Ecuador’s president won’t give up on oil drilling in the Amazon. We plan to stop him – again | Amazon rainforest – "amazon" – Google News

Opinion

This forest is our home, our existence and our children’s future. Politicians who can’t resist selling it for oil cash will feel the strength of the Waorani people

Sun 16 Jun 2024 14.06 BST

In 2019 I helped lead a movement that defeated the Ecuadorian government’s plans to auction half a million acres of Waorani territory in the Amazon to oil companies. We showed in court that the government had violated its legal obligation to obtain free, prior and informed consent from Indigenous communities. We won a moral and legal victory on behalf of our ancestral home in that moment – or so we thought. Now, however, Ecuador’s president plans to plough through that legal judgment and recommence oil drilling on nearby Indigenous lands. He obviously hasn’t reckoned with the strength and tenacity of the Waorani people.

In winning that landmark legal case, we protected pristine rainforest lands, Indigenous autonomy and our planet’s climate from further deforestation. We protected our homes, our children’s future and the forests where I grew up playing with my siblings and pet monkeys, learning to garden and make fresh chicha, and where my people still live today. No more destroying our lives, homes and forests to pump the blood of our ancestors from beneath the soil.

Then, in 2023, I participated in a nationwide movement in Ecuador to stop all oil production and permanently prohibit any future oil exploration or drilling in the Yasuní national park. Yasuní is one of the most biodiverse places on Earth, the forestlands of my ancestors and the place that is still the home of my relatives, the Tagaeri and Taromenane communities, the last two Indigenous peoples living in voluntary isolation in Ecuador.

We were, for a time, giddy with the joy and excitement of having protected our and our relatives’ homes, of having cleared a legal path for other Indigenous peoples to protect theirs, and of having kept the bulldozers and the oil pumps from extending their blades and toxins deeper into the living forest. Our joy was short-lived.

Our small nation seems caught in a cycle of narcoviolence, corruption and political crises. In May 2023, the president, Guillermo Lasso, dissolved parliament and called extraordinary presidential and legislative elections to avoid his own impeachment after he was accused of turning a blind eye to alleged embezzlement. Then, on 9 August 2023, 11 days before those elections, one of the candidates, Fernando Villavicencio, was gunned down after leaving a campaign rally in Quito.

Daniel Noboa, the 36-year-old son of one of the country’s wealthiest businessmen, first drew national attention during the televised presidential debate that was held only a few days after Villavicencio’s murder. He campaigned on attracting foreign investment, creating jobs, and his clear support for the “Yes” vote in the upcoming referendum to leave the oil under the ground in Yasuní national park. Noboa won the run-off elections in October, and then took office for his 18-month interim presidential term in November 2023.

Waorani people protesting in front of Bolivia’s Environment Ministry in Quito in 2019. Photograph: Dolores Ochoa/AP

We had reasons to be hopeful, but those reasons soon vanished. During his first six months in office, Noboa declared a state of emergency, militarised the country, and announced in Canada his plans to make deals with international mining companies. And that was all before Ecuadorian police raided the Mexican embassy in Quito to arrest a corrupt politician, Jorge Glas, sparking a diplomatic crisis with Mexico.

All the while, his government has refused to comply with the 2023 Yasuní referendum that Noboa himself explicitly supported during the campaigns. Once in office, he began mumbling about a “moratorium” on compliance while continuing to pump oil from one of the most biodiverse rainforests on Earth.

It seems Noboa, just like his predecessors on the right and the left, wants to destroy the Amazon for oil. How many times will we have to go to court? How many times will we have to take to the streets? How many national referendums will we have to organise and win? How many times will we have to call a national strike or call upon presidents to abide by the law?

As many times as it takes. This is not a game. This is not a pastime, a hobby or a phase. This is our home and our existence. This is the possibility of our children’s dreams. Our wealth is the forest. Our wealth is alive. Our wealth is the knowledge we carry and share through song. Our wealth cannot be reduced to ones and zeros and flung across the globe. We’ve stopped the oil companies from stealing our future, and we’ll stop them again.

Noboa could still do the right thing. He could still make good on his campaign promise, comply with the law and stop drilling in Yasuní immediately. He could go even further by signing the fossil fuel non-proliferation treaty and showing his country and the world that he knows how to listen, and that he values all of our futures over the short cash fix of the oil addiction.

I hope he will. I hope he’ll show us that he is different from the long line of corrupt politicians that precedes him. But if he doesn’t, he’ll see what it means when a Waorani warrior makes up her mind. He’ll feel the strength of Ecuador’s Indigenous nations defending their homes.

• Nemonte Nenquimo is co-founder of Amazon Frontlines and author of the memoir We Will Not be Saved

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