Here is a translation of an interview with Roque Sevilla, the ex-president of the Yasuni ITT Commission who also helped draw up the borders of Yasuni National Park 32 years ago and.
The Yasuni ITT initiative is a project that aims to preserve the most biologically diverse region on the planet, the region of Ecuadors Amazon between the rivers Ishpingo, Tambococha, and Tiputini (ITT) by securing donations from developed countries in exchange for keeping the vast oil reserves beneath the national park untapped.
If the Ecuadorian government does not receive 100 million dollars by January 1st 2012 it will exploit the oil inside the national park. In this frank and critical interview Roque Sevilla claims that this was the Ecuadorians governments intention the entire time.
Please share this interview or the original transcript in Spanish.
Where you surprised by the statements of German parliamentarians who visited the country?
“Yes, I noticed that those MPs where looking at current events in a newspaper like El Universo. That means that a local issue like Freedom of Expression in Ecuador is certainly important and is being projected internationally. This shows that the national management influences the confidence that creates a doors to the outside world.”
The statements of the minister of the German cooperation are clear. Do you rule out the governments support for the Yasuni-ITT project?
“I will rule it out while this actual government is in power. Ecuador has constantly sent ambigious and contradictory messages with respect to the Yassuni ITT. It remains in force, for example, the Pacific Refinery which will process 100,000 barrels inside the ITT. The president in his remarks on saturday explained in detail the techniques that will apply to the development of plan B. So clearly, it sends the message that Plan B is the real plan A. This creates distrust.”
How do you explain then that the chancellor Patiño did a tour of Europe to supposedly achieve more support for the Yasuní?
“Ill get back to that answer. Alberto Acosta, when he was energy minister, proposed the idea of leaving the oil underground in Yasuní. That became a hot potato for the government which always wanted to get out of that truck.”
He did not do it? How do you explain it?
“Because surveys show that 65% of Ecuadorians support the Yasuni-ITT project. Now the government is making the effort to fix the quotes to present the force, between quotation marks, that helps the government get the contributions from developed countries. This is clear, with contradictory messages and with, sometimes, agression on the future contributors. This is to say, for example, they get the coins out of his ears.”
Are you saying that the official strategy is to boycott the project?
“If I promote an idea and then do my best so that it is not accepted, I get the result I want: the failure of the project.”
That was a very clear strategy since January 2010 because we could have advanced, in an extraordinary way, if a month before the resignation of the commission to which I belonged, we would have signed, as scheduled on December 17, 2009, the contract trust with the United Nations in Copenhagen. The previous day, the president called to say do not sign.
But the Government replaced the team and did not undo the project.
“But since then there has been a systematic policy to avoid all possible contributions and be able to justify it. Now in December, the President will announce – as I am certain he will do – that they have made every effort humanly possible to get that money. He will say that the developed countries are bad because they did not want to contribute and that the government is consequently forced to exploit the oil of Yasuni.”
In this theory, Maria Fernanda Espinosa and Ivonne Baki are parts used by the president?
“Absolutely used, because the intention has been to do everything the opposite. If its not like that then explain the Pacific Refinery. Then explain the additional concessions given to PetroChina right on the bank of the Napo River for pipefitters right in front of Tiputini. It explains the presidents remarks that Tiputini is no longer part of the ITT and all that remains is the IT.”
“He invents a new compass, a new GPS which excludes the Yasuni National Park area Tiputini. This invention allows them to exploit this oil without asking the people of Ecuador, because that goes against Article 407 of the Constitution. These plans are drawn and advanced to exploit the oil.”
But has the government ever talked of a plan C. Do you know Rafael Correa?
“I do not know it. I think there is a single plan, B, which is to exploit the oil. So much so that in the case of Armadillo, which everyone knows is the Taromenani (uncontacted tribe in the Yasuni Amazon) just made a tender to operate without complying with any of the principles of the Constitution or international treaties to protect communities that have chosen to live in voluntary isolation. So the signals are wholesale. Here’s what will happen on January 1st – they are going to exploit the Yasuni ITT oil.”
You say that this topic is popular, which will generate resistence in the peoples opinion. What is the benefit to the Government to develop antidote policies against the Yasuni ITT?
“That’s the risk you run. But with the confidence they have in their power to manipulate public opinion through television channels, and the president’s personal popularity, they believe they will win this battle. I think those who are aware of the importance of the issue of Yasuní, we have to go to battle against the decision to exploit the oil from the world’s richest area of biodiversity as dumb and stupid. The Government itself has said this to the United Nations itself, therefore, those who are in favor of the protection of the Yasuni have to prove it.
Following your logic, the Yasuní may become a political boomerang for President?
He will produce a political boomerang because Ecuadorians are not easily fooled. The Government will say that the exploitation will be a perfect surgery. But that does not exist. The oil will spill and cause damage. Look at the final research survey which has only been done in two dimensions, 2D. You have to make the third dimension and this includes the construction of trails on a grid and, at the intersection of each track, you have to put a stick of dynamite and exploit it to measure the effect of sound waves. The rebound is measured by the size of the oil fields.
That demands a brutal intervention with groups of cutters and bulldozers that knock down everything to make the trails and explode dynamite. There are helicopter flights, installing the pipes… Now the president says that everything’s going to be underground, that drilling will be 11 km horizontal to Tambococha. They already know everything. That itself has advanced to the final detail, but if we ask them how much they have advanced in the regulation of the trust agreement, or even have it.
There will be nothing left of Yasuni National Park.
There has been, however, a sustainable alternative to the Government’s argument that says, in short, that under the Yasuní is a gold mine for social work.
There are alternatives: the use of biodiversity with economic valuation through the pharmaceutical industry and the systematic investigation of organized wealth that is there.
Tourism is another alternative. Costa Rica lives with three million tourists a year and here we are barely a million, but Ecuador has twice the biodiversity of Costa Rica. What happens is that Costa Ricans understand what sustainability is and here we like the exploitation of natural resources for fast, easy and short term money.
We can also take advantage of alternative energy sources other than oil. In hydropower we use a seventh of what we have available to us. Solar power, geothermal water that is heated with volcanoes. The advantage of New Zealand, Costa Rica and Iceland.
There are options, then. And the first is to continue the Yasuní-ITT project by negotiations with the countries concerned, but showing signs of confidence and strength in the proposal. No contradictions or game fixing. Along these lines I am convinced that we can raise $ 3,600 million.
Right now when there is virtually recession in Europe and the U.S.? What signals is this based on?
“It is worthwhile to follow closely what is happening in Guyana. In 2009, two years after us, Guyana Prime Minister proposed to the world that he would raise 540 million dollars a year and give up mining and logging in their country to preserve their natural resources.
The country has already received $250 million of contributions from Norway and is in line to receive the 540 million that was set because there has been a commitment of that State, a sovereign decision and a job to do so unambiguously that builds confidence in the world”
Are you going to fight in the street to avoid exploitation of Yasuni?
I have always fought for the protection of the environment. Ill say that a few days ago a friend sent me a photograph from 1976 in which I am in a canoe in the middle of Yasuní creating the border of the national park in conjunction with two technicians of the FAO, Allain Putney and a Dutch man.
Thanks to these studies Yasuni was declared a National Park. The defense of the park for me, then, is old enough to accept that without further ado, it violates the Constitution and the government will destroy the incredible biological richness of this country.