Documents blow a major hole in Ecuador's "attempt" to protect the Amazon

While pleading for international help, the country also had a power plant in the works

Published July 2, 2014 7:44PM (EDT)

 Yasuni, Ecuador   (Pablo Hidalgo/Shutterstock)
Yasuni, Ecuador (Pablo Hidalgo/Shutterstock)

In May, Ecuador's government announced that the Yasuni basin -- an untouched corner of the Amazon and one of the most biologically diverse places on Earth -- was officially open for exploitation. The decision was made all the more tragic for what it said about us all: In a much-publicized gambit, the country pleaded for international help in protecting the region's wildlife and indigenous populations. If the countries of the world could scrape together $3.6 billion, or half the value of the estimated 800 million barrels of crude oil beneath the preserve's surface, the government would leave it in the ground.

"The world has failed us," said Ecuadorian President Rafael Correa when the hoped-for funds failed to appear.

But the whole story takes a turn for the sinister with documents uncovered by the Guardian that show a secret plan from 2010 to build a power plant smack in the middle of the preserve. The government, it appears, was planning to drill all along.

The Guardian reports:

...The new documents consist of a 17-page summary of an Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) and Environmental Management Plan (EMP) for a proposed power plant and subtransmission lines, together with a letter from the environment ministry and state oil firm PetroEcuador to council members in the Aguarico district inviting them to a meeting on 26 March 2010 to discuss a draft version of the EIA.

...The EIA summary, which makes no mention of the Yasuni-ITT Initiative or the indigenous people in “voluntary isolation” or a supposedly “intangible zone” established to protect them, was written by a Quito-based consultancy called VVP, whose legal representative is named as Vinicio Valarezo Peña. Valarezo Peña, who previously worked for the environment ministry, told the Guardian that the EIA had been approved by the ministry and was “conducted in full compliance with all the applicable laws”.

The letter to the Aguarico councilors was signed by PetroEcuador representative Carmen Peralvo Guzman and environment ministry representative Carlos Villon Zambrano. Peralvo Guzman said she didn’t attend the 26 March meeting but she confirmed that there had been a plan to build power plants.

...“In my opinion, these documents show that the government was actually preparing the extraction of the oil at the same time that it was officially promoting the opposite,” says Carlos Larrea, from the University Andina Simón Bolivar, who worked as an adviser between 2007 and 2011 to the government’s team promoting the Yasuni-ITT Initiative.

This isn't the first time a potential "Plan B" has been uncovered, and Correa and other officials insist they were just making sure they were ready in case they weren't able to raise the necessary funds to prevent drilling. But according to Carlos Andrew Vera, a journalist who's been following the story, the new documents are "more evidence that plan B [to exploit the oil] was actually the only plan and they were keeping this information under the rug."

By Lindsay Abrams

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Related Topics ------------------------------------------

Amazon Conservation Ecuador Oil Drilling Power Plant Rainforest