In a resounding decision, Ecuadorians have voted to cease oil drilling activities within the protected expanse of the Amazon Rainforest, marking a significant outcome in a national referendum.
With a notable 59% majority supporting the measure, Ecuadorian citizens have opted to suspend an impending oil drilling project within the Yasuni region of the Amazon.
Yasuni National Park, estimated to harbour over 4,000 plant species, 173 distinct mammal species, and at least two isolated Indigenous tribes, has been a sanctuary safeguarded from external interference. This verdant haven also holds an estimated 1.67 billion barrels of oil.
Regarded by UNESCO as one of the planet's most biodiverse areas, the untapped oil reserves within the park could amass a staggering worth of over $133 billion at the current oil price of approximately $80 per barrel.
Nestled within this treasure trove of biodiversity are multiple Indigenous communities, making this vote even more significant.
The timing of this referendum coincided with an early presidential election held to replace former President Guillermo Lasso, who dissolved Parliament to evade impeachment in May.
Throughout his presidency, Lasso staunchly advocated for oil drilling, asserting its pivotal role in Ecuador's economy.
The nation's highest court, in a landmark ruling last February, emphasised the imperative for Indigenous groups to have substantial involvement in decisions regarding oil extraction on their lands.
A referendum constitutes a nationwide vote in which citizens express their stance on matters of political, legal, or societal consequence.
In this referendum, six in 10 Ecuadorians voted in favour of banning the future development of oil wells according to Ecaduor’s National Electoral Commission.
Significantly, the voting day coincided with the first round of the presidential election.
As a consequence of this decision, the curtain falls on oil production in the region harboring some of Ecuador's largest oil reservoirs.
While local proponents of mining have cautioned about potential financial strains on the nation's economy, climate activists and Indigenous leaders have rallied in support of this outcome.
Nemonte Nenquimo, a prominent figure of the Waorani tribe, hailed the result as "a momentous victory for all Indigenous peoples, the fauna, flora, forest spirits, and our climate," in a statement to The Guardian.
This is not the first time Indigenous people are fighting for their land. However, their efforts faced resistance from the National Electoral Council, citing discrepancies in collected signatures, including repeated names and fictitious characters like Bruce Wayne from Batman and Darth Vader from Star Wars.
Alleging fraud, the activists maintained that genuine signatures were discarded and substituted. Their persistence in ensuring the legitimacy of signatures paved the way for the progression of the referendum.
Another instance occurred in 2019, when a Waorani Indigenous community waged a legal battle to thwart oil development on their lands. A three-judge panel ruled that the consultation process in 2012 had fallen short of meeting community rights standards and was thus invalid.