lenin Moreno's decision to appoint Marcelo Mata, former oil exec, as Environment Minister. Dec. 5, 2018 | Photo: Accion Ecologica

Published 6 December 2018

Demonstrators denounced President Lenin Moreno's decision to appoint a former oil executive to lead the country's environmental ministry.

Demonstrators were out in front of Ecuador’s Ministry of the Environment to protest Ecuadorean President Lenin Moreno’s appointment of a former Repsol oil company executive as the country’s new Minister of Environment (MAE).

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Activists staged a protest in front of the MAE Wednesday to protest the appointment of Marcelo Mata as head of the state environmental department. They held signs that read: “Ecologists reject the petroleum and mining ministry of the MAE (Ministry of the Environment). Ecuador free of extractivism.” They told reporters they were demanding Mata’s resignation before he can begin his post.

The protests were organized by the decades-old Ecuadorean environmental organization, Accion Ecologica, which denounced the appointment on its Facebook page: “It is unacceptable that in a country whose constitution establishes the Rights of Nature, an oil and mining minister is appointed (as the environmental minister); We ask for his resignation.”

Mata has worked for the Ministry of Mines and Petroleum in several high ranking posts, including as legal advisor for the mining and oil ministry. From 2010 until September of this year Mata was Repsol Ecuador’s Director for the Environment and Safety.

Repsol is a multinational oil company based in Spain that, according to Accion Ecologica (AE) “was one of the first oil companies to operate in the (10,200 sq km) Yasuni National Park where it applies extremely low (environmental) standards.”

Last July, while Mata was Repsol's environmental director, the company reported two "minor" oil spills in the Yasuni that amounted to about 46 barrels of crude. The Indigenous Waorani, Gabaro, Yawewenko, Yarentaro and Dicaro argued that the two spills amounted to as much as 2,500 barrels, according to local media.

In an online statement released Dec. 4, Accion Ecologica said: “It is unacceptable that ... the Ministry of Environment be placed in the hands of a former official of the first oil company to exploit in this national park, the most biodiverse in Ecuador, and where there are peoples in voluntary isolation … including (Indigenous) Waorani.”

For the past three decades, AE has helped communities in Ecuador’s Amazon region fight big oil and mining projects and helped reduced the amount of drilling in the rainforest-rich Pastaza province.

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AE scientists say that the two previous environmental cabinet leaders resigned because of government pressure to permit “oil exploitation in Ishpingo, … a buffer zone of Yasuni where crude oil cannot be exploited.”

Doing so, says the organization, would damage the park’s fragile ecosystem and violate a February 2018 referendum where the public voted against extractive practices in Yasuni and its surrounding areas.

“Minister Mata has also participated in creating public policy for mining, making environmental movements (in Ecuador) fearful that his appointment will facilitate the mining operation in areas of environmental fragility,” reads the AE statement.

During an 11-day fact-finding mission by the United Nations Special Rapporteur on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples that concluded Nov. 30 found that Ecuador and was in “serious violations of the constitutional provisions” that give legal rights to nature. 

In October alone, the Moreno administration signed US$1.6 billion in oil contracts and tariff cuts for oil sites in Ecuador's northeastern Amazon region, according to Reuters.

This was Morenas’ second cabinet reshuffle since taking office in May 2017. Along with Mata, six other cabinet leaders were named on Dec. 3.

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