Rufescent tiger heron (Tigrisoma lineatum) in Yasuni National Park in the Ecuadorian Amazon. Photo: Jeremy Hance

By Jeremy Hance
16 April 2014

(mongabay.com) – In what is a major victory for environmentalists, campaigners with United for Yasuní have collected 727,947 signatures triggering a national referendum on whether or not oil drilling should proceed in three blocs of Yasuní National Park in Ecuador. The effort started last year after Ecuador's President, Rafael Correa, announced he was killing the Yasuní-ITT initiative, which called on the international community to pay into a trust fund to keep the most remote portions of the park free from oil exploitation. Currently, Yasuní National Park is considered the likeliest candidate for the most biodiverse place on the planet and is home to several indigenous tribes who have chosen voluntary isolation.

"Not only did we mobilize to get the needed signatures for the popular referendum, but we mobilized civil society for a greater call for a new development model that keeps oil in the ground and addresses the needs of its people," said Esperanza Martinez, President of Acción Ecologica. "We proved that defending Yasuní is not just about monetary contributions, or political statements, but a mobilized civil society."

Activists needed to gather half a million signatures, but collected over 100,000 more to make sure the results wouldn't be invalidated. But several hurdles remain for activists: signatures need to be verified by Ecuador's National Electoral Council and then the referendum needs to be deemed constitutional by the Constitutional Court. If the referendum passes these two tests, the question of whether or not oil drilling should go ahead in the Yasuní's ITT (Ishpingo-Tambococha-Tiputini) blocs will go to the Ecuadorian public. Yet, victory isn't assured. Although opinion polls show a hefty support in Ecuador for keeping the ITT blocs unexploited, debate will likely be fierce given Correa's popularity and his pro-oil stance. [more]

Ecuador will have referendum on fate of Yasuni after activists collect over 700,000 signatures

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