VICTORY: Ecuador Strengthens Some Rainforest and Indigenous Protections from Oil and Logging
"Save America's Forests" reports on a stunning partial victory in the international campaign to end oil exploration and production in the world's "protected" rainforests, in this case in Ecuador. Many key demands in Ecological Internet's longstanding "Oppose Oil Production in Ecuador's Yasuni National Park" campaign have been met, which is still running and now updated. The heavily rainforested Yasuni National Park region is widely recognized by scientists as one of the most biodiverse on Earth.
A large portion of Southern Yasuni National Park and adjacent ancient rainforests, 2 million acres or an area the size of Delaware, have recently been declared by Ecuadorian Presidential Decree as an "Intangible Zone". Such designation protects the last two indigenous tribes living in voluntary isolation in the Ecuadorian Amazon from oil and logging development. The victory is partial because the Northern part of Yasuni still remains open to oil exploration and development - albeit without roads due to an earlier victory - and key oil fields were left out of
the designated area.
This campaign which Ecological Internet initiated as an international effort several years ago has grown to encompass a huge amount of groups and individuals. Together we are establishing the precedent that protected rainforests must be totally off-limits to oil, logging and other industrial development. This is the only way their ecological integrity including ecosystem services, biodiversity and indigenous cultures can be most fully maintained.
Please choose to send the updated alert, a congratulatory email that asks for the designation to be expanded to all of Yasuni and other Ecuador protected areas. Networked people power is an amazing thing, together we have generated hundreds of thousands of strategically targeted protest emails on behalf of Yasuni National Park. Thanks to those that collaborate with and participate in our campaigns. Together we are making a World of difference.
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Title: Ecuador Creates 2 Million Acre Amazonian Intangible Zone
In Megadiverse Yasuní to Protect Uncontacted Groups
Source: Press Release, Save America's Forests
Date: January 9, 2007
SAVE AMERICA'S FORESTS
4 Library Court, SE
Washington, DC 20003
CONTACT: Matt Finer, Save America's Forests – 202-544-9219;
The Ecuadorian government, via Presidential Decree, delimited a nearly 2 million acre Intangible Zone in an oil-rich region of the Amazon last week. Oil extraction, as well as logging, is permanently prohibited within the zone.
The Intangible Zone, larger than the state of Delaware, is designed to protect the core territory of the Tagaeri and Taromenane, the last two known groups of indigenous peoples in voluntary isolation in Ecuador. The Intangible Zone is located in the heart of the Ecuadorian Amazon and overlaps the southern part of Yasuni National Park, which despite its park status is open to oil development.
Both the Tagaeri and Taromenane are renowned for their giant spears and regarded as amongst the fiercest tribes on Earth. There is a bloody history of encounters between these two groups and invading oil company workers, loggers, and colonists.
The Yasuni National Park region is widely recognized by scientists as one of the most biodiverse on Earth.
“The signing of this Decree is a hard-fought victory in favor of the protection of peoples in voluntary isolation,” stated Eduardo Pichilingue of the Ecuadorian NGO EcoCiencia, in reference to the long, difficult process of finalizing the Intangible Zone.
The Intangible Zone was initially created in 1999, but it took the past 8 years to actually define the zone’s controversial boundaries, which are surrounded by untapped oil fields.
The Presidential Decree, in addition to prohibiting the extraction of oil within the Intangible Zone, also establishes a 10-km surrounding buffer zone where the construction of oil access roads is prohibited, but oil extraction is permitted.
The Decree also prohibits logging within the Intangible Zone.
Illegal logging in the region has escalated in recent years, leading to deadly confrontations between loggers and the Tagaeri-Taromenane. The government was recently warned by human rights advocates that illegal logging camps were operating within four kilometers of Taromenane houses spotted from aerial flights.
A logger was speared to death by the Taromenane as recently as April 2006, and in 2005 another logger was found dead with over 30 spears through his body.
