February 10, 2016
By: Osprey Orielle Lake and Leila Salazar- Lopez
In late January 2016, the government of Ecuador signed a contract with Chinese corporation Andes Petroleum, handing over rights for oil exploration and extraction in two controversial Amazonian blocks which overlap the traditional territory of the Sápara and Kichwa peoples of the Ecuadorian Amazon. The Sápara Indigenous people are a small, threatened group of only 300, officially recognized by UNESCO as an "Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity".
Concession plans open up almost a million acres in the center of Ecuador's road-less southeastern Amazon, where Indigenous communities have successfully prevented fossil fuel extraction for decades. The concession means large swaths of deforestation and irreversible devastation of the forest's magnificent ecological, social and cultural diversity.
The implications of this contract for the rights and health of local communities and ecosystems, as well as for climate disruption at a global scale, cannot be overstated. Approximately 20 percent of the carbon dioxide produced from burning fossil fuels is absorbed by tropical forests around the world, and this is just one of many critical ecologic functions. Consequently, protecting the Amazon rainforest, the largest of the world's tropical forests, must be central to local and international environmental and economic policies.
Within this context, Indigenous peoples and their rights must be respected and protected because it is their intimate relationship with their forests and their courageous ongoing struggles to defend their territories that has and will continue to bring about the highest protection of the Amazon.
The governments of Ecuador and China have signed this most recent oil contract just months after pledging at the UN COP21 climate negotiations in Paris to take action alongside 195 countries to keep global warming below 2.0 degree Celsius. Scientists have stated that we must keep 80% of global fossil fuel reserves in the ground to avoid climate catastrophe. Oil extraction in the Amazon will contribute to the negation of the Paris Agreement and the demands of science.
The Ecuadorian government claims to have consulted the Sápara in accordance with Article 57 of their constitution, which requires Free, Prior, and Informed Consultation (FPIC). However, rather than consult the communities, as Ecuador's constitution requires, and obtain their consent, which is required under international law, the government has waged a campaign to divide the Sápara. Despite the government's false claims of community approval and attempts to create its own Sápara federation, the only legitimate representative body of the Sápara people does not recognize any agreement for access to their territory.
The Sápara people and the Kichwa of Sarayaku have denounced the new contracts as a violation of their fundamental rights, and have made clear their intentions to keep resisting extraction and protecting their rainforest.
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