Activists Confront Ecuadorian Government for Auctioning the Amazon

Dozens of protestors publicly denounce government in Paris over oil concessions

Amazon Watch, Avaaz, Planète Amazone

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Paris, France – Dozens of activists protested against the Ecuadorian government during its XI Round (Ronda Sur Oriente) oil concession promotional activities in Paris today, where officials met with European investors and oil company executives seeking to auction off an enormous swath of pristine Amazon rainforest. The international organization Avaaz led a protest outside the meeting, alongside members of human rights groups Amazon Watch and Planète Amazone, staging a theatrical oil drilling operation to represent the dangers of transforming the Ecuadorian Amazon into a vast oil field.

During the action protestors presented an international petition signed by 1,092,950 people calling on President Rafael Correa to suspend his government's tendering of oil concessions that threaten to devastate the rainforest and the native communities that live there. Today's protests also targeted European investors and oil executives in an attempt to dissuade them from supporting the XI round.

"Over one million people are calling on President Correa to uphold his global reputation as a green President and stop the oil rush in Ecuador's Amazon,” said Pedro Abramovay, Campaign Director at Avaaz. "This decision threatens to displace and destroy seven tribes who have protected their lands for generations. If he sells out to the oil barons he will shred Ecuador's constitution and sacrifice one of our planet's beautiful treasures to become an oilfield."

Speaking at a protest of the North America Prospect Expo (NAPE) in Houston earlier this month, Jaime Vargas, President of the Achuar Nationality of Ecuador affirmed, "any drilling activities on our lands will be met with fierce resistance. We've seen the impact of oil extraction in Ecuador and the world and we know that it only brings contamination, poverty, and cultural destruction. We will defend our sacred lands and culture as we have for millennia."

The Ecuadorian Ministry of Hydrocarbons, the Committee of Hydrocarbon Tender, and the state-run oil company Petroamazonas plan to sell 16 Amazonian blocks, covering nearly ten million acres of primary forest and indigenous land in the Southeastern Ecuadorian Amazon. The area is home to seven indigenous nationalities: the Shuar, Achuar, Kichwa, Shiwiar, Andoa, Waorani and Sápara. In none of the blocks has the Ecuadorian government obtained Free, Prior and Informed Consent (FPIC), an internationally recognized human rights benchmark intended to protect the rights of indigenous communities whose lives and lands are affected by extractive mega-projects such as oil drilling. This is in direct violation of the Inter-American Court on Human Rights' July ruling in favor of the Kichwa community of Sarayaku stating that the government must consult with indigenous communities prior to oil operations and pay for physical and "moral" damages to the community.

"The Ecuadorian government is deceiving investors," said Christian Poirier of Amazon Watch. "These blocks are the most controversial in Ecuador, and there's already a list of companies who have tried to drill there and failed. The government's blatant disregard for the rights of communities is not only illegal, but is a recipe for disaster for companies that attempt to do business in some of the most pristine regions of the Amazon."

The roadshow comes to Paris as investors grow increasingly concerned about the high risks of hydrocarbon activities in remote areas of the Amazon. The government was forced to scrap the last round of oil auctions, which included all of the blocks in the XI Round, because it received no bids. Adding to the economic disincentives is the fact that Ecuador has had to compensate companies who have had previous rights to the blocks but have been unable to move forward due to resistance by local communities. Companies including ARCO, ConocoPhillips, Burlington Resources, and CGC (Compania General de Combustibles) attempted to drill in the controversial area but were forced to withdraw due to united indigenous opposition. Interested companies have until May 2013 to bid on the blocks currently up for tender.

The Confederation of Indigenous Nationalities of Ecuador (CONAIE) and the Confederation of Amazonian Indigenous Nationalities (CONFENIAE) are leading the opposition to the new oil auction. The opening of the XI Round auction was met with fierce resistance on November 28 in Quito, Ecuador, where outraged communities faced off with the military, police, and private security forces in the streets.

The coalition, backed by international organizations and a growing network of indigenous solidarity, is calling for an immediate suspension of the current bidding round and a firm commitment from the Ecuadorian government that it will adhere to the spirit and letter of Ecuadorian law and respect indigenous land rights, the human rights of isolated and vulnerable populations and the rights of nature, which the government has adopted into its Constitution.

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