Pope Francis to Ecuador: Don't Sacrifice Yasuni National Forests for Oil
July 9, 2015
Jim Yardley / The New York Times & Amazon Watch
Pope Francis has called for increased protection of the Amazon rain forest and the indigenous people who live there, declaring that Ecuador must resist exploiting natural riches for "short-term benefits," an implicit rebuke of the policies of President Rafael Correa.
Your Appeals to the Pope Worked!
(July 8, 2015) -- We’re thrilled to share excellent news from Ecuador. Not long ago we asked you along with our international community to send a message to the Pope asking him to urge President Correa to leave the oil in the ground in Yasuni national park and to respect indigenous rights.
Thanks to the many thousands of you who took action -- it worked!
Yesterday as reported by The New York Times [See story below], while visiting Ecuador, Pope Francis said, "the tapping of natural resources, which are so abundant in Ecuador, must not be concerned with short-term benefits.
Ecuador -- together with other countries bordering the Amazon -- has an opportunity to become a teacher of integral ecology. We received this world as an inheritance from past generations, but also as a loan from future generations, to whom we will have to return it."
Pope Francis, in Ecuador, Calls for
More Protection of Rain Forest and Its People
Jim Yardley / The New York Times
QUITO, Ecuador (July 7, 2015) -- Pope Francis on Tuesday called for increased protection of the Amazon rain forest and the indigenous people who live there, declaring that Ecuador must resist exploiting natural riches for "short-term benefits," an implicit rebuke of the policies of President Rafael Correa.
In his final stops of a busy day, Francis made environmental protection a central theme, invoking the biblical tenet for humans to be guardians of creation, while praising the way of life of indigenous peoples living in the rain forests. Several indigenous leaders attending Francis' final event of the day have been fighting the policies of Mr. Correa to expand oil exploration in the Ecuadorean Amazon.
"The tapping of natural resources, which are so abundant in Ecuador, must not be concerned with short-term benefits," Francis told a group of civil society leaders at his final stop of the day. "As stewards of these riches which we have received, we have an obligation toward society as a whole, and toward future generations."
Francis had been expected to address the exploitation of the Amazon, after specifically including the issue in "Laudato Si'," the environmental encyclical he released to worldwide attention last month. In the document, Francis warned against the perils of climate change but also highlighted the link between environmental destruction and the plight of the poor, including indigenous groups in South America.
Beginning his Latin American tour in Ecuador meant the issue would inevitably arise, and would present political complications, since Mr. Correa is expanding oil production in the Amazon. After weeks of middle-class protests against his proposals to redistribute wealth, Mr. Correa has unabashedly sought to be seen in public with the popular pope.
Environmentalists in Ecuador have embraced the pope's encyclical, yet Francis has bruised some feelings. Leaders of one association of indigenous peoples have complained that Francis declined a request to meet with them privately about their efforts to fight oil production. And it was too soon to know if the pope's message which did not include a direct mention of oil exploration would have an influence on Mr. Correa.
Ecuador's government depends on oil royalties for revenues, and Mr. Correa has granted approvals for a major expansion of oil exploration in the Ecuadorean Amazon, including in Yasuní National Park, considered one of the richest sources of biodiversity in the world.
In 2007, Mr. Correa proposed leaving oil in the ground if other governments would contribute $3.6 billion to a global trust fund intended to protect 4,000 square miles of pristine rain forest.
But when the government contributions did not arrive, Mr. Correa reversed himself. Two years ago, he ended the moratorium on new exploration and set in motion an approvals process that has cleared the way for new oil production to begin next year.
Oil pollution in Ecuadorean jungles has brought two decades of litigation. Among the civil society activists who attended Francis's last meeting on Tuesday were leaders of seven different indigenous groups living inside Yasuní National Park. (Two other nomadic indigenous groups inside the Yasuní live removed from any contact with civilization.)
Last weekend, activists also published an online open letter to the pope, seeking his direct intervention in protecting the jungle homeland of Ecuador's indigenous people. Franco Vitera, one of the activists, planned to present the letter to the pope on Tuesday.
"We ask you to intercede and call upon the Ecuadorean government to not expand the oil frontier and mega-mining in indigenous territories, especially in Yasuní," the letter concluded. "We ask you to call upon them to respect the constitution and international treaties and agreements on the environment and human rights."
Kevin Koenig, Ecuador program coordinator of the nonprofit group Amazon Watch, said Francis' encyclical had heartened environmentalists and indigenous leaders in Ecuador, who fear that Mr. Correa's expansion plans could be devastating.
"President Correa's environmental policies are at odds with the message of the pope's encyclical," said Mr. Koenig, whose group works with indigenous peoples to protect the Amazon. He said oil exploration was "the major indigenous rights environmental battle in the Amazon right now."
In his remarks on Tuesday, Francis cited his own encyclical, stating that the Amazon required "greater protection because of its immense importance for the global ecosystem." He also cited his principle of integral ecology, a balance of economic development and environmental protection, and returned to that theme in his remarks on Tuesday.
"Ecuador together with other countries bordering the Amazon has an opportunity to become a teacher of integral ecology," he said. "We received this world as an inheritance from past generations, but also as a loan from future generations, to whom we will have to return it."
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