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Indigenous People’s Ancestral Lands In UNESCO-designated Biosphere in Ecuador As of Mid August Threatened by Oil Interests

President Correa Signs Decree 74 Removing the Yasuni Trusts, Paving the Way for Oil Field Development

Assistant Editor’s Note: The following Op-Ed piece was submitted by Tropic Journeys in Nature, an ATTA member, about an issue affecting local conservation of both natural and cultural resources.

Quito, ECUADOR – Sometimes a great notion may end up being just be a fine romance. Take the mid 19th century Hudson River School of painting for example. Artists touted nature’s magnificence even as exploitations of indigenous people, buffalo, timber and more swept the nation.

Like a piece of art, Ecuador’s constitution holds nature in reverence. Such was the romance until mid August between the government and the most bio-diverse place on earth, Yasuni National Park, since 1989 a UNESCO-designated Yasuni International Biosphere in the Amazon jungle. Last week a ban was lifted on drilling for crude oil in one region of the park, an exercise that may well lead to exploitation of indigenous peoples, wildlife, the forest canopy and more.

“The short-term winners are oil interests and their affiliates; long term the world loses,” said Jascivan Carvalho, General Manager, Tropic Journeys in Nature, that works with indigenous people on their ancestral lands in Yasuni National Park.

Carvalho pointed out the irony that his government had offered the world a “deal” whereby international interests targeting the environment could have, had a set monetary goal been met, precluded the drilling by raising funds equal to the amount Ecuador would gain from the new oil venture.

“Romances fall apart often for economic reasons in a relationship and such was the case here with potentially $18 billion from oil at stake,” said Carvalho who heard the news when on a several-weeks journey exploring iconic national parks in the western United States.

When Carvalho returns to Quito at the end of August his first mission will be to link up with the Huaorani community in the park where this indigenous people and his company are in partnership with a lodge and a sustainable mission. This cooperative program engaging the Huaorani, one of the world’s most isolated ethnic groups, as hosts on and stewards of their ancestral turf, is beginning to secure their future by paying ecological dividends.

Ecuador’s award-winning ecotourism company, Tropic Journeys in Nature, since 1994 has led tours through the country’s most engaging landscapes. This includes a region occupied by the Huaorani, one of the most isolated ethnic groups in the world, in contact with the so-called the civilized world only since the mid 20th century and today threatened by global oil interests.

“Indigenous groups with their own conservation efforts should be a source of national pride,” adds Carvalho. “Admittedly this is a David and Goliath story whose narrative is preserving a people in nature by keeping oil in the ground. Roads, settlers, deforestation, the introduction of cattle and non-native plant species, pipelines, leaks and spills are just the beginning.”

“Our community-based tourism project allows the Huaorani to earn an income while maintaining control of their territory and lifestyle,” notes Carvalho. The lodge is in the Yasuni International Biosphere reserve, one of four so designated by UNESCO in Ecuador for their ecological importance in the conservation and protection of biodiversity.

Carvalho launched his company to demonstrate that environmentally sustainable and culturally sensitive tourism can be a viable business model. Tropic pioneered indigenous community tourism in the Amazon region with the Huaorani people and over many years has been a consistent supporter, partner and promoter of indigenous tourism initiatives with several indigenous communities and organizations including the Siecoya, Cofan, Siona, Achuar and Quichua.

The company also integrates tourism with ecological, economic, socio-cultural and political concerns with local community tourism initiatives in the Galapagos Islands, the Andean region and the Pacific coast region of Ecuador.  The communities it works with receive proper economic benefit from the tourism operation and these and other benefits are pointed out to clients.

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