Correa Welcomes National Referendum on Yasuni Drilling
President Rafael Correa says he is open to the idea of a national referendum on oil drilling in Yasuní National Park.
“If they want a national consultation it is fine with me,” Correa said during his weekly television broadcast on Saturday.
Since last Thursday when Correa announced that the government would abandon the Yasuni-ITT initiative, there have been steady protests before the Presidential Palace as opponents demand a moratorium on drilling in the Yasuni reserve.
Environmentalists and indigenous organizations vehemently oppose any oil exploration and production in Yasuní and want the reserve, declared a World Biosphere Reserve by UNESCO in 1989, to be permanently preserved.
A referendum requires the signatures of five percent of the country’s voters.
The Yasuni-ITT initiative’s main goal was to maintain a moratorium on drilling in Yasuni National Park. ITT refers to three untapped oil blocks known collectively as Ishpingo-Tambococha-Tiputini. The three oil fields in Yasuni represent 20 percent of Ecuador’s oil reserves.
Correa had sought $3.6 billion in contributions, about half the market value of the over 840 million barrels of oil estimated to be under the reserve’s jungle floor.
But Correa said that Ecuador had raised just $13.3 million in actual donations in pledges and that he had an obligation to his people, particularly the poor, to move ahead with drilling. The U.N. and private donors had put up most of the cash. Correa called the failure to fund the initiative “a great hypocrisy” by the world’s leading economies, in particular the United States, China and Japan.
Correa revised his earlier claim that oil production will affect only one percent of the preserve, saying production would affect only “one thousandth” of a percent. He also said that no roads would be built in the proposed exploration area and that all materials and personnel would be delivered by helicopter or the Napo River.