Following Brazil, Argentina, Chile and other nations in Latin America, Ecuador has become the latest country in the region to face street protests, after President Rafael Correa made the unpopular decision to allow oil drilling in a pristine Amazon reserve. The decision sparked protests that began last Thursday and continued over the weekend and on Monday.
The government announcement about the Yasuní national park, located in the eastern part of the country, sparked the protest, which began on social media and ended up sending thousands of people into the streets demanding a referendum on the issue.
Humberto Cholango, the president of the Confederación de Nacionalidades Indígenas (Indigenous Nationalities Confederation, or Conaie), called the government “a failure” for ending the state's protection of the park. “It is now every Ecuadorian's right to defend Yasuní and the indigenous people who call it home,” he said.
The protesters concentrated in front of a government building, where they were joined by a group of government sympathizers. The police feared a collision between both groups, but that did not take place.
Minister for Environment Lorena Tapia responded to the protests by assuring that every measure will be taken to warrant minimal environmental impact.
“The park will stay as it is, as much as the government can do. We will use the best technology and the strictest control,” Tapia said on the Ecuadorian TV channel Gama TV.
President Correa said he was disappointed he had to make the decision to drill inside Yasuní. “The world has failed us,” he said in his announcement about the drilling. He said the international community had not contributed enough to offset the cost of a drilling ban in the park, which led him to make his decision.
Ecuador had expected $3.6 billion in funding from international donors to preserve the park, of which it received only $13.3 million, less than half of 1 percent of the expected amount. According to Correa, until the international community provides the additional funding, drilling in the park is necessary to develop Ecuador's economy.