Two Ecuadorean environmental groups, including women of the Amazon front, peacefully occupied Ecuador's Hydrocarbon Ministry in Quito Tuesday to protest against the decision to open four new oil pits in the Yasuni national park and possibly exploit the protected area of Ishpingo.
About 15 members of Mujeres Amazonicas (Amazonian Women) and YASunidos entered the building in a bid to deliver a letter to Minister Carlos Perez demanding the state to suspend oil concessions in the area and what they call “another assault on Indigenous peoples from the Amazon.”
They declared to local media they will remain in the facility until the minister received them.
"Yasunidos and Amazonian women remain in the Ministry of Hydrocarbons. They expect to be received by Minister Perez. They oppose oil expansion in Ishpingo and the Southern Amazon. "
The move follows Perez’ confirmation that the government is working on an executive decree to allow oil exploitation in the Ishpingo block, located only six kilometers away from the legally natural reserve of Yasuni. The decree would affect the intangible zone where the Tagaeri-Taromenane people, currently in voluntary isolation, live.
They are also protesting the licitation of oil blocs 86 and 87, which according to Indigenous leaders would violate territories of the Kichwa, Shiwiar, and Sapara nationalities.
Despite the peaceful character of the protest, demonstrators denounced the use of police violence. "First violent eviction attempt by @EcuadorPolice against the peaceful protest in the #HydrocarbonsSecretariat. #NotOneMorePitInYasuni," the environmental group Yasunidos tweeted with a video of the eviction where one can hear protesters yelling "this is a peaceful protest."
Jaime Vargas, president of the National Confederation of Indigenous Nationalities, warned: "this is in the heart of the Yasuni, in the zone where un-contacted peoples live; it would open the way for the genocide of this people."
In 2007, the Ecuadorean state presented an environmental initiative to refrain from drilling in the Yasuni National Park if wealthier nations donated US$3.6 billion, a little over half the expected national revenue from oil in the area.
The government of Rafael Correa argued that keeping the oil in the ground would avoid creating 410 million metric tones of carbon dioxide. However, the initiative was scrapped in 2013 after it brought in less than 4 percent of the amount requested.
Correa’s government blamed the international community for the plan's failure. Ecuador is OPEC’s smallest member and has suffered heavily from the international fall in oil prices. Around half of the country's income comes from oil, according to the World Bank.
Ecuador's oil company Petroamazonas began drilling for oil just outside Yasuni, in the Tiputini bloc, in 2016. The other two blocs, Ishpingo and Tambococha, are within the Yasuni reserve itself.
The end of Ecuador’s conservation initiative for the eastern part of the Yasuni drew outrage from environmentalists when it was first announced. Ecuador is one of the world’s most biodiverse nations.