This image taken in Quito, Ecuador in 2019, shows protestors from several indigenous nations demanding a halt to extraction of natural resources in their territories, particularly in Yasuní National Park in the Ecuadorean Amazon.
The decade-long push to expand Ecuador’s oil extraction into the Amazon River Basin has ignited conflict between the government and indigenous communities seeking to preserve their territories. Ecuador has protections for indigenous people and the environment in the constitution, but the national government has shown little respect for the laws. The government has failed to conduct proper consultation on new projects and has sold protected indigenous land, despite promises not to. When the indigenous Waorani peoples won a key legal victory to suspend the government’s plans to auction off 180,000 hectares of Waorani territory to oil companies, the government criticized the court’s decision and just five days later, approved additional sections of indigenous land for resource extraction in Yasuní National Park without consultation. In 2021, the new Ecuadorean president, Guillermo Lasso, promised to deregulate the oil and gas industry and double the country’s oil production.
In a report from the 2021 United Nations Climate Change Conference, scientists underscored the critical importance of the Amazon River Basin, declaring that continuing current trends of extraction and deforestation will trigger an “irreversible, catastrophic tipping point.” The Amazon River Basin is home to the world’s largest rainforest and covers 40% of South America across eight countries. The Amazon is home to some of the greatest biodiversity in the world, with Yasuní National Park alone home to over 20,000 plant species, more than anywhere else on earth. Since the incursion of resource extraction on their lands, indigenous communities in the Ecuadorean Amazon have experienced profound disruption of natural ecological cycles, such as unpredictable river flooding and contamination due to wastewater and oil spills that threaten their traditional way of life. Without alternate sources of water in these remote areas, indigenous peoples are forced to consume and bathe in the contaminated water, causing digestive problems, skin diseases, and death.