“The Dark Side of the Amazon“: a Personal Plea from the Global Editor
Some of you might remember that earlier in the year I wrote a Letter from the Editor in our global newsletter, about my old fire for environmental causes being rekindled by the amazing social entrepreneurs I had been interviewing. Speaking with truly awe inspiring women who were changing the world for the better had reignited my belief that I could too.
Since then, various things have been happening in my beloved adopted nation of Ecuador which have turned the smouldering embers of that fire into an intense blaze, prompting me to write this, my second personal article for The NextWomen, about an issue which has become very close to my heart.
I was recently approached by an independent Ecuadorian documentary maker who asked me to use my editing skills to write the subtitles for a short film he had made about oil exploitation in the jungle, titled “The Dark Side of the Amazon”.
After watching the documentary, I was compelled to accept and worked into the early hours; translating, uploading captions. As I became more and more familiar with this eye-opening documentary, I became increasingly determined to share it with absolutely everyone I know.
Before I watched “The Dark Side of the Amazon”, I was already aware of the issues surrounding the exploitation of the Yasuní National Park, an area recently found by scientists to be the most bio-diverse on the planet and probably unmatched by any other park in the world for total numbers of plant and animal species. As part of their Yasuní ITT Initiative, the Ecuadorian government offered to refrain indefinitely from exploiting the oil reserves of the currently untouched Ishpingo-Tambococha-Tiputini (ITT) oil field within the National Park, in exchange for 50% of the value of the reserves, or $3.6 billion over 13 years from the international community. A United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) fund was set up in 2010 to receive contributions. But on 15th August 2013 the President, stating that only $13.3m had been received from foreign nations, signed a decree to liquidate the UNDP fund. Drilling for oil was declared to be in the national interest, a move which threatens 10,000 hectares of virgin jungle within the Yasuní National Park.
But what I didn’t realise is that while the world is focusing on the failure of the ITT Initiative, another much greater catastrophe is growing rapidly and virtually unnoticed, under the innocuous title of the XI Oil Round, an event which doesn’t just threaten part of one national park, but all of Ecuador’s last remaining tract of virgin rainforest. This November, the XI Oil Round will see 3 million hectares of Ecuador’s most pristine jungle, deemed to be the best preserved in the entire Amazon basin, auctioned off to the highest bidding oil company – despite the fact that the resulting exploitation is estimated to prolong the country’s oil exportation by a mere two years.
The area which is up for sale is notable not only for its biodiversity but for its cultural heritage. Ecuador’s southern Amazon region includes over 2 million hectares of ancestral territory belonging to several indigenous peoples, who rely on the rainforest and its rivers for hunting, fishing, agriculture, and drinking water.
The Sarayaku (whose President, José Gualinga, is interviewed in the documentary), are a people who live in several villages along a stretch of the Bobonaza river in the province of Pastaza. They number about two thousand and, in addition to depending on the forest for food and water, have created a sustainable source of income for their community by building an eco-lodge. Interestingly, the Sarayaku have not shunned technology. Rather, they have chosen to use it in a selective manner, in harmony with their environment. The eco-lodge is powered by solar panels and they have even embraced blogging as a way to educate the world about their way of life and the threat it is under.
And this is where this cause is central not only to my views on environmental issues, but to the very reason that I am so passionate about my job at The NextWomen: I believe that entrepreneurs building sustainable ventures, creating their own futures, can change the world. Whilst some of Ecuador’s tribes are voluntarily isolated, others, like the Sarayaku, are such entrepreneurs, allowing them to preserve the jungle whilst educating others about it. With oil corporations owning the tribes’ ancestral land, the proposed oil round won’t just threaten the indigenous people’s traditional way of life, but their freedom to choose their future.
The Ecuadorian government has promised that exploitation will be undertaken with “environmental and social responsibility”. If this is the case, can the oil be extracted without affecting the tribal peoples’ land and way of life; is there a happy medium?
Perhaps a good way to answer this question is to visit areas and communities already living with the effects of oil exploitation in Ecuador.
In these days of political propaganda, spin and manipulation, there is nothing better than seeing for yourself, so I would very much recommend viewing “The Dark Side of the Amazon”.
This is a low budget, independent film which follows documentary maker Jonathan Gaitan as he journeys into the jungle to witness first-hand the impact of existing oil exploitation and visits some of the communities that will be affected by the forthcoming XI Oil Round.
“The Dark Side of the Amazon” is not just an informational video. It’s a request, a cry for help. So many fights are already lost, but the battle to save Ecuador’s pristine jungle is being waged right now - and can still be won.
The indigenous people in the XI Oil Round zone, whose ancestors have lived on the land for thousands of years, have vowed to resist the invasion of the oil companies; to protect the jungle and their way of life. Jonathan Gaitan believes that the only way that their safety can be ensured is for people from all over the world to physically and peacefully stand by their side when the time comes, with as many foreign media present as possible. The eye of the world needs to be on this situation as it unfolds.
If you are as moved by the documentary as I was, please consider sharing it with your network and via your social media, especially with any media contacts or those in the conservation/environmental fields. Please email darksideofthejungle[at]outlook[dot] com for more information or if you would like a copy of the media pack which accompanies the documentary.
“The Dark Side of the Amazon” can be viewed here (for English subtitles, open the video in Youtube and click the Captions (CC) button which appears at the bottom right hand of the window):
For more information on what’s happening in the Ecuadorian Amazon right now, see these resources:
- Jonathan Gaitan’s blog: http://unavoz.overblog.com (Spanish, some English)
- Amazon Watch: http://amazonwatch.org/ (English)
- La Resistencia Ecuador: https://www.facebook.com/resistenciaecuador?fref=ts (Spanish)
- CDES: https://www.facebook.com/resistenciaecuador?fref=ts (Spanish)
- Sarayaku blog: http://sarayaku.org/ (Spanish)
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