On Wednesday November 28, 2012, Ecuador began an international licensing round for 13 oil blocks – nearly ten million acres – of untouched south-central Amazonian territory as indigenous leaders took to the streets in Quito to protest petroleum concessions on their lands.
Hundreds of indigenous protesters gathered outside the J.W. Marriott Hotel in Quito last week during the VII Annual Meeting of Oil and Energy, which marked the beginning of the licensing process.
Organized by the Confederation of Indigenous Nationalities of Ecuador (CONAIE) and the Confederation of Amazonian Indigenous Nationalities (CONFENIAE), the protest included representatives from seven indigenous nationalities who expressed concern about the lack of consultation in the concessions process and the potential environmental and social impacts of drilling. AmazonWatch reports that indigenous protesters were met by military, police, private security, and pepper spray. AmazonWatch also posted several photos of the confrontation on their website.
According to Earth Island, CONFENIAE alleges that the undersecretary of hydrocarbons entered Achuar, Kichwa, and Sapara indigenous communities without permission in October and held consultations with the local people. However, CONFENIAE holds that these consultations were illegitimate because they involved a select group of individuals, not the larger decision-making structures of the communities.
Blogger Ecuachaski [es] reported as early as October of this year that leaders of Schuar, Achuar, Shiwiar, Sapara and Kichwa communities met in a press conference to announce they will not permit the entry to petroleum industries into their lands. The audio [es] of the meeting is also available.
Although indigenous organizations have made several negative pronouncements around the XI Oil Round, the Correa government has not responded to their concerns.
In a formal statement [es] published online on November 28th, CONAIE and CONFENIAE wrote:
Las nacionalidades indígenas situadas en el centro sur de la Amazonia: Kichwas Amazónicos, Shuar, Achuar, Shiwiar y Sáparas, rechazaron la decisión unilateral del régimen de licitar bloques petroleros mediante la llamada XI Ronda e instaron a que esta sea suspendida de inmediato.
Indigenous nationalities located in the south-central part of the Amazon: the Kichwa, Shuar, Achuar, Shiwiar and Sáparas, rejected the unilateral decision of the regime to auction petroleum blocks during the so-called 11th Round and insist that it be immediately suspended.
Furthermore, the organizations emphasize that the government’s consultations did not respect local decision-making norms and lack proper procedure in the native language.
The communication also includes the following quote by CONFENIAE president Franco Viter:
“…Estamos unidos y nos oponemos totalmente a la XI Ronda Petrolera. El avance de la frontera petrolera en nuestro territorio representa el fin de nuestra forma de vida y puede significar el fin de nuestras vidas.
“…We are united and we totally oppose the 11th Oil Round. The encroachment of oil into our territories represents the end of our way of life and could mean the end of our very lives themselves.”
For Ecuador, the smallest member of OPEC (Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries), the oil industry represents a critical source of revenue for the state. The government expects at least $1 billion in investments from the 13 blocks, reports Reuters. While the country’s oil output has lingered around 500,000 barrels per day the last few years, non-renewable natural resources minister Wilson Pastor expects oil output to rise up to 530,000 barrels per day, sustaining the country for another ten years.
Companies have six months to present bids for the new Amazonian concessions. The government hopes contracts will be signed before September 2013.
“We are living a contradiction”
Yet the 11th Oil Round takes place within a country that is soliciting funding to leave oil in the ground under the Ishpingo-Tambococha-Tiputini (ITT) area of Yasuní national park. The government initiative [es] has attracted $64 million dollars from governments, foundations and individuals, with another $187 million pledged. The head of the negotiating committee for the project, Ivonee Baki, recently said:
Ecuador does not want to be depend on oil and this is a way to reduce dependency. Oil countries are cursed. Developing countries depend on it so much that they do not develop anything else. It breeds corruption and the poor pay the price. The only benefit traditionally go to the elites.
In a November interview with Rebelión [es], Franco Viteri president of CONFENIAE pointed out the contradiction of the current Correa administration:
Cierto, vivimos efectivamente en una contradicción. Mientras se esboza un discurso ecologista en los ámbitos internacionales, el gobierno del presidente Rafael Correa ha lanzado la XI Ronda Petrolera.
We’re effectively living a contradiction. While he outlines an environmentalist discourse in international circles, president Rafael Correa has launched the 11th Oil Round.
This contradiction received international attention on October 26th of this year, when the Indian Law Resource Center in the United States delivered a letter to several UN Climate Change officials noting the contradictions between the government’s high-profile commitment to forest preservation and the plan to open three million hectares of indigenous ancestral territory to oil development. They report that the concessions process involves indigenous lands currently preserved under SocioBosque, an Ecuadorian program that pays indigenous peoples not to deforest their lands. The letter calls into question the legality of the concessions process, which has moved forward without indigenous peoples’ free, prior, and informed consent.
The current oil concession take place amid a background of the United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP18) in Doha, Qatar, in which the Ecuadorian Ministry of Environment [es] is taking part. The conference began the 26th of November and concludes the 7th of December.
Several indigenous leaders of the Ecuadorian Amazon, including the President of the Interprovincial Federation of Schuar Centers, Francisco Shiki, brought discussions of Ecuador’s XI Oil Round to the COP18. According to Fundación Pachamama [es], these leaders called for international allies in denouncing the government’s “lack of political will to uphold commitments to environmental and social safeguards in Ecuador.”
Three leaders from Sarayaku – an Ecuadorian indigenous community made famous by its legal struggles with multinational oil companies – have also joined the protest. They recently compiled a video petition featured on AmazonWatch’s website.
Although the XI Oil Round does not currently include their lands, the government may decide to put up five more blocks for auction, including those within Sarayaku (Kichwa) territories. The Sarayaku people’s blog [es] contains several joint letters to the Correa administration admonishing the government’s previous oil “consultations,” which did not comply with ILO (International Labor Organization) Convention 169 or the Ecuadorian Constitution in regard to free, prior, and informed consent of indigenous peoples.
Indigenous organizations plan to continue protesting through the month of December to call attention to the contradictions between Ecuador’s environmental programs, its constitutional commitment to protect the rights of indigenous peoples, and its ongoing concessions of pristine indigenous lands within the XI Oil Round.