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Ecuador Auctions off the Amazon Rainforest for Oil : Rafael Correa’s Change of Heart Denounced by Protesters in Paris

Ecuador Auctions off the Amazon Rainforest for Oil : Rafael Correa’s Change of Heart Denounced by Protesters in Paris

A view of the Amazon rainforest of Ecuador: overflowing with petrodollars... © Avaaz

Protest held in Paris on the 26th February 2013 at 11am against the Ecuatorian President Rafael Correa’s duplicity - "Oil or life? : that is the question" : such is the question we, at Planète Amazone, asked and chose to symbolise the protest we held against "Ronda Sur Oriente", an auction from the Ecuadorian government of an enormous swath of pristine Amazon rainforest equivalent to the Netherlands and mostly composed of indigenous lands. These oil concessions will allow buyers to extract oil which lies under a rainforest of exceptional biodiversity, much to the dismay of the indigenous populations and the environment.

This is a good example of double-talk since not so long ago, a recently re-elected President Rafael Correa, introduced the "Pacha Mama" ("Mother Earth") Rights of Nature into the Ecuadorian Constitution and asked the rest of the world to support him in his efforts to save the Yasuní National Park from oil companies. Unfortunately for the Ecuadorian officials who were hoping to discuss big money out of the limelight, Planète Amazone, along with Avaaz (which has gathered more than a million signatures against the devastation of the Ecuadorian Amazon by oil companies) and Amazon Watch, organised a protest staging a symbolic oil drilling on 26th February 2013, in front of a luxurious hotel hosting the conference in the west of Paris.

Long before the meeting, the Planète Amazone team had set to infiltrate and create havoc during the discreet "Ronda Sur Oriente" meeting, organized by the Ecuadorian government for potential buyers. It was no time for guerilla-style meetings such as the one held a few days beforehand under the leadership of our friends from Amazon Watch. It was time for finesse and daring. The meeting was due to start a 8am that morning therefore one of us turned up at reception end pretended to be an unlisted journalist.

The distrustful organisers of Ronda Sur Oriente had refused to provide our friend with an autorisation to attend the meeting but had nevertheless agreed to let him collect meeting documents and suggested a meeting with Andrés Donoso Fabara (see his profile). The job titles of Donoso Fabara speak for themselves : Coordinator General Counsel / Ministerial Advisory at the Ministry of Natural Resources Nonrenewable, Legal Director and Executive Vice President at Dispetrol Inc.., Head of Legal Department at Petroamazonas EP...

The back of his business card reads “Undersecretary for land management contracts allocated and hydrocarbon for Hydrocarbons Secretariat of Ecuador” (SHE), and shows a magnificent picture of the Chimborazo volcano reflecting in a lake with a link to the Ecuador Tourist board and a beautiful slogan : “Ecuador, Life in a Pure State". The interview lasts 10 minutes. Just as we are about to start talking to Andrés Donoso Fabara about a business card bearing the logo of the American company IHS which was given to us a few minutes earlier, he starts to praise the Yasuni-ITT initiative, a proposal by the government of Ecuador to refrain indefinitely from exploiting the oil reserves of the Ishpingo-Tambococha-Tiputini (ITT) in order to “safeguard the unique biodiversity of the Yasuni National Park and its native populations” in exchange for 50% of the value of the reserves, or $3.6 billion over 13 years from the international community. We then point out that it is contradictory, to say the least, to publicly call for the preservation of the country’s primary forest and introduce for the first time ever the rights of Nature in the country’s constitution, while simultaneously opening in secret much larger areas to oil companies in addition to other existing oilfields. How to interpret this other than an example of large scale greenwashing?

We are then reminded of the necessity to develop the country due to the “poverty of the population”. But as we remind him of the existence of other alternatives such as responsible tourism, we are told that the biodiversity of the 13 blocs being sold is “less interesting than the Yasuni National Park’s”. Andrés Donoso Fabara cannot hide his embarrassment when we ask him whether he indeed believes that this biodiversity is less important and therefore less vital to save than the Yasuni National Park. He then changes subject and goes back to the social dimension of the project by trying to present Ronda Sur Oriente as an opportunity to lift the local populations out of poverty. When we ask him whether he really believes that oil exploitation is going to benefit local populations, he immediately replies “of course!”. We have created an elaborate social development plan to help them”. Except that indigenous populations are not poor, since they get everything they need to survive from the forest. Quite an important detail.

We then shift the conversation to the problems caused by the lack of or irregular consultations of the indigenous populations living in the areas put up for auction as reported by the same local communities and NGOs about which he says with confidence “There are no such issues. NGOs have been spreading disinformation”. “We have spent 2 years consulting local indigenous representatives in these areas and we are happy with the agreements we’ve reached”. He adds that the communities who are opposed to the project are located outside of the portions of land put up for auction within Ronda Sur Oriente and points to a white area on the map labeled “74”.

At this point, we mention the pollution inherently created by oil extraction in forests, the biggest concern shared by environmentalists across the globe. We remind him of the disastrous precedent case of the American group Chevron (which owns Texaco, among other brands), which from 1964 to 1990 consistently polluted and notably damaged large areas of Amazon forest (called by some "A Rainforest Chernobyl", the company was condemned in 2011 to pay a record fine of 19 billion dollars). Andrés Donoso Fabara explains that this is a thing of the past and that oil drilling has improved greatly since the 1970s. He ensures that the 13 blocks put up for auction in Ronda Sur Oriente will not be polluted thanks to the increased vigilance of the Hydrocarbures Secretariat. We then try to find out the duration of future concessions. "25 years" we are told. These twenty five years will be very costly since it will create irreversible damage on biodiversity whose effects will carry on affecting these areas for a much longer period.

The interview ends very cordially and Andrés Donoso Fabara tells us that the organisers of Ronda Sur Oriente have nothing to hide and that he is personally available to answer our questions by email in the future. Paradoxically, our "journalist" will not be invited to the morning presentation, but we are now getting used to contradictions.

While this interview was taking place, the other 2 representatives of Planète Amazone were strategically placed in the corridor of the hotel, in front of the conference room, and were busy giving away to the guests a contradictory position paper on Ronda Sur Oriente. This document created by our friends from Amazon Watch warns potential investors about the risks involved in the deal. It goes without saying that they were spotted very quickly and asked to vacate the premises immediately. They nevertheless managed to give away 5 documents to the potential investors.

As we retreated to the hotel lobby for a while, Ecuadorian officials took pictures of us in a good old secret agent-style. We are now in the black list of President Corréa’s services. What an honour !

Since the right to express yourself and disagree is an essential component of democracy, we suggest you to read the position paper we gave to the participants and journalists. 

Download the Ronda Sur Oriente's Risk Assment media brief by Amazon Watch


Blocks of the Ronda Sur Oriente auctioned in Paris
are numbered 22, 29, 70, 71, 72, 73, 77, 79, 80, 81, 83, 84 and 87.

 - translated from French into English by Natalija Abrams -

Date : 28/02/2013