“Putting such a massive area off-limits to oil extraction and roads in a potentially oil-rich area is a major step towards protecting the Tagaeri-Taromenane and the extraordinary biodiversity of Yasuni,” stated Matt Finer of Save America’s Forests. “The problem is that the northern part of the park is still getting hammered by oil projects.”
Petrobras (the Brazilian national oil company) and Andes Petroleum (a partnership between two Chinese state oil companies, CNPC and Sinopec) both have active concessions within Yasuni National Park, just north of the Intangible Zone.
Moreover, the largest untapped oil reserves in the country—over a billion barrels located in an area known as the ITT Block—also lie within Yasuni National Park just north of the Intangible Zone.
One of the most significant details of the Decree is that it includes a large oil field, known as Awant, within the boundaries of the Intangible Zone, which now places it off-limits to extraction.
Andes Petroleum, which earlier in 2006 purchased the oil rights to develop the block that contains Awant, had been pressuring the government to alter the limits of the Zone to allow extraction of this field. International and Ecuadorian NGOs, however, successfully pressured the government to maintain Awant within the Zone’s boundaries, citing evidence that the Taromenane were living very close to this area.
Of the five known oil fields of the southern Yasuni region, two were included within the Intangible Zone, however three remain just outside the limits of the Zone, within the buffer area.
“Given the realities of Ecuador—that is, the government’s drive to open up the entire Amazon to oil—the Intangible Zone could be the only true refuge for the Tagaeri and Taromenane” stated Fernando Ponce of the Ecuadorian watchdog group, Citizens for Democracy. “However, to fully protect the isolated peoples, Ecuador needs to develop economic alternatives and stop oil exploitation in all of Yasuni National Park and Huaorani Territory.”
The powerful indigenous organization that represents all of Ecuador’s indigenous Nationalities, CONAIE, strongly opposed the delimitation of the Intangible Zone because it leaves the northern part of Yasuní open to oil development.
In a letter to Ecuador’s President in September, CONAIE argued that there should be a “moratorium on oil exploitation in all 5 million acres of ancestral Huaorani Territory.”
The Huaorani have previously called for a 10-year moratorium on new oil activities within their ancestral territory, which includes all of Yasuni National Park.
In September, the Ecuadorian Environment Ministry, led by Subsecretary for Natural Capital Alfredo Carrasco, presented the details of the Intangible Zone in front of over 150 Huaorani community leaders, assembled in the jungle city of Coca.
Huaorani leaders were split on the issue, with some leaders supporting the Decree as a means to finally crack down on logging and stop new oil projects, while others were much more worried about the loss of their territory to increased government control.
Subsecretary Carrasco repeatedly stressed that the Intangible Zone does not interfere with Huaorani activities or movements, and is simply a means to outlaw logging and oil extraction.
The Tagaeri and Taromenane maintain no peaceful contact with the outside world and are completely dependent on the surrounding rainforest for survival.
The Tagaeri are directly related to the Huaorani, the contacted indigenous peoples of this region, and the Taromenane are believed to be more distantly related. Although no one knows with any accuracy, it is generally estimated there are 150-300 Taromenane and perhaps only 20-30 surviving Tagaeri.
In a 2004 report to the Ecuadorian government, a group of over 40 scientists with research experience in Yasuni, dubbed the Scientists Concerned for Yasuni, documented that the region is one of the most biodiverse in the world for plants, trees, amphibians, birds, insects, and mammals.
Ecuadorian President Alfredo Palacio signed the long-awaited Presidential Decree less than two weeks before President-elect Rafael Correa assumes the presidency. The Ecuadorian Environment Minister Anita Alban, who will remain in this post in the Correa administration, and Energy Minister Ivan Rodriguez also both signed off on the Decree.
“President Palacio’s signing of this Presidential Decree was a brave move on his part. Hopefully the new government will build upon this to create an area that will truly protect the Tagaeri and Taromenani people by prohibiting oil extraction in the buffer zone.”, said Brian Keane, Director of the international indigenous peoples rights organization Land is Life.