Eye on the Amazon

After Government Suppression, Action Continues for Yasuní

Photo credit: Beno Bonilla / Yasunidos

"We came from very far away to the capital to insist on the popular referendum for all Ecuadorians to vote for Yasuní," said Alicia Cahuilla, Vice President of the Waorani federation when she delivered the first box of signatures calling for a national referendum. "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."

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On April 12th, over 3,000 people from Yasunidos or "United for Yasuní," a civil society collective of environmentalists and indigenous leaders, marched to the National Electoral Commission in Quito. There they delivered 55 boxes containing 756,291 signatures – 172,000 more than the required number to force a national referendum on the future of Yasuní-ITT. It would have given Ecuadorians the chance to reverse President Correa's decision to expand drilling in the most biodiverse and culturally sensitive part of Yasuní National Park.

However, since April the government has done everything in its power to invalidate the signatures and to undermine the democratic process to defend Yasuní. When Yasunidos went to the National Electoral Commission the day after the signature delivery, they discovered boxes of signatures with seals broken and tops off, a move that violated the chain of custody of over a quarter of a million signatures. The government proceeded to arbitrarily discard over half of the signatures, leaving Yasunidos with fewer than the required 584,000 names. Ironically, Ecuador's Ministry of the Environment gave the greenlight to drill its most biodiverse rainforest on May 22nd, World Biodiversity Day. This was just one day after joining the world in condemning Chevron's contamination just northwest of Yasuní. Last week an exhaustive independent academic study showed that Yasunidos had 667,334 valid signatures – nearly 100,000 more than the required number.

Yesterday – on World Environment Day – the Ecuadorian government organized a rally to back its decision to drill Yasuní. Is the administration trying to give the middle finger to environmentalists and to the planet? Or win some kind of hipster award for irony?

Yasunidos took a more appropriate route by rallying on World Environment Day to defend the environment with a series of activities throughout Ecuador, where more than 73% of the population is in favor of a referendum to protect the Yasuní-ITT fields. Yasunidos is asking the international community to continue to support their campaign trough social networks using the hashtags #SaveYasuni #DemocraciaEnExtincion #DiaMundialDelAmbiente, and to tweet directly to President Correa @MashiRafael, the Ministry of Environment's Lorena Tapia @LorenaTapiaN and @Ambiente_Ec, and to the president of the National Electoral Council Domingo Paredes @DPCNE @cnegobec demanding the respect of the signatures and the environment.

Yasunidos encourages local supporters to send a letter to the National Electoral Commission asking whether their signatures were discarded. They are also asking Ecuadorians to send letters to the Ministry of Environment to let them know that granting a license to drill Yasuní-ITT violates Ecuador's constitution, which constitutes operations in areas where there are communities living in voluntary isolation as “ethnocide.”

On the legal front, Yasunidos has appealed to the National Electoral Council's decision in order to establish a case before the Electoral Court to demand the corroboration of the fraudulent process, the safety of the physical signatures, and a new process for verification and precautionary measures for participation rights. With very low expectations for the Electoral Court's decision, Yasunidos will wait for the official response in order to take the case to the Inter-American Court of Human Rights and to international instances such as the United Nations Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders.

Amazon Watch will continue to provide updates and let you know how you can support Yasunidos' fight.

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