Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Ecuador's Environmentalists Call to Halt Activities at Oil Block 31 -

By Mercedes Alvaro

Environmentalists, non-government organizations and a lawmaker from Ecuador's Amazon region on Thursday called on the Ecuadorean government to halt all oil extraction in a concession that is partially inside Yasuni National Park, a Unesco world biosphere reserve.

The coalition, known as the YasUnidos, said there are indications that oil-sector workers had run into uncontacted native tribes inside block 31 and block 43, known as the ITT. The coalition also is demanding an anthropological study of the uncontacted tribes.

Yasuni National Park is an area of high biodiversity in Ecuador's Amazon rainforest and also home to two nomadic tribes, the Tagaeri and Taromenane, who shun contact with the outside world.

Jose Miguel Goldaraz, a missionary, told El Comercio newspaper that oil workers from block 31 had spotted naked indigenous people last week.

Patricia Carrion, a spokeswoman from the YasUnidos group, said at a news conference that Congress should move to suspend activities in block 31, "otherwise there will be a crime of ethnocide against peoples in voluntary isolation."

Indigenous people that have little or no contact with the outside world are highly susceptible to common diseases.

Congress last year declared developing oil activity in blocks 31 and 43 a "national interest," but also said that if there are any sightings of peoples in voluntary isolation, then oil-sector activities will be suspended until guarantees to protect the tribes are put into place.

Ruling party members of Congress on Thursday said there wasn't enough evidence to take action.

Block 31 previously was operated by Brazilian oil giant Petroleo Brasileiro. It was given back to the state after Petrobras clashed with the government of Ecuadorean President Rafael Correa over tax issues.

Last month, state-owned Petroamazonas said it was pumping about 4,076 barrels per day from the Apaika field, located in block 31.

YasUnidos also is collecting signatures to request the government hold a national referendum to decide on the future of the ITT.

The ITT, or block 43, is believed to hold 900 million barrels of oil.

Ecuador's Environmentalists Call to Halt Activities at Oil Block 31 -