Eye on the Amazon

We Did It! ¡Todos Somos Yasunidos!

On Saturday, April 12th, something incredibly inspiring happened in Ecuador. Yasunidos or "United for Yasuní," a civil society collective of environmentalists, artists, activists, and Indigenous leaders, delivered nearly 800,000 signatures to the National Elections Commission (CNE) calling for a national referendum to decide if oil should remain under Block 43/ITT in Yasuní National Park indefinitely.

A couple of months ago collecting over 600,000 signatures, the amount needed to qualify for a referendum, seemed almost impossible. But, for Yasunidos and its allies around the world, what was impossible – unfathomable, really – was the government proposal to drill in Yasuní-ITT, one of the last remaining parts of the Yasuní National Park free from oil drilling. Yasuní is an area of extremely high biodiversity located in the Amazon region of Ecuador. The park was declared a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve in 1989 and contains what are thought to be the greatest number of plant and animal species anywhere on the planet including one of the biggest populations of jaguars. It is also home to numerous Indigenous peoples including two nomadic Waorani clans, the Tagaeri and Taromenane, who shun contact with the outside world.

Since last August, when Ecuador's President Correa officially terminated the Yasuní-ITT initiative, a revolutionary proposal that proposed to keep nearly a billion barrels of Yasuní's oil in the ground, Yasunidos has been organizing all across Ecuador, from the Andes to the Amazon, to keep the dream of an oil-free Yasuní-ITT alive. The government responded by cracking down on students, NGOs, Indigenous leaders and the media, but that did not stop Yasunidos. It built more national and international support for Yasunidos.

For months, Yasunidos collected signatures in public spaces, parks, plazas and at cultural events all across the Ecuador. As the April 12th deadline approached last week, Yasunidos was flooded with forms full of signatures and photo messages from 70 cities in 39 countries on April 10th for the Global Day of Action for Yasuní. They worked day and night counting and organizing the forms into boxes to deliver to the National Elections Commission.

Then, on Saturday, April 12, over 3,000 people from Yasunidos collectives from Quito, Guayaquil, Cuenca, Loja; national Indigenous organizations including CONAIE and Ecuarunari; and a delegation of Waorani from Yasuní gathered in the Arbolito Park in Quito and marched to the National Elections Commission to deliver 55 boxes containing 110,000 forms and 756,291 signatures saying "Yes" to the following question: "Are you in favor of leaving oil in the ground in Block 43/Yasuní-ITT indefinitely?"

The first box was delivered by Alicia Cahuilla, Waorani Indigenous woman warrior and Vice President of NAWE, and two Waorani men. They traveled with a delegation of more than a dozen Waorani from the community of Ñoneno for 7 hours via canoe to the oil frontier town of Coca along the Napo River and then a 5-hour bus trip to Quito.

Alicia Cahuilla said, "We came from very far away to the capital to insist on the popular referendum for all Ecuadorians to vote for Yasuní. We all need a clean and healthy Yasuní for our children and our future. The Waorani and Taromenane, have clean water and a healthy life. We do not want the forest to die."

Following Alicia, came Yasunidos volunteers carrying 54 more boxes full of forms and signatures. Now, the National Elections Commission is tasked with reviewing every form in every box. It will take approximately one month for 30 people to re-verify and scan each form. 30 observers from Yasunidos will be present for this process. Then, a report will be submitted to the Constitutional Court to review the question and announce whether or not a vote will take place in July. If so, the National Elections Commission will move forward on organizing the vote.

Esperanza Martinez, President of Acción Ecologica, said, "We are very happy with what Yasunidos has achieved so far. Not only did we mobilize to get the needed signatures for the popular referendum, but we mobilized civil society for a greater call for a new development model that keeps oil in the ground and addresses the needs of its people. We proved that defending Yasuní is not just about monetary contributions, or political statements, but a mobilized civil society. We still have a lot of work to do, but we are very happy with what we have achieved so far. We are grateful to all for your continued support."

Yes! Thanks to Yasunidos around the world! Since September, we have rallied in nearly 40 countries; collected over 50,000 signatures of support for Yasuní, rallied celebrities, scientists, academics and NGOs. Let's continue to take action for Yasuní! We are all Yasunidos!

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