Ecuador Walks Back Oil Drilling Plans in Amazon Rainforest

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Ecuador's Energy Minister, Carlos Pérez García, announced on Monday that the government will not pursue oil drilling in protected areas of Yasuní National Park, at least for now, reversing plans revealed last month in a leaked draft decree. The minister indicated that the decision was made after meeting with Amazonian Indigenous women and environmental group Yasunidos, who oppose drilling in the "buffer zone" of Yasuní, a zone created to protect the Tagaeri and Taromenane, nomadic Indigenous peoples living in voluntary isolation. Minister Pérez did indicate that the government will continue to pursue oil drilling outside the buffer zone.

The Minister also revealed that the government no longer plans to hold the "Southeast Round" oil auction during President Moreno's tenure, another walk-back of previous plans. Pérez also made what appears to be the Moreno administration's first public acknowledgement of its dispute with Andes Petroleum over Blocks 79 and 83 in the Amazon. The administration and Andes, a wholly-owned subsidiary of Chinese state-owned companies, disagree over the terms of the company's desire to withdraw from its current exploration contract. The area covered by the two blocks is home to the Sapara people, who have waged massive resistance to drilling there.

Kevin Koenig of Amazon Watch made the following statement in response to the announcement:

"Minister Pérez' announcement sends a clear message: civil society pressure to defend rights and ecosystems works, and expanding the fossil fuel frontier deeper into Ecuador's Amazon presents risks to companies and problems for the state. This is an important victory for our collective work to keep fossil fuels in the ground from California to the Amazon.

"It seems, however, that the Minister believes that the pressure and risks will subside if the administration simply postpones the decision about drilling in Yasuní's buffer zone. What he doesn't understand is that the resolve of the Amazonian Indigenous women, Yasunidos, and their allies like Amazon Watch to defend territorial rights and protect the Amazon rainforest is unwavering."

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