Tuesday marks the second day of an agrarian strike in Colombia while thousands of Mexican schools have yet to reopen due to demonstrations by teachers. In Ecuador, meanwhile, protesters marched against government plans to allow oil drilling at a nature reserve.
Approximately two hundred people participated in demonstrations in Quito on Sunday and Monday to express their opposition to President Rafael Correa’s proposal regarding the Yasuni National Park.
Some seventy cyclists gathered at a public park in front of the Carondolet presidential palace yesterday as part of a peaceful protest. Much like a protest on Sunday, the police tried to impede the advancing cyclists from entering the El Ejido park. After reportedly meeting with one of the protest organizers, however, the cyclists were permitted to gather in the park and continue their peaceful rally.
Other protests were held since Correa’s announcement last Thursday when he said that he would set aside his Yasuni-ITT initiative to persuade wealthy countries to pay not to drill for oil in the reserve. In the southwestern city of Machala, for example, marchers held banners and signs expressing their ire with Correa including “No to Oil, Yes to Life”.
“We’re in favor of maintain unchanged the Yasuni reserve, which is one of the lungs of the world,” claimed local animals rights activist Daniela Crow. “It would be an unrealistic to claim that we don’t want any foreign oil firms” but the virgin forest of the Yasuni should remain untouched, added Crow.
More protests are planned for later this week including one by El Oro Popular Front who also suggested that the government pursue tax evading firms and collect funds from them.
Several indigenous activists said that the future of the park, which was designated as a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve in 1989, should be decided by a nationwide referendum. Hence, there is a campaign currently underway to collect at least 571,000 signatures that would permit allow voters to soon decide the fate of the Yasuni-ITT initiative.
Correa said yesterday via Twitter that if a referendum over the Yasuni takes place then he would suggest that Ecuador’s newspapers should become all digitally based in order to “to save paper and avoid so much indiscriminate cutting of trees.”
"The world has failed us," Correa said last week and mainly blamed "the great hypocrisy" of nations who emit most of the world's greenhouse gases. Yet it may have been domestic economic pressures that forced the Ecuadorian leader to change his tune:
The decision reverses a policy to preserve nature in an area eight times bigger than Los Angeles, estimated by Correa to hold 920 million barrels of crude, or about 20 percent of Ecuador’s reserves. The proposal to develop the area comes as economic growth is forecast to slow for a third year.
“The needs of the government to increase revenue immediately,” prompted the proposal, Roger Tissot, director at oil consulting firm Tissot Associates, said in an interview from Vernon, British Columbia, yesterday.
The government, which has almost tripled public spending since Correa took power six years ago, needs the revenue to combat poverty and develop infrastructure, he said.Much like his relations with the local media, Correa and the indigenous community have been at loggerheads several times this year. Earlier this month, indigenous rights leader Umberto Cholango “categorically” rejected the “unfair” twelve-year prison sentence against an indigenous legislator who was found guilty of terrorism charges.
Ecuador isn’t the only Latin American country where indigenous groups have mobilized against the government. Protests were held in Guatemala on August 9th in order to bring attention to the “injustice, inequality, and corruption that have plagued (indigenous) communities in Guatemala over the last 500 years, and continue to do so today".
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