Ecuador: indigenous protests as oil blocs sold

Hundreds of indigenous people gathered outside the Marriott Hotel in Quito on Nov. 28 at the VII Annual Meeting of Oil and Energy, where the Ecuadoran government announced the opening of the XI Round oil auction, offering 13 blocks covering nearly eight million acres of rainforest in the Amazonian provinces of Pastaza and Morona Santiago near the border with Peru. Led by the Confederation of Indigenous Nationalities of Ecuador (CONAIE) and the Confederation of Amazonian Indigenous Nationalities (CONFENIAE) and representing seven indigenous nationalities, the group blocked the entrance to the hotel, to be met by military and private security forces as well as police who used pepper spray. Several indigenous leaders succeeded in entering the meeting and publicly confronted Minister of Non-Renewable Energy Wilson Pastor. “CONFENIAE was never consulted about this,” said the organization’s Franco Viteri. “Our position on oil extraction is clear: We are absolutely opposed.”

According to Achuar leader Domingo Peas, the so-called “consultation” processon the oil auction did not include indigenous participation and was not in accordance with traditional decision-making practices nor carried out in native languages. “We say to the transnational corporations, there is no guarantee for your investments,” said Humberto Cholango, president of CONAIE. “Those who go forward will face indigenous resistance in our territories.”

For Ecuador—an OPEC-member whose oil output has hovered around 500,000 barrels per day in the past few years—the oil industry represents an important source of revenue. The government hopes to attract investments worth around $1 billion in oil exploration projects. David Martin, CEO of Gente Energy—formerly of Ivanhoe Energy, which has run into major trouble in Ecuador—proclaimed the small Andean country would be “the next Kuwait.”

But Kevin Koenig, Ecuador program coordinator at Amazon Watch, had a warning for the industry. “This is simply a bad investment,” said . “Ecuador is selling off its last remaining rainforests and indigenous lands to the highest bidder. These are some of the most controversial blocks in the Amazon, companies must realize they are purchasing a problem that will only get worse. If there is this much resistance at the outset of the round here today, imagine what will happen if a company shows up in a community with an oilrig.”

The contested oil blocks have a long legacy of controversy. Under President Lucio Gutiérrez, Ecuador attempted to offer up many of these same blocks only to find no bidders. Two blocks were previously held by ARCO, Burlington Resources, CGC and ConocoPhillips, but indigenous resistance kept company works out, forcing the government to declare force majeure and paralyzing the projects for nearly a decade. Ultimately, Ecuador had to compensate the companies for lost revenue and the companies endured major damage to their brands.

While exploration rights for 13 blocks were put up for auction at the Quito confab, the government put off a deciision on five more blocks in the area—including those within Sarayaku and Achuar ancestral territories. Companies will have six months to present their bids, and contracts should be signed before the end of September 2013. (Amazon Watch, Nov. 28)

  1. Amazon natives challenge Ecuador officials at big oil confab
    Indigenous leaders from the Ecuadoran Amazon in February challenged officials of Ecuador’s government face-to-face during the XI Round oil concession promotional activities around the North America Prospect Expo (NAPE) in Houston, the oil prospecting industry’s semi-annual trade show. The leaders were joined by North American indigenous leaders and human rights groups in a collective effort to raise attention and call on the Ecuadorian government to suspend its tendering of oil concessions that threaten to devastate the rainforest and the native communities that live there.

    “We have come here to tell the government and companies that these lands are not for sale,” said Jaime Vargas, president of the Achuar Nationality of Ecuador. “Any drilling activities on our lands will be met with fierce resistance. We’ve seen the impact of oil extraction in Ecuador and the world and we know that it only brings contamination, poverty, and cultural destruction. We will defend our sacred lands and culture as we have for millennia.” (Intercontinental Cry, March 2; Amazon Watch, Feb. 5)